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.