Since leaving Ohio University in 2017, I have been drawn to live in places that are high tourist destinations.
I spent a year living in a tent as an organic farmer on Kauai, and currently, I live in an old cabin as caretaker of Camp Richardson Corral in the Great Lake Tahoe Basin.
The common denominator of these places besides their high rank on the list of vacation spots is their status as highly sacred places.
As I approach my second summer in Tahoe, I can no longer keep my silence. I will not lie—when I see how many people flood these places of great beauty without much thought for more than their own entertainment, I want to scream incoherent curses until I am blue in the face.
Fourth of July weekend here in Tahoe is a highly aggravating weekend, not to mention the extreme fire danger that persists throughout late summer and into Autumn that many campers seem to just disregard.
I am angry about this, and I am not even a Tahoe local.
So, as a way to release this emotion in a healthier way than taking it out physically on the cars lining up all the way to the top of Echo Summit, I am letting loose a segment from my journal that I wrote while still living on Kauai. I feel that it remains relevant today, and will probably always remain relevant.
From March 19, 2019:
Today, I am especially annoyed with tourism. I am realizing that there is a difference: adventurers, who leave nothing but a footprint, and tourists; people who leave trash and sunscreen clouds. Those are the tourists; those are the people who come with ignorance.
They do not deserve to be here. Those are harsh words, but I feel that they are true.
Do not come visit a place that is not your home if you are not prepared to learn its history, its traditions, its ideals.
If you cannot do this for the land, then do it for the kama’aina, the people of this land that you find yourself on.
If you cannot do this at all, then don’t come here.
This is someone else’s home and must be treated with respect.
Back to present-day, March 21, 2021.
I have much harshness in my heart for humanity. I am not proud of it, yet it is one of my motivating factors to becoming a better human. It is one of my shadows and I am always working to accept it, but it is hard. For every moment that causes me to feel compassion for our species, there are three more that disappoint me.
For instance, yesterday, my boyfriend and I drove to the post office and to get breakfast at the local café just down the street. Usually, we can get to the post office in about five minutes, but this time it took closer to 30 because of the massive line of traffic coming into Tahoe from Sacramento and San Francisco.
I couldn’t help it—I immediately jumped to an accusatory space, demanding to know what everyone was thinking. If there is a line to get into somewhere, why would you fall in behind everyone else and make it worse? Let alone in a time of pandemic? The Lake Tahoe Basin only has four main ways in and out. The local community is actually rather small, and the people who do live here year-round are most often the ones cleaning up after the tourists leave.
I have had it with people crawling all over places that deserve reverence and light steps.
Like Kauai, Tahoe is an immensely sacred place. The lake is a place where you can directly connect to the underworld, the mountain peaks are places where the living can feel close to spirit, and the valleys in between are where little pieces of the magic that occur when the earth plane and the spirit realm overlap can be felt.
This is what makes Tahoe special, this is what makes Tahoe beautiful.
Yet, all that ever happens is people crawling, crawling, crawling, all over it, disrespecting this magic. Why do you think we never see it anymore? We have driven it out of our most sacred places by all of our ignorant activity everywhere.
I get so mad when I see this, mad enough to forget why I decided to believe in humanity. I get so mad that I become white-hot with rage, until I want to destroy everything we have built.
But I always remind myself that I am responsible too—I have come to this place that is not my home, and though I do my best to be good and respectful, just by existing here in Tahoe, I am contributing. The only way to make it better is to calm down and to educate myself so that I can better educate others.
Because that is the thing, too. If given the chance to learn, and offered the right tools to become kind, humans will almost always do their best to become so.
The tourist industry is never going to go away. That is just the way it is now. Humans are natural wanderers; we want to take in beauty and have new experiences. When it comes to tourism, the task at hand is to make sure that we are willing to leave the places we go no worse for us having been there, to make sure that we are open to letting those places inspire us to be more compassionate beings.
I berate myself often for living in places like Kauai and Tahoe. I tell myself I have no business being here, and that I am being selfish. This is that shadow speaking to me again, telling me that if I really cared, I would have never left Ohio. I would have stayed where I was raised and thus made less of an environmental impact. But there is this compulsion to be constantly moving on that all humans harbor to some degree, and for me, it is impossible to ignore. So, I thank the shadow for helping to hold myself accountable for my actions, and reconcile her voice by agreeing to steep myself in the land I travel to. To sink into it fully, and let it teach me, change me, so that when I leave and move on to the next place, I am better for having left the place where I was raised.
I believe that is what tourism should be about; traveling to places to hear what they have to say, and to embrace the change they would bring to you, rather than force change onto that place.
In the end, it is my hope that if you travel to a beautiful place, that you will be willing to open your heart to its magic, to its sacred history, and do your part to keep it alive.
Humans have been destructive for so long—let us now become stewards of our collective home, and hold its beautiful places in reverence for what they have to teach us.
Truly, we have so much more to learn—no, to remember.
All we have to do is be willing to listen.