Andersen: The hut filter effect
“Why aren’t there any initials carved into the wall?”
Doug asked this with innocent wonder. The rest of us looked at each other as if the idea were so absurd as not be taken seriously. Defacing a 10th Mountain Hut? That would be like painting graffiti on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This was Doug’s first winter hut trip. We were at Fabi’s Hut, a gem of a cabin above Smuggler Mountain, artfully designed and gracefully built.
Doug, a visitor who lives in a large metro area, said he had seen other backcountry cabins where visitors routinely have etched their names into the logs. He looked at the pristine walls of Fabi’s Hut and was somewhat amazed.
Graffiti is popular among many outdoor enthusiasts who slash their names into trees, spray-paint buildings and carve initials into solid rock. There is something about urban and ex-urban public places that invites signature vandalism.
Not at the 10th Mountain Huts, the Braun Huts or the Friends’ Hut.
As we toured that day through wilderness to the base of the Williams Mountains, I mused on what Doug had said. Why are 10th Mountain Huts free of vandalism?
Skiing across a sun-sparkling meadow below jagged mountain ramparts, it came to me that there is a hut filter effect. The effort of getting to the hut, coupled with the impact of the surrounding beauty, filters out most influences that would lead to desecrating a beautiful place.
Skiing to a hut requires sweat equity. Most hut trippers love the mountains we travel through because we feel a deep connection to the place. Damaging this natural community would be like damaging ourselves.
When we finally arrive at a hut — happy to be at the end of the trail and to enter a warm, cozy cabin — desecrating it is the last thing we would do. A pristine hut — swept clean, stacked with wood, with clean water in the stove caldron — creates a feeling of respect, not only for the hut, but for those who stayed there before us.
Though there are no signs specifically prohibiting name carving, there is an unspoken rule based on common values that our local huts naturally foster. Violating that rule would be a violation of self and a violation of the larger community. It would be a violation of trust.
If we respect and love a place, we will preserve it in the condition it was in when we arrived. We will defend that place in that condition because it’s important to the pleasures we received.
Whether that’s a wilderness area, a mountain hut, an art museum, a monument or someone’s home, respect and appreciation promote stewardship. If we truly are touched by something, we will embrace the communal values that made it possible for us to be touched.
On popular trails you can see names carved into aspen trees. Those carvings are done by those who don’t value an individual tree, but see it as an insignificant member of a vast forest community.
The aspen tree is soft, easy to carve and enticing to many a pocket knife. Each aspen in a contiguous stand is linked by its roots, invisibly connected to one another, just as human beings invisibly are linked.
That connectedness often is forgotten with humanity, where an individual is seen as dispensable because there are so many more of the same, or what we think are the same.
It is easy to forget that each individual is unique, whether an aspen tree or a human. All are individuals worthy of recognition. Most of us certainly feel that way about our friends and families. Why then is it such a challenge to expand that same caring beyond our immediate circles?
The hut filter is a microcosm of a global filter that should make certain behaviors inappropriate: exploitation, domination, destruction, abuse and war. Appreciation for the uniqueness of all life is at the heart of a protective sentiment deserved by all of humanity, all of nature.
A mutual sense of gratification is the basis for a far broader sense of mutuality. That’s a filter we could use more of.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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