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Just What Is "Pristine"?

An outdoor-lover's plea to leave only footprints. (Heck, even finding footprints can be annoying.)


According to Webster's Third International Dictionary, the word "pristine" means "uncorrupted by civilization or the world, also original or primitive." That pretty well coincides with my own definition, which by the way, surprised me! When I'm out and about, I don't wanna see even the tiniest hint of another human having been there before me; in fact, I don't even wanna see that I've been there!

Which brings up what I don't like to see, in the hopes that someone somewhere out there will take the hint.

Let's see, maybe I'll start with those who like to fish. Allow me to complain about all of that discarded fishing line, bobbers and lures that clutter brush and hang in the water; even those little abandoned forked sticks stuck in the mud annoy me. It would be so simple of a task to pull those limbs from the mud and chuck 'em.

Hikers like to have us think that they leave everything pristine, yet I have spotted many discarded plastic water bottles along their byways. And don't get me started about rotting toilet tissue and feces lying right out in the open alongside power-bar wrappers. Have you ever heard of the act of burying your refuse? Okay, ya can't carry a shovel, no matter how small the size, but a well-shod foot will do wonders, especially if there is soft, loamy soil or sand in the vicinity.

Ever go into an area where woodcutters have just operated? Empty oil bottles are commonplace, as well as beer and soda cans and fast-food containers. The most disgusting scene I happened upon was where evidently a family had practiced togetherness on their woodcutting foray, but they left discarded baby diapers everywhere–ugh!

Speaking of beer cans, those seem to be the number-one refuse of hunters. Discarded, bleached aluminum cans are to be found almost anywhere nowadays. For the life of me, I can't imagine that a hunter, or anyone for that matter, can't go a day without their alcohol.

Target shooters need to clean up their own act as well. I've found as many as 200 discarded empty shotshells lying about, as well as hundreds of tiny empty .22 cartridge brass; it is all inexcusable. Of course, if I come across a gold mine of reusable empty brass that I can transform into ammunition, then I thank the good Lord for the bounty!

Campers love to build huge "white man's fires" lined with rocks, then discard all manner of unburnable garbage into the fire-pit to forever taint the land. Why can't folks just learn to leave things as they find them? I can see throwing empty cans into the fire to burn them clean, and then retrieving the garbage to carry out, but to leave the entire mess?

For my own part, and others that I know who have camped with me, I usually like to dismantle the fire ring and scatter the ash, then pick up all of my garbage as well as any left before me, just to be sure. Again, I like to try to practice not letting folks know where I've been; that way it's my own private little Eden.

I even make it a practice to cover over my ATV tracks or drag trees across the entrance to a newly discovered road so that no one knows my secrets (heh, heh).

At this point, permit me to chase a rabbit: Last year I had discovered a long-forgotten trail that was covered with natural debris. I followed it on foot and found that it led to a great hunting and camping spot, so I came back and cleared it, since it showed past grading with machinery, albeit in the far past. Anyway, soon it was discovered by other ATV users, and they opened it up further. Then the worst happened–anti-ATVers found it too and "bouldered" it in, along with other messes. Now it is unusable again. Sigh. I've found at least a half-dozen other old, long-forgotten trails, but they will forever remain for my own secret usage–sorry.


But back to the subject at hand. I will give credit where credit is due, and that concerns the primitive backpacker; they seem to leave the least "footprint" of any outdoor persuasion. Rarely can you tell that they have been there before you. To me personally, they are the epitome of the outdoor user–rugged, hearty, loner-individualists. My ballcap gets tipped to you folks!

It discourages me to find even a human footprint, dog print or horseshoe track when I'm back in some remote place. That sign reveals that indeed someone else was first there and possibly that I'm not alone!

What brought this tirade up in the first place was a recent outing in which I found an oily film on spring waters. Although I didn't find a source, I wondered if it was man who had caused this pollution?

I suppose barbed-wire fences are a necessity where I go, but still, I wonder if there really is a need in remote places, especially where cattle no longer graze?

Of course, I have exceptions to my ranting. I like to find man-made tanks because they provide supplemental moisture for wildlife, and I don't mind finding a barbed-wire enclosure around a grass-shrouded spring, because in a way, that wire keeps the area within its confines, sorta pristine. (Hey, that's a paradox!)

Have you ever noticed all of those ancient rock and concrete dams in many drainages of the Gila? They were installed back in the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Many a permanent water seep was established at the base of these structures when the up-side silted in completely.

Of course, none of those things allow for the word "pristine" to be used, but maybe that's okay if they are beneficial.

Sigh. I guess there really is no such a thing as being truly pristine anymore. Humankind are both users and abusers, with an occasional care-taker thrown in for good measure.

Come to think of it, I'd rather we use something than let it just sit there to be looked at. I just wish that as we use it, we'd be more the caretaker than the user or abuser.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God continue to bless you.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors
exclusively for Desert Exposure.

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