The Spokesman-Review : interns

Monday, July 16, 2007

Donna: "Near Nature. Near perfect."

My first thought when I arrived in Spokane: I don't think I've ever seen so many trees in my life.

And that was just while I was on the freeway.

Yesterday the outdoor editor Rich Landers led Mark, Stef and I on a hike to Stevens Lakes. He was working on a story about the Spokane Mountaineers club's trail cleanup and was kind enough to invite the interns along.

At the starting point we met with three members of the Mountaineers Club. There was Lin, a one-man forestry crew (he carried garbage bags for picking up trash, as well as cutting shears, an ax and a saw for keeping the trail clear of foliage that would trip clumsy hikers such as myself), Chick, who looks like he has wrestled a bear or two (the man has a full, shaggy, gray beard and talked his adventures in Patagonia for goodness' sake!), and Stephanie, a kind-hearted biologist, who took pity on me and lent me her hiking pole-thingie when my flimsy running shoes started to suffocate my feet.

I had been hiking before at John Muir Woods, a national park near San Francisco. But those were leisurely 5-mile strolls compared to hiking up this mountain.

The hike was 10-miles round trip, a breeze for Rich and the Mountaineers Club, and, it seemed, for Mark and Stef, who are frequent bikers. For me, not so much.

I'm such a city girl.

But it was incredibly worth it. The lakes were beautiful. Smooth and clear, they were like polished stones tucked around the mountain peak.

And it was clean. The water was so clear, we could see to the bottom. The fire pits around the lake, aside from ashes from an extinguished camp fire, had no debris or very little. Fire pits and lakes in San Francisco do not look like this.

Rich and the Mountaineers told me that the area and trails are usually not this clean. They still came away with a bag full of garbage

The trip was great, but what I enjoyed most of the passion Rich and the mountaineers had for the environment around them and for hiking. They scoured the lake areas and trails, picking up bits of paper, tape, plastic and foil among other things. They gave us time to stop and appreciate the waterfalls we came across and the views of the tree-coved mountain peaks around us.

We watched as Rich scooped up a baby bird that had fallen out if its nest, putting it in foliage around the trail so it wouldn't get stepped on.

Lin's voice was filled with excitement when he found a nice bear bag (a bag hung up on a tree, used to keep food away from bears) that someone had left behind. Since he already owned one, he courteously left it there in case someone else who needed one came along. Then Rich's eyes lit up when Stef found a metal peg in the shrubbery (not sure what it was for, but apparently it was something very cool and useful).

And all of them couldn't seem to stop smiling.

It was a great inspiration for me. Even though San Francisco is trying to become a zero-waste city, I have many friends and family who often discourage me from worrying about environmental issues. There is a big “What’s the point?” attitude among them.

At the end of the trip, we found out that Lin takes a group hiking every Wednesday evening. These hikes are much shorter and the group consists of expert hikers and novices alike he assured me.

Looks like I’ll be buying my first pair of hiking boots soon. And some more Bengay cream. Lots of it.

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