CHASING DOWN THE MUSE
Driving across Highway 161 on the California/Oregon border, one
can’t help but be amused by the nature of artificial boundaries. On
one side of the road, the speed limit is 70 mph (California), while
on the other, 60 is the law. Looking out across the terrain, it is
difficult, if not impossible, to discern any difference. Wide
stretches of groomed alfalfa fields, marsh lands and ancient lava
flows fill the horizon in all directions. Which is Oregon? Which is
California? And why?
The concept of borders, or boundaries, seems to have gotten its
start with the earliest civilizations in the area known as
Mesopotamia, a Greek work meaning “between the rivers.” It was in
that ancient fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates around
3000 B.C., that successful agriculture gave birth to territories that
needed defense. Developed around the desire to control water
resources, borders were originally geographic in nature, but as our
cultures expanded, so did our need to carve up the earth’s space.
Lines drawn in the sand. What do they mean?
I was again struck by the absurdity of certain borders while on a
hiking junket this past weekend with my husband, Steve. Armed with
the knowledge that the Wilderness Park is open on Saturdays and
Sundays, we headed to the El Toro lot. Ha, not this Saturday. A large
“closed” sign greeted our attempt to enter the parking facility. A
bit miffed, we turned back toward Laguna and up the coast to El Moro
Canyon. A sign there indicated the park was closed to mountain biking
because of the rains, but hikers -- hey, come on in.
Armed with binoculars, water and lunch, we headed up the south
slopes toward the back country. The air was fresh from the recent
rains. The trails crisp and without dust. To the east and south lay
the Wilderness Park, which was closed to our travel -- the park that
I voted my tax dollars to purchase.
I carefully analyzed the terrain. Hilltops and valleys appear the
same. Chaparral, wild sage and a sprinkling of sycamores cover the
land. Two red-tail hawks soared across the open space followed by a
raven. No boundaries for them, nor the coyote tracks in the moist
earth. Wildlife doesn’t know the meaning of gates -- as is evident by
It would have been easy to jump the fence and head into the Laguna
park, but as a law-abiding citizen, it seemed an illogical thing to
do. Besides, how could I possibly defend my husband’s position as a
city official -- breaking the rules?
So, two wilderness parks, side by side. Identical in structure and
terrain, managed by two separate organizations that cannot agree on a
joint management policy. Seems painfully like larger issues of
country and state, such as the speed limit between Oregon and
California, or the standard of living between Tijuana and San Diego.
I think the American Indians had it right. No land ownership. Drag
a tepee and follow the seasons. The animals still do. Imagine if the
migrating waterfowl had to have different permits for landing in
Upper Klamath Basin (Oregon) and Tule Lake (California).
I know this sounds simplistic, but a part of me is filled with
great fear of the political courses we are pursuing. Rather than
expanding as humans across the globe, we appear to be closing down
spaces and tightening entry.
As Americans, we cherish our incredible freedom -- both to travel
within the United States and abroad. We are not as innocent as the
animals, the rivers or the trees, but maybe we could take some
lessons by observation. Borders, by design, establish a defensive
position, but not necessarily an offensive movement. As a good friend
admonishes me, “Be careful what you ask for.” We sit precariously in
the family of man.
* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer
who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at
email@example.com or (949) 497-5081.