Keep your tunes to yourself on the trail

A writer decries wilderness-destroying graffiti, litter, drones and booming speakers.

 

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She works at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.


I try to be diplomatic, I really do. 

When I was cleaning up graffiti deposited by an embarrassed-looking family, and the father muttered, “Writing your name on the rocks is an irresistible impulse,” I did not give into my own irresistible impulse and whap him alongside the head with my water bottle. I smiled and said something about how a national park belongs to everyone, and it is up to everyone to care for it properly.

Graffiti in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

When someone drops a tissue on the trail, I do not snatch it up and stuff it into her ear. I say sweetly, “Oh, miss, you seem to have dropped something.” Then I stand there holding it out until she shamefacedly turns around to claim it. 

However, the other day I was hiking uphill at the end of a long day. I had (politely) mentioned to three other people that their loud external speakers were (a) disturbing nesting birds; (b) banned in a wilderness area; and (c) grossing me out. A young lady walked past with her device blaring and I snapped, “Turn it up! I don’t think they can hear it at Three-Mile Resthouse!”

My husband patted my arm and murmured, “I think someone is getting a little bit tired.” 

I remember the halcyon days when someone talking on a cellphone was irritating. Now it is speakers. Loud speakers. Blaring out “boom boomda m#f#k#r shoot the b#h, boom boomda” all the way down the trail. 

The “considerate” ones have it turned to a volume that you only notice as you’re passing or following. But too many seem to revel in how many echoes they can produce off neighboring cliffs. 

What, I wonder, happens when a rap person meets a pop aficionado on the trail? Do they face off with a battle of the speakers? The noises certainly do not cancel each other out. 

I would love to nail the speakers with a squirt bottle as they pass, but, alas, they are weatherproof. I suppose one could accidently bump into the irritant, knock the speaker loose from its moorings and inadvertently drop a large rock on it, but that might seem suspicious. 

Drones are noisy as well as intrusive. We were sitting on the edge of an isolated cliff watching the birds fly by when a racket resembling a chainsaw intruded. A drone hovered overhead. The birds egressed. Fearless Leader clambered up the hill to inform the miscreants than drones are prohibited in national parks. The man said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” The young son piped up, “Yeah, you did, Dad. We saw that sign back there!” The kid obviously missed the memo to not snitch on dad.

Mom, nonplussed, demanded, “Why?” Fearless Leader was up to the challenge.

“We were just watching flocks of birds whirling around. They are gone now. The Park Service regards natural quiet as a quality they wish to retain. An artificial sound, such as a drone, does not fit into that narrative. Then, too, if the battery fails or the wind shears, the drone can crash into the cliffs, which leaves plastic debris and hazardous chemicals.” 

Mom huffed off while the hikers in our group expressed awe. “That was magnificent,” one said. “I was tearing up.” 

“Of course,” I added, “it would have been more satisfying to bring the thing down with a BB gun and stomp on it.” 

“Agreed, but this was equally effective.” 

It is a matter of differences in philosophy. Those of us who listen to the susurration of the wind or the gentle grawks of the ravens will never understand anyone who needs tunes badly enough to drag them along. Those for whom silence is oppressive do not understand why some of us value that selfsame silence. 

There are individuals who hike to an isolated cliff top to watch birds careen by and clouds drift through. There are others who seek that same isolation so they may break the law to obtain a nifty picture to post on Facebook. What is really difficult to understand is their desire to — no, their insistence on — loudly sharing their choice of music. Ear buds are cheap: Use them. 

Maybe that is the answer: I shall invest in a bag of cheap ear buds. The next time I have to listen to “Baby Boy,” I can whip them out. “Obviously you cannot afford a pair of these, so take mine.”

Dear me, that does sound a bit snarky. Maybe someone is getting a little tired.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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