For many of our fellow Americans, recreation in our nation’s public lands is not a priority during this politically tumultuous era. What could exposure to nature possibly offer us while human-built institutions unravel and harm the very people they are supposed to protect? What is the role of wildland stewardship during such times?
As I’ve pondered these questions, I’ve come to the conclusion that protecting and enjoying our public lands is just the sort of act of patriotism we need right now -- an act aligned with the altruistic values of public good and equity that helped form this country. For me, and for many who love the outdoors, nature offers an affirmation of life, a sense of place, opportunities for wonder and awe -- and perhaps most importantly during times of uncertainty -- the chance to connect with others beyond the confines of ideology.
I am among 36% of Angelenos who are immigrants. I am also among 52% who are renters, with no land or home that we can truly call our own. But perhaps we can.
The moment I set foot on public land -- be it protected by federal, state or local mandate -- I am home. This is my land. And it is yours.
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument offers you and me 346,177 acres of protected wilderness to explore. It constitutes 70% of Angelenos’ open space. It provides 15 million Southern Californians access within a 90-minute drive.
I visit the Monument because I crave nature’s restorative influence and a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life. I visit because I love hiking and backpacking, and because it’s a wonderful place to introduce friends to the outdoors who may have limited wilderness experience. I visit to escape summer heat in the city. I visit to stretch my legs and my mind. I visit because it’s my land and because it welcomes me.
The Monument is a special place that offers endless opportunities for exploration. I love the challenge of hiking nearly 4,000 feet up to the top of Mt. Baldy, which at 10,064 feet is the highest point in LA County. I love that the trail to Mt. Baden-Powell is filled with tiny details that leave me fascinated -- from trees that grew crooked from heavy snow in their first years, to wooden skeletons that appear to be yearning and reaching for the heavens. I love introducing friends to backpacking on Mt. Islip and celebrating Thanksgiving at Little Jimmy Trail Camp, everyone huddled around the campfire while the mercury drops into the 20s -- a memory each of us will always have.
I also visit because I like to remind myself that strangers on the trail are just new friends I haven’t yet made.
If I said hello to a stranger on the sidewalks of downtown LA, they’d likely ignore me and think something is wrong with me. But on the trail, there is an innate camaraderie that comes out in each of us, an opportunity to look another in the eye for the first time and tap into that ancestral sense of responsibility for each other’s well-being. Countless times, I’ve struck up profound conversations with people I just met on the trail -- because the mountains offer a space for connection on shared land.
Just as the land is ours to enjoy, ours also is the responsibility to care for it. How do we go about that?
Senegalese poet Baba Dioum said it well:
In the end, we conserve only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught.
If you already love the San Gabriels, yours is the privilege to teach a friend or loved one to understand and ultimately love this asset we are all so fortunate to have -- to ensure we collectively preserve and cherish it in perpetuity. We are creatures who are moved to protect what we love. Spending time in our public lands to experience the transcendent is a sure way to feel grounded and connected by common values, to find a positive outlet for our human energies, and to begin to heal during the trying times our nation faces.
So let’s help redefine patriotism. Let’s get out there and revel in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Experience wonder in LA’s backyard. Connect with people, plants and critters. Challenge yourself and learn something new. The restorative power of nature awaits. This land is your land.
About the author
A native of Milan, Italy born to Israeli-Eastern European parents, Edith is an avid traveler, hiker and backpacker who thrives on sharing her love for nature through interpretation in various mediums. Edith is co-founder of dearantler.com, an online art gallery and travel blog.