Like all traipsers through woods and walkers of rivers, I have a few favorite secret places. I could go on and on about their beauty, about what makes them so different from any other location on Earth, about the feelings they elicit from deep down in my core. But if I tell you, you might visit them and then bring your friends; and then they wouldn’t be my secret undisturbed refuges anymore.
I think my reluctance to talk about the hollows and crannies, hilltops and crests in the world that have really stirred me is shared by many nature enthusiasts. For example, while writing a book about Wisconsin’s many great woods, I interviewed a Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit ranger about her favorite places in that 29,268-acre, 10,000-year-old geography.
“I do have a little, magic place,” she confessed, “at the northern end of the forest. At the bottom of a huge moraine, there’s a spring. Where the water comes up, it makes the sand bubble. The grains just jump and dance. It’s gorgeous! I could sit there and watch it all day — it’s one of those Zen things, I think.”
“Where is it?” I asked her.
“You wouldn’t find it,” she replied quickly. “You’d need a guide to show you. Northern end of the forest — that’s all I’ll tell you. It’s a very spiritual place.”
I ran into this same reticence in a guide who regularly works in the Grand Canyon. He once had told me that if I ever traveled to the Southwest, he’d show me his favorite hidden place in one of America’s most popular natural landmarks. But when I finally did show up in person and asked him to make good on his promise, he balked.
You’re a writer,” he said. “If I take you to my secluded spots, you may write about them. Then other people will know where they are,” he explained. I could hardly argue. If the places he kept to himself were as wondrous as he made them sound, surely I would love them, too, and end up expressing my awe and regard for them in the way that I normally express myself: in writing.
But I now wonder if doing so would be so bad. If we keep quiet about the special places that move us and that “speak” to us in ways that other terrains cannot, are we doing them a disservice? I think of the author Rick Bass, who has written frequently about his beloved Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana. Over the course of his lifetime, he has been conflicted within and ostracized from without about his books regarding his adopted home. Some of his neighbors consider him a traitor for calling the public eye to their little, private piece of heaven. But would Congress be considering granting the valley a protective status — thus preserving this special place — without Bass’s many published essays and books on the topic of his home turf? It could be that the only way to “protect” is to “make public.”
It could be that sharing secrets is not only a way to bond with a friend, but to forge a lasting relationship with a landscape.
What do you think? … And, should I tell you where my photos in this post were taken? Share your comments below.
Happy trails and lots of good reading,