Call me a railing jumper. I wear it as a point of pride.
That photo of the waterfall above? I had another one from the viewing station, probably 20 to 30 feet above where I took the above shot. Then I glanced over the wooden railing that surrounded the viewing station, saw a root-studded path down to the rocks below, and jumped.
It happens often enough, especially on trips and photo assignments, that I automatically look for a way to hop the fence and find a path to get closer. It happened on that trip Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I only hesitated because there were a mom and a dad, with their two kids, standing next to me, and I didn’t want to be a bad influence on the kids.
But then I thought, “Well, why not?” Maybe the kids will get yelled at now, but isn’t it better to show them that a little rebellion will do you good?
Sure, jumping the fence could get you hurt (the rocks were slippery from the waterfall spray) or arrested (though I didn’t see a sign – but more often I do). But getting a closer view of that waterfall was worth it.
Now this kind of thing gets me in trouble. I’ve had enough run-ins with the authorities that keeps me at least pragmatically cautious. My first instinct, though, is to jump the fence – always has been.
While in Yellowstone, it wasn’t enough that I saw pretty waterfalls from the park roadway. No, I had to slide down the ravine, step into the river, scramble up the rocks, and get a closer view. Tasting the river is more memorable than seeing it from the side window.
At the north rim of the Grand Canyon I noticed, just next to the lot where middle-aged insurance salesmen parked their Buicks, a little outcropping of rock. It was dozens of yards away from the main viewing area, the one encircled by metal railing. This little ledge off to the side? The one partially covered by ragged desert brush and boulders? No one was there. It was all mine.
So I climbed it. And as my legs dangled from the edge and the tourists screamed in horror, I felt like I was getting a view that few people saw. There’s something to be said about experiencing the Grand Canyon all by yourself, with no one around, and with nothing holding you back from the void. There was no railing here.
And so it is with life. That’s pretty obvious, but the more I travel, the more I realize people are content with staying within some prescribed boundary.
This philosophy is largely situational. Rules aren’t there simply to be broken. As Dr. Renner, my journalism professor and mentor always said, “Rules are made for smart people to break.” In other words: learn the rules, pay attention, and break them when it makes sense.
If everyone broke the rules willy-nilly, there might not be waterfalls to photograph. But if breaking the rules means harming nothing or nobody but yourself, I say go for it.
Jump the fence.
Maybe it says something about my compulsion to hang there on the edge of nothing. Maybe I just need medication. I don’t know.
But while I have legs to carry me and a lack of the kind of common sense that says “stay within the boundaries,” I’ll keep doing it.
In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone.