A man recently fell and broke his leg while hiking in the wilderness area above Boulder, Colo. While I wondered aloud how anyone could meet this fate in such a well-worn area, it was his rescue that piqued my attention. The lost hiker carried a cell phone and a hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS), a precision electronic navigation aid that locks onto orbiting satellites and calculates your exact position and movement.
called 911, gave them his exact coordinates, and rescue was fast
Yes, things are a changin" in the
Wild West. A study by Duracell Battery finds that 38 percent of
vacationers now pack a cell phone or pager. Eighteen percent bring
along a notebook personal computer or electronic personal
On a recent hike into the high
country, a friend of mine pulled out his cell phone at 13,000 feet,
sat on the edge of a stunningly beautiful rock precipice and dialed
his wife two states away. I didn't know that he had taken the
phone, and was immediately torn by strong, opposing opinions. On
one hand, the romance of it all. I mean, what woman wouldn't love
to hear her lover's voice from a mountain top? To know that amid
such beauty he was thinking of her? But the pit in my stomach told
me that deeper feelings prevailed; feelings that had to do with the
cell phone's immediate transformation of the
I go to wilderness to leave linear
time behind. I also leave behind the world of instant access, where
phones, e-mail, cars and airplanes provide fast contact with anyone
in the world. It is a step from the planned, organized,
domesticated world into the realm of the unexpected. Whether a
meadow of mariposa lilies or a sudden lightning storm at tree line,
the beautiful and dangerous surprises of wilderness keep me
well-honed. I must plan carefully. I must be aware of changes in
wind and weather.
A cell phone changes all of
this. Suddenly, I don't have to be responsible for poor planning,
silly mistakes or bad luck. Like the hiker who broke his leg, I
don't even have to take a map if I have my toys. In today's world,
rescue teams with helicopters wait to save me from
Colorado has approximately 3 million
acres of wilderness and multitudinous millions of acres of national
forest. Like its neighbors, much of its land is public. Public
lands are, in fact, the partial definition of the West. For years,
people have come to the forests and filled darkness with Coleman
lanterns. Then, they filled silence with ghetto blasters. And now,
they fill solitude with instant access to the technological world.
Next week, I'm riding my horse into the
wilderness to camp alone for a few days. I'll pack a .357 on my
hip. Three shots, three whistles, three of any noise is a distress
signal. This is closer to the West I came to live in 20 years ago.
A place where danger and beauty coincide, where I am part of the
food chain, vulnerable to weather changes, dependent upon instinct.
A place where personal responsibility gets the utmost
Yes, part of my gear will be a space-age
fabric, lightweight tent. I will take a down jacket for warmth, and
a small cooking stove. I do not wax negative on the products of
technology. But somehow, my gut tells me that we've crossed the
line with cell phones in wilderness.
taking chances. In today's sanitized world we've minimized risk so
much that the psyche deadens, and violence becomes more and more
perverse. There's a reason why old cultures ritualized violence.
The psyche and soul need tests. This is why rodeo still lives in
the West, why cowboys still brave the elements with their stock
across miles of dangerous terrain, and people leave the safety of
their homes with a pack on their back and head into the
Phones and computers change the
wilderness as much as forbidden roads and chainsaws. Perhaps more.
Christina Nealson is author
of Living On The Spine: A Woman's Life in the Sangre de Cristo
Mountains; Papier-Mache Press, 1997. She is a regular contributor
to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country