A Place of Our Own

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

I'd like to tell you about a beautiful little lake I know of, perched in a glaciated valley and surrounded by granite peaks, where the brown trout bite fearlessly and elk come down to the water's edge at evening and graze on lush meadow grasses garnished with wildflowers, but I can't. I promised.

A friend took me there on the condition that I not reveal its location to anyone.

"And for heaven's sake, don't write about it!" he pleaded.

A journalist by trade, it's instinctive for me to want to share my discoveries. Keeping secrets goes against the grain. And so when I saw this place, and knew it would be of interest to the million-plus readers of one of those glossy magazines I write for, my friend and I began to argue.

"But this is public land, and the public has the right to know about it," I suggested.

"Too much public will destroy it," he countered. "The only way
it'll be preserved is if just a few of us know about it and protect it. We're the public too, and I think we have the right to a place of our own."

"What about equal opportunity and equal access?" I asked.

"Everyone has the opportunity to discover it by accident. Or
maybe a friend will show it to them, like I did for you," he replied. "But publicizing it opens it up to anyone."

I accused him of being elitist. The only people likely to find
out about it would be "people like us."

He accused me of using the place to make a buck. "Can't you write about New Jersey? Can't you write about stock options?"

The truth is there are a lot more people around these parts than
there were 10 or 20 years ago and they are all attracted to the same kinds of places -- mountain lakes, woods full of wildlife, streams thick with trout.  Those of us who grew up near these places, and knew them when they weren't so crowded, feel invaded. Like grazing rights and fishing rights, there's an unwritten privacy right to which we feel entitled.

Lake in the Woods

And publicizing a place is like inviting trespass.

My friend is right. Celebrity can be harmful. Introduce large numbers of any species, people included, and a place will change. Balances will falter.

What we treasure today may not survive. But secret or no secret,
those changes are coming. The greater public from beyond these horizons, outnumbering us hundreds and thousands to one, will roll in like gold-crazed 49ers and stake their claim on trees and grass and scenic view corridors.

Our only hope, politically and socially, is that enough of them value the same things we do. For now we may have a place of our own, but not for long.

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