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.
You’re a beautiful person and the world and it’s beauty love you as much as you love them. Stay safe my friend and thank you for reminding me of all the love and beauty around us.
Hello Roy, I so enjoyed your article about Wilderness for its own sake. It is tragic that your accident left you paralyzed but your true self has come out with how you feel about the wilderness and life as well. You seem like a very positive person, something that seems hard to find these days with all the problems that everyone has had to deal with. I love the picture of the moose. The one in front looks like he is smiling. When I visited my grandmother in Maine many moons ago, we walked through the woods picking blueberries. We came across a young moose and he stayed quite close to us, although we did decide to head back to the house. Today is a troubled time for all the wild animals, birds and fish. It's a fight for them for sure! Thank you for your story. Be safe, Sandy
I agree completely. I have enjoyed seeing wildlife in their natural habits when I was younger and able to be active outdoors. Now I have marsh birds while on a birding trip to Cape May for the hawk migration. Yet I am so very thankful that birds and animals are there and that others, especially the younger generation can see the magic of nature as I could. I continue to be amazed at the variety, colors, shapes and kinds of species on this Earth. I am stunned by the beautiful ecosystems in which they thrive even if I only see them in a photograph. I agree that native and endangered species need their dedicated spaces to procreate and prosper. Their needs are more important than access to them for all humans. Now I do all I can to support environmental groups that work to support and save all kinds of species and the lands they need to continue to exist and better yet, thrive. I truly try to follow the belief of Native Americans that we are the custodians of all nature and we must in all our actions, represent the seven generations that follow us.
I also have a friend who has been in a wheelchair for many years, thanks to a drunk person with a gun. He has stated that wilderness is important, whether or not he personally can access it. Thanks for your post.
Wilderness is very special and too rare in our great country. It is somewhere I always like to go and enjoy thoroughly. It should be protected with the utmost intent. I have visited the two wilderness areas in Pennsylvania and some others in the northeast. Thank you
Thank you, Roy, for this thoughtful commentary. Everyone can't have access to everything but appreciation is open to us all. I'm glad you've been able to continue your appreciation.
Thank you so much for writing this piece. I agree wholeheartedly. Many years ago environmentalists in NY were fighting to save a mt. on the shore line of the Hudson River from development. It took 20 years but a judge finally ruled that beauty and nature are of value. We has humans need to know they exist.
Thank You SO MUCH for this beautifully written piece!! I am inspired by your perspective and share your deep passion for nature as well. I recently spent some time in the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness, all I can say is, WOW, WOW, WOW!!!! Driving back across the Beartooth Highway for the first time (a LOT of auto-accessible open space) inspired me immensely, this trip fueled my soul beyond words. (Footnote: I have now been to the highest point in 48 states and seen quite a bit of this beautiful country and it seems that there is ALWAYS another place to amaze, I pray we can keep it this way!)
Thank you again, for the reminder to be grateful for EVERY MOMENT that we have in these bodies!
May Blessings rain upon You and Your Family Sir!!!
Thank You and ALL THE BEST,
Ryan T Shopay
Monte, I so appreciate your understanding of the importance of our wild world, and your generosity of spirit. Selfishness seems to be the order of the day now, so your opinion is all the more refreshing; an antidote to our ills. You show us we do all have a place here, and that we humans need to understand that sharing is not giving something away but giving us all some chance to continue to share this miracle that is our Earth.
Hello Mr. High,
I would like to thank you for writing such a lovely, inspiring piece. Your words made my day!
Despite life handing you one of the most serious setbacks one can imagine 38 years ago, your feelings, expressed so elegantly, cause me to imagine you have been happier in your life than most people who have lived charmed lives could ever hope. You have lived your life filled with the inspiration only the beauty of nature can provide.
I sincerely hope you and your wife Elizabeth lead long and continually inspired lives.