by Roy (Monte) High
Over the years I’ve heard numerous people disparage the designation of wilderness areas by speaking on behalf of people with disabilities. They say that wilderness areas are unfair to the disabled because there are no roads allowed to take them there. I’ve heard it said that the designation of wilderness areas is like a slap to the face of the disabled population. As a person with a disability, I wholeheartedly disagree.
In 1983, as a 20-year-old boy, I was driving along a small winding highway between Dolores and Cortez, Colorado when five horses ran out in front of me. The ensuing collision caused a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed, a quadriplegic with limited movement below the neck. I have now lived most of my life navigating the Earth in a wheelchair.
Before the crash I was very physically active, and spent much of my time in the great outdoors—hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, being. Some of my best memories are of traversing the tree line—hiking along rushing streams, through mountain meadows, aspen and pine, to come face to face with rocky outcroppings. Walking through the wild wonder. Otherworldly surroundings. The silence—there is sound, but no noise. Just the soothing sound of nature. I’d sit still and listen, and move on with a renewed sense of belonging. I am reminded of the connectedness of all things, that everything is one in God. I am awakened to reality, aware of my place on the sacred path I follow as a human being. O the beauty! O the peace, the exaltation of my soul! Even now, as I write these words the beauty brings me to my knees in reverence, tears roll from my eyes. The tears come not because I can no longer visit these pristine places, but because these places exist—just knowing that such beauty exists within our world brings me joy.
I still love getting out into nature. There are many beautiful natural areas that I can access in my wheelchair, places I can sit where it seems as if I am out in the middle of the wilderness, where I can recharge my connection to nature, experience a sense of immediacy and enter wholly into the moment. I live in Grand Junction, Colorado. I love spending time on trails along the Colorado River and the local state parks. Wheelchair accessibility has come a long way in recent years. I am grateful. Yet, I am aware of the need for designated wilderness areas and I am grateful for the wild places where wildlife can thrive.
As a wheelchair user I have learned to adapt. There are many places that are not accessible to me, including many of my friend’s homes. I do not take this as a sign that I am not welcome. I do not expect my friends to spend thousands of dollars to remodel their houses just so that I can enter. There are many other places where we can meet, where my friends can welcome me into their hearts. Likewise, I do not expect anyone to build roads and trails over every square inch of wilderness so that I can visit in my wheelchair. Especially when I realize that my selfishness could lead to the demise of the very land I love. I love knowing that there are wild places where animals can room free without human disruption. Many species are going extinct. Some animals, such as elk, require large wildlife corridors for migration, and many species cannot survive around the noise and pollution of machines. These lands mean much more than how much money we can pump out of them—for much of God’s creation these wilderness lands are crucial for their survival.
Roy (Monte) High lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. He enjoys getting out into the natural areas nearby with his wife Elizabeth.
Thank you for undertaking this survey. I agree with the concept offered by E.O. Wilson that we need to put aside 50% of the planet to regenerate wild areas and support biodiversity. We need large tracts of contiguous land to permit migration and prevent genetic isolation - especially in this time of climate stress. Wild means absolutely zero human exploitation (no logging, ranching, mining, agriculture, nor roads for "recreational vehicles" which are sometimes used to harass wildlife or make poaching easier. One final thought - we definitely need fewer people on the planet - I saw a number of documentaries which discussed the "carrying capacity" of Earth; for a green energy economy that is sustainable, the top figure was quoted as being about 3 billion. We are heading for disaster with our human population "Bomb" (as detailed around half a century ago by Paul Ehrlich. When we do not deploy birth control/restraint, then drought, famine, plague, wars, etc. will take their toll as we are now seeing. Every human requires food, water, shelter and a source of energy, and every human generates waste. We have contaminated and degraded the vast majority of water, land and air and created many landfills and are even spilling radioactive waste into the oceans (not to mention that the Chernobyl dome will probably melt down in around 50 years or so!) We have to educate people (especially politicians) that you can't have continual growth on a finite planet! And outer space will not be a feasible overflow option for us (despite the recent narcissistic forays by some billionaires).
It causes me such comfort and joy to know that there are people like you out there, Roy (Monte), and those who have left comments to your glowing, compassionate, humble paragraphs spoken briefly, clearly and eloquently. There is a rapture, a quickening, that something of Spirit so palpable yet indescribable, and It is important to preserve and improve naturally however we can. I am humbled and grateful for your presence, that even though physically you are not so able, yet you make it do-able. Bless you.
thank you sir for understanding the big picture and not putting yourself above the needs of wild things in wild places. Bless you
Thank You, Roy, for expressing in such a meaningful way, how glorious and how very, very important the wild places of our world are! With climate change bringing major changes to our world, I think everyone should take the time now, while it still exists, to visit the national and state treasures that sustain the magnificent flora and fauna that surrounds us. Your words make me think I have a brother from a different mother, as they say. God Bless You!
Roy, the title of your piece says it all: "Wilderness for Its Own Sake." Our culture, with its emphasis on consumption and material things, would encourage a different view, one looking through the lens of how much (economically) is it worth? For those, like you, who know the value of the beauty, quiet, peace--the reach into one's soul--that nature offers, know very well that some things cannot be described in the language of dollars. Thank you for your wonderfully unselfish beliefs, and thank you for your thoughtful, beautiful statement of those beliefs.
Beautifully written, thank you for sharing your view, I agree with you and hope you enjoy more time out in nature doing what you love.
Excellent, thanks for saying what so many families experience. My sister has a disability, but we have enjoyed the out of doors and wilderness like few others by being creative and flexible. Not another's excuse to exploit our wild areas. Nope. Thanks again and keep on truckin'!!!!
I loved Roy's article about his experiences as a quadriplegic, a disabled person, who in spite of his condition has and always will enjoy the beauty of nature and all that it can give to anyone who respects and appreciates it. Thank you Roy for your inspiring and moving article.
Thank you for expressing so well what should be evident and right, although some fail to perceive it this way. You are a true inspiration. Chances are, we will never be able to visit all the places we'd like to visit and that are worth protecting, but we still need to protect them and ensure such places are preserved for as long as possible.
So well spoken. I have donated money for many years to preserve natural areas that I will never be able to visit. But to know that they can continue to allow wildlife to thrive and to give us the oxygen we need for our survival is enough reason for me. I have had 3 knee surgeries that have taken away the ability to hike and rock climb at my favorite places. I was bitter for a while, but have been able to visit areas that I thought were "too easy". And even if I could never hike to any of these, again, just to know they have been preserved is good enough.
First of all, I'm very sorry for Mr. High's accident. His attitude and reverence for nature is inspiring. I am also disabled with a lower back injury. I can't go everywhere that I want to go, but I love the idea of wilderness and protecting the wilderness environment. Once wilderness is gone, it's gone. That's unacceptable to me. Be well, Mr. High.
Thank you so much for all your selfless thoughts; so refreshing in this spoilt, negative, complaining world.
Thank you for being so unselfish and protective of the natural world! You have a huge heart for Mother Earth and love her with your kindness in wanting to leave parts of her pristine - untouched by our footprints. May she keep blessing you with her beauty!
Thank you all for the kind words. Indeed, we are One with nature, and with stillness we can realize the beautiful nature within us.