One of my pet projects has long been stimulating appreciation for the, ahem, lesser known recreation spots in Western Washington. Specifically, I am a tad obsessed with the logging roads and mixed-use areas that network the physical landscape of the Pacific Northwest but that are so rarely seen in the social media landscape.
The many Instagram feeds with lush visuals showcasing the rich natural beauty of the PNW–of which I am both producer and avid consumer–are in direct contrast with what we see on a daily basis. Looking at the foothills around Bellingham, for example, reveals the contours of foothills in various stages of logging and re-growth. And driving home last weekend, my husband and I debated how recent a clear-cut in the Chuckanuts might have been, a not-uncommon topic of conversation in our household.
One of the great ironies of our outdoor adventures in Western Washington has been that most of our encounters with areas that feel truly “wild” have been in places beyond those designated specifically as wilderness. Amid the wash of human debris–logging rubble, cast-offs used as target practice, trash dumped by the roadside–we’ve seen sign from coyotes and cougars, observed elk grazing, watched black bears scramble to avoid contact, and listened to countless varieties of birdsong in the recovering canopy.
Part of my obsession with these areas stems from a desire for solitude, which is often hard to come by on the popular trails. But spending time in areas heavily used by industrial humanity is also a way of keeping myself honest.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” We need more of these areas, certainly, along with the protections this designation affords. I would argue, though, that in an era in which so much of the natural world is affected directly or indirectly by human activity, it’s equally important to get up close and personal with the effects of our actions.
Spending time on logging roads is, for me, a way of loving the natural world in the Anthropocene and of finding beauty in unlikely places, all of which is profoundly, if somewhat oddly, hopeful.