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When the Great Outdoors Isn't

One summer, in the Adirondacks, we hiked up to a swimming hole with a waterfall. It was as storybook a spot as you could hope to find, except for one thing.

One summer, in the Adirondacks, we hiked up to a swimming hole with a waterfall. It was as storybook a spot as you could hope to find, except for one thing. While we were there, a couple, a man and a woman, both lit cigars. Now, there are a lot of odors that repel people that I quite enjoy: gasoline, nail polish remover, magic markers and wet paint, to name a few. Outdoors or in, I love the smell of smoke from a fire. I’ll even admit that under just the right circumstances a passing whiff of cigarette smoke can send me into a reverie. However, I draw the line at cigars.

The smell of cigar smoke is in the same category as dog poop on your shoe, a dirty litter box, rotten fish, too much chlorine and lutefisk. It is neither romantic nor evocative. In a word, it stinks.

When the smoke wafted toward us, my mother-in-law and I exchanged horrified looks. And yet, surprisingly, neither one of us, both women who are known to talk to complete strangers everywhere we go, said anything to the cigar smokers. There were lots of other people at this swimming hole (which is what kept it from moving up the scale from storybook to idyllic) and none of them said anything either.

I’d like to claim that I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter, but that’s never stopped me before. It could be that I didn’t want to start an international incident (I don’t know what language the couple was speaking, but it wasn’t English). But I think the real reason I refrained from saying anything is that I anticipated that their response would be that the great outdoors is something we are all supposed to share equally, and I wouldn’t have a good comeback. While their behavior was certainly ruining my experience, I wasn’t convinced that my right not to breathe their smoke trumped their right to expel it.

There are a lot of things that I find abhorrent that others tolerate, ignore, or (gasp) enjoy. I’m not fond of other people’s children and there were plenty of them there. Clearly I couldn’t ask the parents to remove them. I don’t like it when people let their dogs run loose, but several dogs were enjoying the swimming hole as much as their oblivious owners. The only rational choice seemed to be to remove ourselves from the vicinity of the cigar smokers, which, ultimately, we did.

I’ve read about a movement to ban outdoor smoking in parks and other public spaces. I was going to end this piece with how I feel about that, but after half a dozen tries I give up. I appreciate the dangers of second-hand smoke, and I know there are lots of restrictions on what you can do outside, but when the solution is as easy as walking away, why do we need to create another law?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I’m out of here.

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