Two world views, a single love of public lands

By Rialin Flores, CVI Legislative Associate

It was cold and rainy and I was stuck in the mountains with my in-laws. Life was perfect.

Rain on a backpacking trip, like the trip I was on last weekend in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon, isn’t always bad. It provides a reprieve from camp chores and side hikes. It allows for quiet thoughts to drift through.

Chilly, wet and our feet hurt. We loved every minute of it.

It was during one of these down times that I gained a new level of appreciation for public lands. I’ve always held a deep love for our vast forests, deserts, and mountains, but this one trip was special.

Let me explain.

I am married to a wonderful man named Andrew who is a liberal through and through. Andrew’s parents, who were our hiking partners, are unapologetic conservatives. Andrew listens to NPR. His parents listen to Rush Limbaugh.

During normal times, those differences of opinion can create challenges. But just 45 days before one of the most contentious presidential elections in our nation’s history, and those challenges are enhanced exponentially. It crossed my mind on a couple of occasions: Would Andrew and his folks be able to get through the 4 days and 30 miles together without sparring over, or at least ignoring, the political elephant or donkey in the room?

But where we were, there were no rooms. Only beautiful views of Eagle Cap Summit, Matterhorn in the distance, and the Glacier Lakes valley festooned in the warm colors of autumn. It didn’t take long to realize that our location, miles from the nearest road, and the issue it represented — public lands — would bridge the political divide in our group.

Andrew and his parents may disagree on a long list of things. But public lands and their importance are not one of them. Indeed, it is on public lands where they feel connected to each other, where they have a shared understanding and find common values.

A dusting of snow on the Wallowas greeted us the next morning.

A dozen trail miles had wiped away the politics and trivialities of the real world — or maybe more accurately, the world of political rhetoric.

Where we were, there was no such thing as a Democrat or Republican. Getting outside and enjoying the natural beauty of our public lands is nonpartisan. Standing on a mountain in the wind and rain is nonpartisan. Breathing deeply the alpine-scented air after a 1,500 ft elevation gain is nonpartisan. And even though we were chilly and wet, our feet hurt and our bodies were sore, none of us wanted to be anywhere else with anybody else.

The next day the sky cleared and the colors of autumn illuminated the canyon as the sun rose. Fall’s silence was interrupted by our conversations. And If you had been listening, you would have never known the vast political differences between Andrew and his parents.

I hope we as a society can be more like that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all returned to that basic value of cherishing and protecting the great inheritance of our public lands?

Lately, I’ve had my doubts we’ll ever get back to that kind of civility. But after last weekend, I have renewed hope. The weekend was magical. It connected the four of us as trail partners, team members and as a family. I’ll never forget it.

Thanks Andrew, Gay and Jerry. I love you all.