One of the great things about social media is free, open and fair debate. This is a hallmark of what makes our country great, and this freedom is vital to all of us as individuals.
Free and fair debate requires both sides to actually listen to each other, and to consider the other side’s perspective. In the last couple of days I have listened to many of you and your perspectives. I understand your views, and now I want to ask you to understand my perspective. In the spirit of free and open discussion I ask you to take a moment to understand my side.
Over two years ago, I visited Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Pacific City, Oregon with some good friends. While exploring the outlying cliffs, we came upon a large rock formation I now know to be nicknamed the “Duckbill” (affectionately dubbed #thatpnwrock on social media). I climbed it. The following summer I returned with another friend, and climbed it again. The potential danger of the area was obvious as portions of the cliffs had steep, sudden drop offs but I didn’t feel my personal safety was in jeopardy. I saw many other people exploring the same area; it was obvious this was a common practice.
I was aghast when I learned the sandstone formation had been deliberately pushed down by vandals. According to the eyewitness who came forward, a group of 8 or so individuals spent a considerable amount of time attempting to topple the rock feature. Finally 3 men were able to knock it down after it had been weakened by tremendous effort. The witness was able to pull out his phone to record the final deed taking place. Apparently, the vandals considered the rock too dangerous to exist, as one of them had fallen from it and gotten injured. I posted a photo to my Instagram account in memoriam of the rock, chastising the deliberate vandalism, and calling out the witnesses who apparently didn’t raise a voice to try and stop it from happening.
My photo has since been posted on NPR and referenced in this National Geographic article (neither with permission). I have received over 200 comments on my Instagram photo from trolls slandering me and my choice to climb on the pedestal. People have demanded apologies from me, told me to get a lawyer, compared me to Trump, and made gross generalizations about my career and creative process. The general consensus is that I am a hypocrite for climbing on the rock, causing erosion and aiding to its final demise. Many of you did post serious and thoughtful comments and I’m grateful for your perspective.
We need to focus on the vandals. They – and they alone – are to blame for this tragedy.
I have chosen to NOT delete the photo nor the accompanying comments because I so strongly defend all of your rights to freely debate. But free debate is only true debate if the debate is based on facts. Hyperbole and slander are not acceptable.
Here are my thoughts:
It was not illegal to climb the rock. There are signs that warn of the dangers of the cliff as people have died there. If one decides to explore the area, they do so at their own risk.
I believe in exploration and curiosity, the very things that make us human. Have you ever walked off trail to pick a flower, or camped out on the beach to watch sunrise? Going “off trail” is a part of adventure’s creative process – and what makes life interesting. Believe me, human beings were climbing that rock long before it was trendy on Instagram.
Me climbing it (again, not an illegal activity) had about as much impact on the final collapse as stepping outside my front door. Obviously many, many people climbing the rock took a toll on its structural integrity – I’m not oblivious to that fact. But unfortunately that is a part of life. We cause deep imprints in our environment every day. It’s like yelling at a stranger in the grocery store for buying a plastic water bottle instead of refilling a reusable one.
Standing on a rock and unwillfully damaging it in the process is entirely different than someone intentionally vandalizing and destroying something that took thousands of years to create.
I am not responsible for the choices of others. Period.
There is absolutely no excuse for what the vandals did to the sandstone pedestal. They cannot point the finger at social media, trends or anyone but themselves for acting irresponsibly and taking the matter of a “dangerous” landmark into their own hands. I sincerely hope they are discovered and punished for their actions.
I will say this: social media has not always aided to responsible maintenance of our beautiful planet. A few years back, I eloped at the top of Rattlesnake Ridge, a somewhat remote hiking trail in the Cascade Mountains. Today, that trail looks extremely different than it did when I first hiked it, due to the tens of thousands of people who have visited it, many of them inspired by my very wedding. Did I know that would happen? No. Am I happy about the trail being eroded? No. Am I glad people are getting outside and exercising and rejoicing in the mental and emotional freedom that comes with being active? Absolutely!
This is an excellent reminder for us (and me!) to pay deeper attention to our impact on the environment in any and all situations. While I cannot be held responsible for the choices of others, I can definitely commit to being more proactive and thoughtful when it comes to explaining the risk and danger of certain locations on social media, and encouraging my followers to be mindful as they explore. Maybe for some, climbing #thatpnwrock or the like is pushing the boundary, but one’s choices should be respected if they do decide to partake and exercise their free will.
I also commit to continually encouraging people to take risk and embrace adventure in exploring God’s creation… while exercising caution, respect and common sense. My Instagram showcases life choices that many would deem dangerous: snowshoeing under icicles, kayaking in iceberg-infested waters or even traveling solo to foreign countries. I recently hiked Angel’s Landing, a precarious climb in Zion National Park that has seen deaths before. It was an incredible experience to cling to those cables and rely on my human instincts to get me to the top and back down again. Those moments are what I live for. Those are the moments that inspired me to document my life on Instagram in the first place, when I found out I was going blind and sought travel and adventure as my coping mechanism. I won’t apologize for sticking to my principles and embracing this planet for what it is: a place to explore, to enjoy, to venture out. It’s where I find freedom; it’s where I’m supposed to find freedom. I won’t apologize for being a human.