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.
Well said, Roy.
I, too am disabled and can no longer explore my favorite Wilderness areas. But Wilderness deserves to exist for its own sake.i am grateful for all it provides - clean water, clean air, habitat for wildlife, birds and fish, carbon sequestration and much more.
I wanted to share this moving essay on my Facebook page, but when I tried a request to protest some government action came up instead.
You can share from my facebook page-- Monte High (Roy LaMont High)-- Elizabeth tagged me with this article and it should be visible to everyone.
Thank you for your story. It's a beautiful example of how and why we can love things even when we aren't able to experience every single inch of them.
What a beautiful essay. Thank you for your tremendous generosity of spirit. I am sorry you suffered such a tragic accident, but in awe of your ability to accept your disability and celebrate your life and the lives of others, especially the wild.
Thank you for your honest, heart-felt comments regarding saving our wilderness areas. We back your comments 100%!
Humans have caused so much damage to our earth, the environment, and the irradiation of too many species, already.
We MUST protect & take care of our common lands for the future generations.
We can't pave the whole Earth! WeI need some room to breathe for ourselves and a place for the animals so that we have a balance of nature.
We have a disabled daughter and we love to go to accessible parks with her. We would like to see more accessible parks. We would really love to see all parks (STATE & NATIONAL) have ADA accessible areas. Thank you for reading our comments.
Well said Roy - nothing can soothe the soul like Mother Nature and all her glory. These wilderness areas must remain wilderness to protect all that we love in nature. We are making strides to help those who are disabled - but lets not destroy everything. The places are there for disabled - just check with state and local and national areas to find where you also can soothe your soul.
Its not wildneress anymore when you continue to bring mechanical and motorized vehicles, it destroys natures sounds.
Thank you, Roy! Wonderful article and beautifully written. I appreciate your positive outlook on our amazing natural world—especially with your disability!
Thank you for such an elegantly written understanding of the need for true wilderness, whether or not everyone can get there for whatever reason.
These are the animals homes, not humans. Animal interests and protection should override human self interests.
So beautifully and lovingly written. Thank you for letting the rest of us see and experience your life through your words. I hear gratitude. Instead of being upset about what you don't have or can't do; you are joyful to have and do what you can. Good lesson for all of us. We are, as a species, too entitled. We do feel that we should be able to access everywhere. That is not necessary. The rest of the world deserves to have their own living room without propping up our feet of their coffee table I appreciate the reminder. Vicki
Man is slowly destroying this beautiful planet with his machines and trash, especially plastics. We need to preserve our wilderness and all its wildlife for future generations to enjoy!!
PLEASE help do everything you can to preserve our wilderness, We need to let the world know that climate change is real and WE MUST do something now!