Mother Nature, in your face

Another month, another marketing opportunity for the people trying to sell you stuff. In this case the stuff is anything to do with getting out of the house, as June is officially designated Great Outdoors Month, “a month to celebrate the outdoors and recognize outdoor recreation’s contributions to the mental, physical and economic health of the United States.”

Or that’s how it’s explained in a somewhat tone-deaf promotional release from the RV Industry Association, coming as it is on the heels of multiple mass shootings, the biggest wildfires in New Mexico’s history, skyrocketing fuel and housing costs and other suggestions that the country’s mental, physical and economic health isn’t quite up to snuff. But urging Americans to get out of the house in June has been a thing since 1998, when Bill Clinton was the first to sign off on the idea, and so we can look forward to a litany of events coordinated by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), whose members “represent the thousands of businesses that produce vehicles, equipment, gear, apparel and services for 144 million outdoor enthusiasts.”

National Go RVing Day, as well as National Get Outdoors Day, are both scheduled for June 11. But also on the calendar will be National Trails Day, the Great American Campout and National Marina Days, all promoted by various ORR members, including the aforementioned RVIA. And as a special bonus–as we wait with bated breath for the U.S. Supreme Court to hit us with its newest ideas about the unenumerated rights we can enjoy–this year’s Great Outdoors Month “will also focus on the principles of Together Outdoors, working to grow diversity, equity, and inclusion in outdoor recreation.”

Not to be an old sourpuss, but here’s a contrarian thought: maybe we should be encouraging people to stay the hell indoors until they understand that “the great outdoors” is not a personal plaything. Or just a bigger, grander version of Disneyland.

One clue as to why that might be a good idea was provided a couple of days ago in Largo, Florida, where the body of a 47-year-old man minus one arm was fished out of a public lake adjacent to a disk golf course. Police speculated that he’d gone for a midnight swim in search of lost discs that he could resell to players on the course. Unfortunately, he did so during alligator mating season, which made an already dicey proposition even more hazardous.

Another clue was offered on Memorial Day in Yellowstone National Park, where a 25-year old woman demonstrated how spatially challenged she was by getting within ten feet of a bison. Park rules stipulate that visitors should stay at least 25 yards–75 feet–from bison, which may look ponderous but can jump six feet vertically and run at 35 miles per hour. In this case the buffalo gored the woman and tossed her ten feet into the air, inflicting a puncture wound and other injuries, but at least she’ll live to tell the tale.

These may be extreme instances, but they’re unsurprising and only the most tragic consequences of propelling an untutored and entitled public into a world they don’t understand and which just doesn’t care about them. It’s not only wildlife with which they have to contend: there are rockfalls and lightning strikes, sudden squalls and sun stroke, forest fires and flash floods and scores of other environmental challenges that can challenge even smart, savvy backcountry adventurers, never mind those whose ideas about the Great Outdoors are shaped by glitzy advertising for outdoor “stuff.”

How about a bag of freshly popped popcorn and a good movie on a big-screen TV? Doesn’t that sound a whole lot more sensible than telling the kids to go play in traffic?

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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