The Best Backcountry Sign You’ll Ever See
No commands, rules, or directives here. Just a gentle nudge towards something truly lovely.
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I slowed my running-shoe-and-microspiked steps to move over to the side of one of our steeper iced-over local trails here the other day, and a couple headed the other direction asked if I knew where the old mine was. I said yes and stopped and looked up the hill, pausing to try to remember how many trail intersections and switchbacks there were between here and there, and gave them some directions.
I did not tell them my favorite thing about the old mine up there, which is the sign at the entrance. I knew I would have gotten a little too enthusiastic about it, and they were excited about the mine, which is probably the best part for everyone besides myself. It would have been like talking to someone about to enter the best burger joint in town and raving about the shape of the ice cubes they serve, or the ketchup, or some sort of other peripheral item that is 99.9 percent of the time not the reason people go there.
I’m not a big cave person, or a big old mine person; not anti-cave or anti-old mine, just kind of indifferent to them. This particular one I’ve run past and hiked past at least a couple dozen times, and never so much as bothered to even take 20 or so steps off the trail and poke my head inside. But other people are into caves, or old mines, and that’s what the sign is about. It says this:
I mean, that’s the whole sign. My favorite part is this:
The sign is posted next to the old mine, but I always think it could refer to the mountain itself, and maybe we should place identical signs at the several trailheads on the flanks of the mountain, at the start of its many trails: Enjoy this feature. Because the mountain is a geographic feature. And the trails on it are technically features, which people could enjoy.
Or: What if we had “Enjoy This Feature” signs everywhere? At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: Enjoy this feature. Roadside view of the Tetons: Enjoy this feature. The municipal park where you take your dog/kid/frisbee on sunny days: Enjoy this feature. Our toaster, sitting on the counter, waiting to do its job, which is to make toast, which is rarely a non-enjoyable thing (for me): Enjoy this feature. The definition of “feature,” of course, is pretty broad.
Signs are so often warnings (Watch For Falling Rock), or advisements of rules (Dogs Must Be On Leash), or stern instructions (No Parking; Violators Will Be Towed), establishing right and wrong, setting up guardrails for behavior, drawing a line in the sand. Enjoy this feature is much less confrontational, isn’t it? Who’s going to walk by that sign and be like, “‘Enjoy this feature?’ How dare you. I will, if you’re lucky, merely tolerate this view of the desert landscape/serrated mountain ridge/public fountain/heated car seat. Kiss my ass.”
Or maybe it’s just a joke I’ll keep annoying my friends with every time we are in a place where there is potential to derive joy from something, and I can point down to the trail, or up at the sunset, or to the view from the top, or at a cup of coffee someone else made us, or a good bookstore, or a favorite song I’ve heard a thousand times but still enjoy and if I turn the volume up a little this time I’ll notice something new, or a breakfast burrito: Enjoy this feature.