Linda’s sister Jodi is a National Park Service ranger in the New River Gorge. In addition to some of her jobs like cultural and historical interpretation, wildflower walks, and storytelling, she’s also a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School: she teaches people visiting the backcountry to Leave No Trace.
Is it really possible to leave no trace of your passing? Whether it’s an afternoon in the Greensboro Arboretum or ten days on the AT, can you really return from a place with no evidence you were ever there? In years past the NPS and other outdoor organizations had less ambitious slogans: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires; Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute; Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints; Pack It In, Pack It Out. But no trace at all?! Even if all six billion of us recycled, composted, and travelled everywhere we went via shank’s mare, just the act of breathing in and out sends billows of carbon dioxide like a blanket into the atmosphere. Leave No Trace — are you kidding me?
I wrote this poem, little mouse (trace), with my son and daughter in mind. At different times one or the other of them has taken extended wilderness treks with me, and we’ve struggled to practice the best stewardship over wild places that we can. (Margaret’s famous quotation upon reaching a road crossing with a refuse bin and over a pound of garbage in her pack: “Trash cans rock my world!”) But the world I want to leave them is not one with a few nice paths through the woods free of candy wrappers. It’s not just the expectation that a few hikers will know how to erase the marks of their stay when they break camp. It’s more like some crazy hope that all of us, every one, will retain an acute awareness of our traces right in the very places where we live. That we’ll regret the unavoidable scars we leave on the earth. That we’ll celebrate together when we can heal one.
. . . . .
I want to leave the earth and climb
the snowbank cumulus, kick
my boots into the billow, lean
against my sassafras stick and rise.
Rain licks the slickrock clean
of my prints, greenbriar weaves
wild drapery up the wall, hickory sprouts
through the sidewalk. I want to leave
no trace of my passing, no more trail
than the cursive of a slender tail
in dew. Morning sun drinks that cup
and learns a word I never spoke,
someone’s new word for love. I
want to be no more I but we – creature
loam bud feather; let roots translate
the phosphorus of my dust to fruit.
If you look for me a wren calls.
If you listen the poplar turns to honey
in the sky. Drink deep this cup. I want
to leave the earth to you.
[from little mouse, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2011]