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.
This is one of the most beautiful and inspiring things I have read. I have no disability (other than typical problems of getting older), but my forays into nature are not as deep as when I was young. I have that same feeling, though, that I am sustained just by knowing that those wild places and the amazing creatures, large and small, that roam there are out there. It is quite possible to profoundly love what exists beyond our daily experience in the human-built world. I think it is vital to the spiritual health of humanity to cultivate this perspective.
Roy, thank you for your thoughts and perspective, one that the majority of mankind has no way to view. Yes, to all wilderness and the true intrinsic value it offers to wildlife, Mother Earth and mankind. It must be protected forever, for what it is, for individuals that come after we are gone.
Humans are a very new species. We are the newcomers in the midst of many species which have existed in their present form for many millions of years. What absurd arrogance for man to assign value to other species, using his own selfish desires as the measuring stick. The ginkgo trees in "my" garden represent a venerable line of magnificent living beings. One is male, the other is female. I am honored to be their guardian. The earthworm and mushroom spores in the soil around their roots are just as precious.
This is beautifully expressed, so relevant and important. Brave. I’m moved. Thank you.
While not nearly as poignant… As an avid participant in many outdoor activities that are not permitted in designated wilderness… I wholeheartedly agree. Wilderness is sacred and predominantly there for its own sake. For the wildlife and preservation of the pristine. Needed now, more than ever.
Thank you for your wonderful words. They brought tears to my eyes. I don't get into the wilderness much anymore because I am a caregiver to my husband. I have backpacked with my daughter for over 27 years in the Canadian and American Rockies and treasure those times. Wilderness is there for us all. It will always be because there are enough of us who tell about it, talk about it, write about it and work to keep it healthy.
So beautiful to express that about Nature and God is in Nature. There are so many places left to explore. I can not walk very well, but we keep doing the best we can.
Only one who truly appreciates Wilderness could write such beautiful prose. I so appreciate that you have shared your love for wild country with those who also do, and with those who perhaps do not understand "the hush of the land." Thank you.
Thank you so much for these inspiring an insightful thoughts, may they open people’s hearts and quiet their complaints. I wish you the absolute best, although I suspect you already embody it.