Sunday, April 25, 2004

Take only pictures, leave only footprints...except in France

You could say that I'm a bit like Dorrie from the film "Finding Nemo." I'm attracted to shiny, pretty things.

When I was a kid, no interesting or pretty flower was safe from my grubby little hands. Come to think of it, neither were any of the weeds that resembled flowers. And let's not even talk about the times we went to Texas in the spring and saw the famous wildflowers covering the sides of the highway...My voice would go hoarse after asking my mom to stop so we could pick them.

This impulsive picking all seemed to change, however, the first time I went on a school field trip to a local park. I, of course, was all prepared to use my CareBears lunch box as a holding tank for my nature treasures. But before we could go on the hiking trail, we met with Ranger Smith, who spent 10 minutes explaining the reproduction of nature, and how picking flowers or other foliage prevented natural regrowth. And, more importantly, what would our forests look like if EVERYONE picked a few flowers???

Needless to say, I was sufficiently guilt-tripped into leaving the woods alone that day. But, on our next family trip to a National Park, just as my itchy fingers were about to pull, I got the same tale from the signs posted all over: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

Damn. Ranger Smith had gotten to all these people.

So in the end, I let my mom take pictures, and I began leaving stuff alone, and have followed these instructions religiously ever since. In fact, in my typical black and white thinking kind of way, I have perhaps gone to the other extreme, because now I freak out if I accidentally walk into a branch or step on something nature-like. I won't even pick up fallen leaves during autumn, because I do not want to be responsible for the destruction of nature.

I had always assumed this "Look but don't touch" attitude was alive and well all over the world. After all, aren't we all concerned about the environment? Well perhaps this idea is all over, but apparently the French don't seem to get it. Or maybe it's like the French dog poop're supposed to clean up after your dog, but if you don't, no one says anything.

Yesterday Hannah and I went to the Forest Robertsau to take a little hike. Spring was in bloom, with flowers, leaves on trees, and lots of bugs. As we walked around, from time to time we would come across some other hikers, and from time to time they would be carrying a bouquet of wild flowers complete with green garnish.

All I could think was WTF?

I wanted to chase every one of them down and accuse them of raping the forest or asking if their mama (or Ranger Smith) had never taught them any better. Then I wanted to make them walk back to the place they stole the flowers from, put them back, and apologize. Unfortunately, this would have required me to give a lecture in French, and I was just not up for that. So I took to glaring instead.

Of course, that was only until I passed a beautiful patch of flowers and felt my own impulses coming back.

Fortunately I restrained myself and took one for the proverbial team. But the whole episode really makes me ponder on the difference between cultures. Americans can be so rule bound, taking the "high road" and making sure everyone else does too. On the other hand, sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot trying to enforce the "rules."

The French seem to respect "rules" as long as they don't have a good excuse as to why they can't follow them. It's the whole "Systeme D" thing I think. Or maybe the rebellious teenager.

Whatever it is, since I'm an American, I kept my hands to myself. And I like to think that today the Forest Robertsau is saying, "Thanks Court!"


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