Somewhere in Oregon there is a corner of an office, a closet or attic space where dozens of cardboard tubes are hidden away. Each tube contains several topographical maps, many with scrawled notes about landscapes that he visited. Most of these landscapes were Roadless Areas in National Forests. On most of these maps are drawn boundaries; lines which hope to protect something precious.
Life has boundaries for all of us. Some are limited by income, others by physical impairments, mental limitations, or simply circumstances. Wilderness must be protected within boundaries because deep inside the DNA structure of all humans there is a primitive desire to greedily consume everything which is balanced by an equally primitive need to know that there are still places on maps where the disease of civilization has not yet infected and sickened the land. He understood this.
Wilderness advocates are an odd lot. We gather together reluctantly to protect the lands we love. In 1975, when a group in Bend first formed to protect Roadless Areas of the Deschutes National Forest, there was a slide show and a lecture scheduled in an auditorium on the campus of Central Oregon Community College. As attendees filtered into the room, most seated themselves as far from others as the space allowed, resulting in an audience that resembled an array of free radicals in a biochemistry graph.
If there can be such a thing as a camaraderie of solitary individuals, this room represented exactly that. Wilderness advocates value our isolation not because we crave loneliness but because we require solitude as a respite from the world of civilized chaos that swirls around us and threatens to devour peace of mind. A love of solitude and a desire to be free from the constraints of society form the basis of a desire to protect wild lands. But few individuals stay true to this cause their entire lives, devoting themselves to it, poring over maps for forty years with a cigarette and a cup of coffee while Red Garland’s Country Little Shack plays in the background.
Tim Lillebo loved those maps. He loved a good blues tune. He loved good coffee and he loved rolling a cigarette while his eyes followed the well spaced loops in a contour line that represented a seep or a bog where elk could wallow in mud and escape biting deer flies in the middle of summer in a remote canyon near Glacier peak. He loved to follow the tight contours of ridgelines where perhaps the last lone wolverine in Oregon was spotted near Monument Rock. He loved to stand in a forest of old ponderosa pines; he called them pumpkin pines, and gaze into the rich yellow and orange hues of their puzzled barks. He loved wild land enough to devote his entire adult life to it, with little monetary reward. If good coffee and blues and a pouch of roll your own could be acquired, Tim was happy. Saving and protecting wild land kept his soul fed. And Oregon will forever benefit from his efforts.
Over the past 40 years most of us wandered away from the cause, nipping at the edges in our respective habitats by signing a petition here, writing a letter to congress there. We had families to raise, careers to chase, dreams to follow. But Tim stayed at it, working every day to draw some protective boundaries around land that is always threatened. One man’s passing does not stop a cause as deeply rooted in the human psyche as Wilderness advocacy, but it certainly sent a tremor wave throughout this odd camaraderie of solitary souls who still seek the solitude of wild places.
Somewhere, in an office or a closet or an attic are dozens of cardboard tubes of topographical maps which should be protected so that future generations can unroll them and study the work of one man who stood for something greater in a world that seems to only reward wealth and power. We should teach those after us to follow those contour lines. Because land will endure long after human effort passes away.