Unwelcome park sights in Cape Breton and beyond
Please refrain from making wilderness presence announcements
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.