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.
aloha and mahalo for your lovely and heartfelt personal story about the value of wilderness. Hopefully the people of this nation -- especially younger generations -- do and will realize that some places need to stand on their own for their own -- and humans' -- sake. No jet skis, no snow mobiles, no commercial ventures or advantages for any single human. Just for all of us.
Beautiful, thought provoking essay. I totally agree with the author and truly appreciate his perspective.
Hi Roy, I just want to say how much I admire you for dealing with the disability you have and yet still remain positive and joyful about the many things you do can still do. This was a catastrophic, life changing event in your life and you've dealt with it admirably. I wish for you many more years of enjoying the outdoors and all the wonders you will continue to enjoy. Best wishes to you Roy!
I totally agree with this gentleman's blog. He knows what the wilderness is and why he can no longer have access to all of it. Total wilderness is where no one has access. Humans tend to damage, sometimes destroy, wilderness by misusing it. Some wilderness is accessible, but no motors or wheels such as bikes. Less noise, erosion and other damage. Roads are the worst. Wilderness is then no longer wilderness. So, thanks for your insight into the need to maintain wilderness standards. The creatures of the wilderness need protection from human types.
america can be defined by how it treats its indigenous inhabitants which includes 2 and 4 foot creations.One role
is to offer stewardship to the diversity among which many are in need of our voice.Be kind to our fellow earthlings
for we all reap what we sow.Blessings to all
Agreed. Entitlement is no reason to further degrade the wilderness, speaking as someone who can no longer walk too far.
I was very moved by your piece about wilderness and the importance of it being untrammeled by humans. You strike me as being a high-minded individual who, despite physical limitations, deeply understands the sacredness of what is wild and how maybe the best thing is if nobody goes to certain places in the natural world. Your words remind me of how a certain tribe of Alaska --the name escapes me --does not step foot on the plain where the porcupine caribou go to give birth. For them, it is too sacred a place.
Peace and God bless!
Please do not let the animals perish.
Please save all wildlife.
I do not want to see them perish and not be here for the next generation.
Thank you for your story. I too, am grateful for wilderness and we are called,by God, to care for all creation.
Your letter touched me deeply. In fact it brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you for caring about wilderness, for reminding others that we need to protect it.
And that there are plenty of other places where someone in a wheelchair can connect with nature.
Your generous and kind spirit are much appreciated.
Because you have a disability, you speak with an authority few can.
Thank you for speaking out.
May God Bless,
Dear Roy (Monte) High,
Thank you for sharing your amazing story with us. You are obviously a true nature and animal lover, and I appreciate your feelings of awe and reverence of what we can all experience, if we care and protect our wilderness. The human animal has lost the knowledge and understanding of stewardship of our earth and all that lives here.
Perhaps your sharing will make a difference. I hope so.
Thank you and Elizabeth,
You, sir, are a brilliant and kind gentleman. Thank you for your stand towards animals . The world is not just about people... it is about sharing the world with many different things...You understand this. Sadly, most people do not. You have a large heart and kindness.....and intelligence. May the good Lord take care of you . Sincerely, Mildred