“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” — The Wilderness Act of 1964
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President who signed The Wilderness Act into law.
“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” — Henry David Thoreau
“Idolatry always reduces to the worship of something ‘made with hands,’ something confined within the terms of human work and human comprehension. Thus, Solomon and Saint Paul both insisted on the largeness and the at-largeness of God, setting Him free, so to speak, from ideas about Him. He is not to be fenced in, under human control, like some domestic creature; He is the wildest being in existence. The presence of His spirit in us is our wildness, our oneness with the wilderness of Creation. That is why subduing the things of nature to human purposes is so dangerous and why it so often results in evil, in separation and desecration. It is why the poets of our tradition so often have given nature the role not only of mother or grandmother but of the highest earthly teacher and judge, a figure of mystery and great power.”— Wendell Berry
In 2014, I went to New Mexico to participate in a Wilderness 50 Conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law. I didn’t go as a delegate from any conservation organization or as an employee of any of the agencies associated with U.S. public lands. I went as a citizen eager to learn about how wild places are being protected in this country. I went to lectures, panel discussions, break-out seminars, film presentations and information kiosks. I went on a field trip to a nearby designated wilderness. And then I went home, east of the Mississippi River. I determined that I wanted to visit wilderness areas and work to protect land whatever way I could. I got a job at a land trust six months later.
The greatest tracts of wilderness land in the U. S. are west of the Mississippi, but there are a few in the Great Lakes region, in the North Woods, with dispersed campsites scattered around. I found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As I set up camp, I was greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, there was a bit of rain. In the morning, a bald eagle perched high in a dead tree on the far side of the lake, illuminated by the rising eastern sun. Staring at him through my binoculars, I imagined him enjoying an aerial view like ones I’d seen in pictures of Alaska. Could I really be in the wilderness, finally? My rational brain convinced me of the disparities, but my romantic soul glowed. Even in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.
The inevitable down side of climbing the wilderness mountain is returning to ‘civilization’, re-entering the spaces that humans have altered and asking a million critical questions about our involvement. Was this action necessary? Was this change beneficial and for whom? How is this decision going to effect this environment, this habitat, this life? How do I take responsibility when my ignorance is so vast? How do I do my best to learn and choose and be aware? What do I do when I see individuals or systems causing destruction? I learned the 4 pillars of Environmental Education while volunteering at a local Nature Center: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. My experience in the wilderness took me on a journey past those milestones: being aware of the solitude, of the multitude of interconnected lives as well; being awed by the variety and majesty of all that I saw; feeling a deep desire to protect, to respect, and to serve Life; and finally, deciding to make changes and choices in my own life and lifestyle, to learn to embody the experience, not just as a vacation or a change from habit, but as a daily practice.
I am thrilled to meet another wilderness enthusiast through the Lens-Artists group and urge you to visit this week’s host at her blog, Rambling Ranger. Dianne has been a National Park ranger in both Alaska and Death Valley, California. She’s a fabulous photographer and writer…and I am now one of her followers!