Un­wel­come park sights in Cape Bre­ton and be­yond

Please re­frain from mak­ing wilder­ness pres­ence an­nounce­ments

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc. You can see a map of his cur­rent trav­els, 10 fes­ti­vals in 10 days, at bit.ly/10Days10Fes­ti­vals.

When did we be­come such van­dals? How did we be­come so care­less and self-cen­tred?

(This, by the way, is not as much a fes­ti­val col­umn as it is a col­umn about places on the shoul­ders of fes­ti­vals I’ve been to.)

I first thought about our cu­ri­ous be­hav­iour sev­eral years ago, while vis­it­ing the Table­lands in Gros Morne Na­tional Park. I thought about it again in a pro­vin­cial park in Cape Bre­ton, and in a na­tional park in P.E.I. in the past week.

First, though, the Table­lands. The Table­lands are a re­mark­ably lu­nar lo­ca­tion: the rock is bro­ken, fresh and con­trib­utes to an ex­tremely acidic ground­wa­ter. I haven’t found a place as in­hos­pitable to plants any­where, ex­cept maybe the lime­stone bar­rens at Cape Onion on the tip of New­found­land’s North­ern Penin­sula.

Plants fight to live on the Table­lands, and even for suc­cess­ful species it’s tough go­ing. But visit the pub­licly trod­den por­tions of the Table­lands and you may find, as I did, scores of places where peo­ple have prized rock up from in, around and over the roots of those plants, just so they could build their own ver­sions of an Inuk­shuk. Dozens of them, of­ten with names or ini­tials scratched into the rock, for no other rea­son than the peo­ple in­volved needed to show they had been there.

Leave aside that Inuk­suit were built by in­dige­nous peo­ples for spe­cific pur­pose, both re­li­gious and ge­o­graphic, and ask your­self in­stead, how is this van­dal­ism any dif­fer­ent than whip­ping out a can of spray paint and writ­ing you name on the near­est cliff face? It isn’t.

Last week, I was in a pro­vin­cial park near Baddeck — Uisge Ban Falls. It’s a hik­ing park built around a spec­tac­u­lar falls, in­clud­ing a river­side path that wends for kilo­me­tres through high trees and stone blocks. It was hot enough that the air was full of the smell of spruce, the spruce cones were break­ing open and their seeds were whirly-gig­ging down to the for­est floor to start the next gen­er­a­tion of trees. The air was full of the smell of wet hu­mus, and af­ter a group of 20 hik­ing tourists passed me with their guide, full of the smell of bug spray as well.

Paths cut down to the river, and I took one, pass­ing a pile of tis­sues where some­one who couldn’t reach the out­house had re­lieved them­selves.

Then, there on the river­bank, were two more Inuk­suit, made this time with round river rocks dug out of the al­ready-un­sta­ble hill­side next to the river. I took them down, put the stones back into their holes in the tuff as best I could, and then, on the way out of the park, won­dered if the rock van­dals had shook their heads and gorm­lessly tsk­tsked about the spray-can graf­fiti on the back of the park en­trance sign.

Then, Tues­day, I was on the beach near Dal­vay in P.E.I., just past the very first en­trance to the na­tional park.

I climbed down the steps to the beach, read­ing the sign that talked about the need for keep­ing the dunes sta­ble and ask­ing peo­ple to stay off of the dune grass and the nearby clayed cliff. Foot­prints — hu­man foot­prints — led up and through the dune grass over and over again, and there was a dune face where peo­ple had been slid­ing down the sand on their back­sides. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not 30 feet away from that sign, I found a big square cube of red clay, cut out of a dunebank with a stick, car­ried out to the beach and dec­o­rated on top with shells and what looked like a stick-drawn name. Foot­prints in the sand led di­rectly to the bank and back.

This isn’t com­pli­cated, peo­ple — take only pic­tures, leave only foot­prints.

You wouldn’t go to din­ner and write your name on the table­cloth with a Sharpie, nor would you be pleased if your guests signed the side of your house with paint to show they’d had a good time at the party.

Here’s a mes­sage for the Inuk­shuk-builders and the cliff-de­fac­ers and the spray-paint graf­fiti artists too, be­cause face, it, you’re all in the de­fac­ers club to­gether. The mes­sage? It’s not all about you.

You don’t have to an­nounce your pres­ence. In case you hadn’t re­al­ized it, in this case, sur­rounded by the won­ders of the world, you don’t mat­ter.

Not one lit­tle bit.

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