I’m not one of those guys who starts every new year with a list of resolutions that I’ll begin ignoring on Jan. 3. In general, I’m one of those guys who works more generically, and tries to screw up less than I did the year before. I keep a few goals in mind, I admit, but rarely do I resolve to achieve them. Instead, I hope to get better, then plod onward, doing the best I can.
This year, however, I’m willing to take a big step. And in the spirit of cooperation, I invite all of you to pitch in as we work on a New Year’s Revolution.
That’s right. Not a resolution. A revolution.
Before you go reporting me to the authorities, let me assure you that I’m not planning on taking up arms and overthrowing anybody’s government. This won’t be that kind of a revolution.
But after spending a lot of time in the woods over the years, I can assure you that the change I’m proposing will be — to some — quite revolutionary.
Simply put, I want all of us to vow — no matter what — that we’ll start treating our wild places, our woods, waters, paths and trails — better. I want us to promise each other that we’ll strive to be even better stewards of Maine’s outdoor places.
And I’m not just talking about the popular places that people like me get to write about. Not just the famous fishing spots and the conserved lands and the hiking trails with the spectacular views. I’m talking about the farmer’s muddy field that you cross in order to go deer hunting. The path to your local trout stream that’s bordered by burdocks that always attach themselves to your socks. The gravel pit where you sight-in your hunting rifle, or pop off a few rounds with your handgun.
All of those places deserve our attention, and our respect. And from what I’ve seen, some people — even those who describe themselves as outdoorsmen and women — don’t quite understand that everyone’s future access to a piece of property may well be at risk.
It might just take one final disrespectful act for a landowner to begin posting that land, telling everybody to stay out.
Every time I walk in the woods, I see evidence of the mindset that pushes us closer and closer to that abyss.
A candy wrapper or soda bottle lies next to a rock that overlooks a game trail. Dozens of shell casings litter a gravel pit where someone decided to shoot. In some extreme cases, furniture or garbage or boats have been discarded, left for someone else to deal with … some day.
But that’s not all that’s going on in the woods. Landowners tell me that they know there are people hunting on their land, yet they never have anybody ask for permission to do so. Though not required here in Maine, taking the step to ask for that permission seems like the right thing to do. Doesn’t it?
We need a plan. We need to band together. We need a New Year’s Revolution.
And here’s what we can do to make our revolution a success:
First, before we head afield, we’ll ask the landowners if it’s OK. We’ll introduce ourselves. We’ll offer to lend a hand if they have any projects they’re looking for help on.
When we go into the woods for a hunt, we’ll take along an extra trash bag. And when we find something that somebody else dropped, we’ll pick it up. If it’s too big to carry, we’ll call a game warden and ask for help in removing it.
When we go fishing, we’ll pick up any stray fishing line that we find along the side of a stream. Same thing for the worm containers. Remember that trash bag? Fill it up. Carry it out. The “Leave No Trace” ethic isn’t just for hikers. All of us can, and should, live by it.
At the gravel pit, we’ll pick up our own shell casings, and also clean up the rest of the brass that we see lying around. There’s no need for it to be there. If we don’t pick it up, who will?
We will volunteer for the state’s Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day, and make a difference at some sites that have been abused for years.
And finally, if we see one of our hunting and fishing buddies acting unethically or being a slob, we’ll call them on it, and let them know that we can’t act that way any longer.
It’s a new year, after all. It’s the perfect time to change. The perfect time for us to embrace this outdoor revolution where we all become better stewards of our wild places, and better neighbors.
Our outdoors futures may depend on it.
Who’s with me?
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, has been published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.