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.
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.
Amen! One of the blessings of Nature is that experiencing something larger than ourselves brings out the best in most of us. This previous post is a shining example of this attitude and by God we desperately need it in these times!
Wow, if only more people had your sense of being! The majority of folks who dis not having roads in the wilderness should get out of their Jeeps and off their ATVs and take a walk!! The wilderness areas are there for a reason and to put roads in negates that reason. Man is the reason our natural world is being decimated. What little natural beauty we have left should be protected from Man's greed and ego.
I admire your tenacity. I love visiting the National Parks, also. My dad loved to travel and destinations usually included a nation park. Safe travels ❣️
Very good perspective, and well expressed. There are many things many people cannot do. I really don’t want more access to wilderness, because then it isn’t wilderness. Humans don’t take care of things very well.
I live on a ski mountain, but rarely ski. I am too old. A thousand years ago, no one skied, and now we are interfering with the bears, killing them, for our pleasure. The world is not here for our pleasure and there are trillions of species we must coexist with. Including viruses.
Exactly! Earth does not exist for the sole use of humans, ambulatory or otherwise. The interdependent web of all creation exists for itself, and we are a part of it. This essay could not have said it better.
What a beautiful article! I could not have put my own feelings about wilderness into better words. That unfortunate accident in 1983 may have left you paralyzed, but it didn't kill your spirit or appreciation of wilderness/nature for its own sake. I haven't gotten out to enjoy wilderness for years now, but it soothes ones soul, or at least my own, simply to know it's there. Wilderness deserves protection because what it offers is very special, a unique escape from much of the insanity our daily lives are bombarded with. Like you, " I love knowing that there are wild places where animals can room free without human disruption. " And, of course, wilderness is indeed essential to the survival of so many amazing species. Thank you for sharing your selfless insights. If you're not a professional writer, you should consider a new career.
Thanks for your courage to speak up to keep wilderness wild. Wildness is Wisdom, because it leaves the ego out. There's a manifested creative intelligence (Wisdom) in the wilderness. It's who we really are. Love.
Eloquently expressed! Thank you.
The exquisite beauty of the natural world can being me, also, to tears of joy, awe and rapture, even without a belief in the supernatural.
I agree with the author of the article. People have damaged the wilderness enough as it is. We do not have the right to encroach just because we can. If we are able to travel to other planets we should be able of designing a mode of transportation for the disabled that is more wilderness friendly.
Hi Roy, Thank you so much for sharing your very unique perspective! I enjoyed learning about the world as you view it. For a long time now, it has been in our faces about access for 'handicapped' people. While most of the world needs to adapt to include them, I agree with you 100% that there are a few exceptions. And 'changing' nature to adapt to the handicapped is not one of them. This is my first time to read anything about anyone opposing access, and I think it is great that you are bringing awareness about this topic. I hope you are able to spread the word more. Thank you again!