Is It Best to Keep Beloved Natural Places Secret?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | April 14th, 2009 | 7 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

secret_1Like 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.

secret_2“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.

secret_3But 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,



  1. Part of the thrill of wandering outdoors, especially in areas that are new to you, is the feeling that you’re discovering places that speak to you in special ways. Sharing their location and import with others can turn those private places into public happenings and the experience is irrevocably changed. Last weekend I visited a state park with a beautiful waterfall. After hiking in a half mile and descending into a canyon I came upon a line of people waiting their turns to take pictures of themselves and family members in front of this “beloved natural place”. Some things are better kept secret.

    John Thomas | April 14th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. …sssshhhh…

    MANAPUA | April 14th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Soon there will be Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream there.

    Travis John | April 14th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. For a large area to be kept in a protected status it must become known to the public . But you should keep your secret spot within that area a secret . John Howard

    John H Gaukel | April 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. If it’s a secret spot, keep it that way. No need to share and spoil the secret.

    Cindy | April 18th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. I get it. Even when I’m aware that solitude may not be the healthiest option for me and that I could invite a friend to come along and share one of my favorite walks at a conservancy or some perch I like to frequent overlooking coastal waters . . I inevitably talk myself out of taking a friend or acquaintance, convincing myself that this person would somehow intrude on the true spirit-friendship that I’ve cultivated and bonded with, which is the place itself . . where I silently share my fears, apprehensions, nonsensical thoughts, epiphanies and prayers; where I’ve acquired self-awareness, contentment and peace. Wouldn’t it be changed by having another human along? Selfish isn’t it? Maybe the compromise is to relinquish a few of our secret natural places and share them with special others, and to hold tight to one or two that mean the most to us.

    Lynn | May 12th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  7. I like to think that I might be the only person who has ever experienced a small piece of the world. That is not being selfish, it just makes it a very special place in a very crowded world. Keep your secret as long as you can.

    Pat | May 18th, 2009 | Comment Permalink

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