In his recent blog post titled Near is the New Far, author Richard Louv writes about the importance of “nearby nature” and wonders if rising gas prices might force us to stay closer to home as we chase our next outdoor fix—and if doing so might lead us to live in more rewarding urban environments: “If we stick around long enough, we might even protect what’s left, reclaim poorly used land, and create new habitat.”
I have to admit that expensive gas has put a damper on my getting outside with Will and Andrew since we returned from our summer odyssey. I could justify the expense when it came to driving cross-country for an extended trip, but I’m not as enthusiastic about the outlay for a casual weekend, much less a day trip—driving three to four hours round-trip to take them day hiking in the mountains just isn’t as attractive when $40 of gas is involved. For that matter, my kayaking has taken a big hit this year, too. Metro Atlanta’s sprawl has never felt like so much of a prison as it does right now. Wouldn’t it be nice if the city were a nicer place to play?
But as much as I’d like Louv’s vision to play out, I admit my gut response to his call to stay closer to home is not a positive one. Perhaps a young adulthood spent pursuing wilderness experiences has spoiled me, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about these degraded places. When I take my boys down to the admittedly scenic Chattahoochee River, I have a hard time ignoring the old tennis balls and discarded styrofoam cups that float by (much less the posted e-coli warnings). When we visit the little patch of woodland left in my neighborhood, all my eyes seem to see is the invasive Chinese Privet and English Ivy that has overtaken the place. I know this attitude is counterproduitive, but I’ve been unable to help myself.
In this respect, I seem to have been infected by the dualistic view of nature that William Cronon rails against in his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness”: “Idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we live, the landscape that for better or for worse we call our home.” Doesn’t this societal mindset just lead to home’s continuing degradation?
Well, it’s said that the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. Now that our summer swelter has finally abated, I’m commited to giving nearby nature a second chance, so this will be the first in a series of posts over the next few months as the boys and I explore our nearby faraway.
Last weekend, I took Will and Andrew to Boat Rock Preserve, a popular urban bouldering area preserved and managed by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, a destination only 15 minutes from home. This being our second visit, Will was so fired up that he took a Sharpie to a t-shirt he made at camp last summer and wrote “Boat Rock” on the back for the occasion.
We spent a good two hours exploring the area, clambering over and under and between all the boulders. The boys could have stayed longer, but I was mentally worn out by that point, as the boys kept finding formations that might have an easy walk-up on one side and a nasty drop on the other. This is not the sort of place where I could take a book and kick back while the boys run wild.
The good: It’s relatively close by, and the rock formations are definitely something to behold, with plenty of cool nooks and crannies to explore. The woods in and around the boulders are a scenic oak/hickory climax community and have not been overrun with invasives, so it’s a pleasant little piece of forest. And I don’t think we’ve seen it all; for all the climbers’ cars in the little parking lot, we didn’t see many people, so there must be more to the area. Kudos to the SCC for saving this area from the bulldozers.
Will does laps up the crack on this little slab.
Will in particular loves climbing, though there aren’t many easy routes on these egg-shaped boulders. Next time, I may bring my own rock shoes and clamber around a bit, too. I’m nowhere near my fighting weight, and bouldering has always seemed to me like a good way to break an ankle, but I do miss climbing.
Happy for the chance to wear his rock shoes again.
Poor Andrew can’t really climb yet, his toes still slowly healing, but he enjoyed exploring all the boulders nonetheless.
The bad: Boat Rock is not in the best part of town. The area is gentrifying (hence the development pressures that nearly doomed it), but it was nonetheless hard not to think about my car back on the roadside; evidently break-ins have been a problem here. Traffic noise is very noticable. And while climbers have done a pretty good job of cleaning the area up, there’s still a good bit of trash at the margins (like a mysterious pile of old athletic socks along the trail to the pond).
The ugly (or at least creepy): Our turn-around point was the little lake tucked back in the woods where , according to local legend, Atlanta police found the submerged bodies of six children back in the eighties, supposed victims of the “Marietta Mangler.” Creepy. While we sat on a big rock at the water’s edge and snacked, a guy drove his ramshackle van drove down the dirt road on the far shore, got out, and started fishing. Given that he was dropping his catch into an empty five-gallon paint bucket, I’m pretty sure he was fishing for subsistence, not sport. My spidey-sense was telling me I didn’t want to know what else he had in his van. About that time, Will gushed “This would be a great place to camp.” Ummm, no. I just told him it was against the rules.