Freedom to Roam
I’ve just returned from two enjoyable weeks of exploring Frankfurt, Germany and its environs. Though most of my time was spent in the city, one of my goals was also to spend some time in nature. I hoped to find some creative inspiration there.
For a while now, I’ve spent much of my time learning, thinking about, and working on my photography skills. Since my opportunities for nature photography close to home here in the Houston area are quite limited, I was looking forward to spending some time in Germany searching the woods for dappled light, mushrooms, and moss covered rocks. As we made our way from the airport to our small-town Airbnb accommodations, I was happy to notice signs that my wishes were more than reasonable.
During a drive in the German countryside, you’ll wind your way through narrow village streets, across rolling farmland and through dense forests. Any time you drive through a forest, you’ll see foot paths through the woods. It’s so tempting to just stop the car and go for an impromptu hike. Everywhere you go, you’ll always see people out walking. That’s one thing I really miss here in Texas; the ability to just lace up your walking shoes and head into the nearest forest.
Growing up in Norway, we took allemannsretten for granted. That translates to the everyman’s right, maybe more easily understood as a freedom to roam. This centuries old entitlement views access to Norway’s nature as every Norwegian’s birthright, and something that visitors are naturally free to take part in. There are of course certain guidelines. You have to show respect for nature, making sure to clean up after yourself and to not damage anything, farmland can only be crossed when the ground is frozen, and you cannot use the land for hunting, although you’re free to pick wild berries and mushrooms.
The freedom to roam policy appears in one form or another in most European countries, although some countries have a more restrictive approach. It’s a good idea to look into it if you plan a trip.
Here in the US, some states, like California and Florida, have instituted limited freedom to roam policies along the coastline. I would love to see it become a familiar term here in Texas as well, but realistically, I don’t imagine the ubiquitous “No Trespassing” signs, with their accompanying threats of prosecution, will ever come down.
At least we have our beautiful state parks available for outdoor exploration; the only downside being that for most people, it takes a bit of time to reach them and you also have to pay admission prices. Any concept that we all have an inalienable right to reconnect with the natural world when we feel the need seems completely absent. That’s a difficult reality when you’ve known something very different.
I often find myself wishing there were more state parks. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a total of four state parks that are not accessible to the public because the state has been unwilling to fund the improvements that are necessary before the public can be welcomed in. As convenient as public restrooms are, and paved pathways, I would have no problem accepting a lack of facilities if it allowed me more access to the beautiful Texas landscape.
Returning home this time has been accompanied by a small sense of loss at the thought of the experiences I miss out on by living here. This is what happens when you travel. You discover that other places often have different solutions for common problems. Sometimes theirs is better, sometimes ours is better, and in the end you gain some things and lose others. I’m not willing to live with that awareness of loss at the forefront. It needs to move to the back while I focus on all the positives, and there are plenty.
Here in the Houston area, the city of Houston has invested a lot of effort in developing parks and greenways where we can experience nature. Organizations like Audubon and others maintain preserves that we are all welcome to explore. You have to search a bit, and you have to drive, but as long as I have nature experiences within reach, I will choose to appreciate what I have.