Seeing Our Public Lands Through Polarized Lenses

I am an old millennial. The youth of my generation is eating a mortgages worth of avocados while I worry about my changing glasses prescription and needing a new pair. As others in my generation galavant around the globe ruining chain restaurants and department stores, I do things like read reviews to see what the best envelopes are to send out books. Sometimes, I don’t get the rest of my generation at all, feeling ostracized when I say I don’t really like LaCroix. I think I am the old man of the bunch, a geezer on the porch, sitting in a rocking chair at the old age of 36 shaking my head at these young whippersnapper. Well, back in my day…

I do worry about my glasses though. Not because I need them to see or function, which I “barely” do. Instead I worry about not having a good pair of prescription sunglasses. These are the ones that I see the world through, from pre-dawn to dusk. For those that known me, you all can probably count the times you have seen me without my sunglasses on. I usually don’t ever address this, but I probably owe you an explanation. And no, I don’t wear sunglasses all the time because I think I look cool.

I wear them because I love the way the world looks through polarized lenses. I wear them when I drive. I wear them when I hike. I wear them every chance I get, enjoy the increased saturation levels all around. They aren’t extreme, but just enough extra that when I take them off, everything looks a bit more flat, like when you focus on the foreground when taking a picture on a sunny day with an iPhone.

Seeing our public lands constantly through my sunglasses has actually changed the way I experience the sights. Before I wore sunglasses all the time, I found myself rushing around the parks, hitting as many trails and destinations as I could. My level of enjoyment was based on accomplishments of what I did, failing to fully engage with the landscape on a deeper level. With beauty expanding out in every direction, I was only seeing what was in front of my face, not taking the time to gaze deeper.

With sunglasses, I stop and stare a bit more, appreciating the millions of hues bursting through the lenses. Sure, part of that is because when I actually wear glasses, things are completely in focus, but it is more than that. For me, sunglasses having become an essential part of being outdoors and when I put them on, I find myself anticipating incredible sights. Again, I am not trying to be cool. I wear them because I have grown accustomed to seeing the world through them and it is how I best appreciate and experience wilderness bliss.

Which brings me to the point of all of this. I know. Finally.

We all see the parks a little differently. Whether or not you wear sunglasses, you witness our Public Lands through a unique filter. Each massive tree we stand under in awe, every jaw-dropping sunset burned into our brain and maybe our cornea, we filter it through every moment in our lives leading up to that point. Like someone who wears sunglasses all the time, we tend to judge others through their interactions in nature through our own filters, judging them against the way they act versus our standards and norms. Some will scoff at people using selfie sticks to capture a moment, others mock people who wear flappy, felt hats. A few will look at some guy wearing sunglasses on a dark and rainy day and wonder what his problem is.

Often, when I find myself feeling like I need to tell others how to enjoy the parks and our public lands, I have to step back and remember who I used to be. I used to build cairns. I used to always wear headphones while hiking. I used to keep trails a secret and feel frustrated at crowded trailheads. I used to be a hiking snob. And then I let it go.

Now, through my sunglasses, I celebrate anyone outdoors that is following Leave No Trace Principles. We are all in this fight together and while our lenses may give us separate views on certain issues, we all are out in nature, reconnecting to wilderness and rejuvenating our souls.

This post was written for the #NatureWritingChallenge on March 22nd, 2018. 


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