In 2000 I published my version of the Cougar Mountain guidebook. I recently reread my Afterword. I was already thinking it was worth re-posting some of my late 90’s-early 00’s musings about trails here in the blog. There’s no better start than that Afterword in its entirety:
“…I must frame an apology (using that word in the sense of a philosopher’s defense) for Cougar Mountain itself, for its existence as a Park and for the importance we ascribe to it. I feel this defense needful in the way that one often questions his or her own loves, fearing to have lost perspective. Does the value of Cougar Mountain Park transcend the private joy it gives to us, its most ardent explorers? Are we justified in making the rather large logical leap that it is important – or should be – to the rest of the Puget Sound populace, and to the elected officials who represent us?
Framing an answer that will convince all is a daunting task. To answer to the mindset that views all land in terms of its economic value is nearly impossible; for that mindset is blind to the kind of value Cougar has in rich abundance. Unfortunately, the divide between that mindset and the rah-rah environmentalists’ is often immense; the only argument posed by the environmentalists often seems to be that saving land from development ought to be self-evidently desirable. But this is a non-argument; and for the churched and skeptic alike I will strive to do better than that.
What more substantial answers can be advanced? There is the impressive statistic that Cougar Mountain Park is the largest such urban wildland in the nation, an immense achievement. There is the city planners’ argument, also statistical: that x amount of population needs a certain physical area of recreational space. For the casual hikers, neighborhood walkers and runners, Cougar Mountain Park is certainly good recreation. An even better argument, often touted, is the preservation of wildlife habitat and green corridors for wildlife to move about in. But given sufficient economic pressures, citizenry and bureaucrats are often willing to pare down this last argument in favor of what is needed or good for people, at wildlife’s expense.
My argument, posed in addition to and beyond all these, is that to compromise places like Cougar Mountain we risk our own souls. My argument is that to be human – in the way that the human race has been human for millenia, in the way that we were meant to be human – requires places like Cougar Mountain. My answer then is not statistical, recreational, or environmental; strangely it is not even particularly altruistic. It is spiritual, and thereby psychological as well; and it in a curious way, rather self-serving. It has to do with the kind of experiences we can only have in places where wild nature is the predominant environment, and things made, organized and shaped by human society are far distant. These places still exist in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, sometimes surprisingly close by to trailheads and neighborhoods. In these places – the cedar grove of the Shy Bear Trail; AA Gorge; Picture Buttress; the dizzying alder forest of Fred’s Railroad; among many others – our humanity is overshadowed by a divine presence. If these places disappear from our experience, there are voices we will no longer hear, messages to our souls we will no longer receive, for they only come to us here. Most tragically, were we to lose such places, we would be diminished and perhaps not even know the loss. Out on the trail, our vulnerability, our solitude – away from human noise and machines – connects us to the past when the human estate was just a narrow crescent carved out of encircling wilderness.
Most likely, such places will continue to exist – safeguarded in National Parks, Cascade highlands. But to have the magic of Cougar Mountain Park available to us in such close proximity to our busy Puget Sound lives is an immeasurable boon. To have this church of the soul available not just on a weekend getaway, but as part of our daily lives, to be walked at sunup before work, or at twilight after, is a priceless treasure. It is a gift for which we must thank the visionaries and citizens and elected officials who in the 1980s chose this destiny for the land, against many odds. It is a gift whose value seems to magnify as surrounding development fills in and the Park trees soar ever higher. Such a place is unique – for lost and destroyed, we have, for all our skills and powers, no tools to recreate it. The need it satisfies can not be met with any work of our hands – no church, library, website or museum can replace it. So take a trip to one of Cougar’s magical places; or drive up to the Summit neighborhood on 156th Avenue and look out over the whole sweep of the Park from afar; and give thanks for what we have.”