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Hiking in Place

Monday, April 27th, 2020: Hikes, Nature, Southwest New Mexico, Various, Wildfire.

Like every crisis in our alienated society, COVID-19 has revealed more of the social and ecological failures we live in everyday denial of. It was clear from the beginning that the virus became a pandemic due to our technologically-enhanced national and global mobility. The more people venture outside their local communities, the farther the virus spreads. But raised as individualists in our European-derived culture, we take our mobility for granted and resist any constraints on our ability to travel.

My weekend hikes have evolved to encompass a radius of a hundred miles from my home, but as the virus spread and voluntary travel restrictions were imposed, it became clear that the farthest of those hikes would take me out of my local service area and expose me to risk of interacting with people in other communities. So I dropped those destinations and stuck to hikes which, if anything went wrong, would limit my exposure to services and people in my local community.

I’m lucky to live in a small town which supports a vast rural region. For city people, the restrictions are much more limiting. Your local “community” is typically a tiny, densely populated enclave of strangers, completely surrounded by similar enclaves. If you want to get out into “nature” – a nearby park landscaped with non-native plants and infested with invasive species – you enter into competition with thousands of people from neighboring communities. Hence many city parks have been closed. And if you travel outside your enclave, you’re immediately at risk of spreading the virus. But that’s the price you pay for living in a city – an unhealthy environment at the best of times.

Thus one of the most profound failings of our alienated way of life is exposed – the meaninglessness of “communities” to modern, urbanized people. City people are lucky if they even know their next-door neighbors. The idea of living in a neighborhood has only intangible value to them. In a crisis, it’s every man for himself. He can’t be bothered to care about the health of the thousands of strangers surrounding him. He just desperately needs to “get out.”

Early spring is a transitional season for us. Our habitat can’t accurately be described using the four-season cliche; March and April are the dry and windy season. Vegetation doesn’t really start greening up and flowering broadly until May.

Despite the dry air, the winter’s heavy snows still cling to north slopes over 9,000′, blocking some of the trails I’d normally use this time of year. And snowmelt floods streams and rivers, blocking other trails.

Excluded from many of my favorite trails, I experiment with trails I’ve avoided in the past. But the drabness of vegetation this time of year offers only limited photo opportunities.

With all that in mind, here’s a gallery of highlights from “hiking in place.”




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