Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Getting Away

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
…”

Not being a city girl, I have never escaped the hustling crowd by climbing the stairs to find solitude “Up on the Roof”, like the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song describes. I prefer to travel to and explore places of natural quiet where there is (ideally) no human presence. Wilderness is my favorite Get Away. I am heading out tomorrow to Strawberry Mountain Wilderness in the Mahleur National Forest on my very first backpacking trip. I will not be tethered to a powered vehicle or a “civilized” infrastructure for three whole days. I will be relying on my own two feet and the company of a few experienced hikers. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for more than 40 years!

I have done day hikes in designated Wilderness before, but never an overnight. It is extremely important that our group Leave No Trace of our visit. Keeping wild spaces as pristine as possible ensures that conservation and spiritual values are not compromised.

If we lose the ability to get away from the impact of human domination, we may lose sight of humility and perspective altogether.

Thank you to this week’s hosts, Rusha and Bert of Oh the Places We See.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Let’s Get Wild!

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!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: WILD!

Tina posts a Wild challenge featuring the wildlife of Africa. My response features the designated Wilderness lands of America. 

“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit.”Edward Abbey 

Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his 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.”definition of Wilderness from the Wilderness Act of 1964

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness, Colorado

“In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as “wilderness areas”, and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness; and no Federal lands shall be designated as “wilderness areas” except as provided for in this Act or by a subsequent Act.”from the statement of policy in the Wilderness Act of 1964 

Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness, Upper Peninsula Michigan

“There is just one hope for repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every inch on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom and preservation of the wilderness.” — Bob Marshall, Founder of The Wilderness Society

Lens-Artist Challenge: My Travels

I met Steve eight months after I was widowed. In the tumult of grief and transition, he offered me something that was transformational – a chance to go camping. My husband and four kids and I did not camp together. I hadn’t been camping for years, but I consider myself a lifetime Girl Scout. Getting back into the outdoors, practicing self-reliance and adaptability, and surrounding myself with the beauty and non-judgmental, non-moral embrace of Nature was just what I needed to consider Life worthwhile again. Steve’s style of camping has a distinct difference from mine: his motto is not “Be Prepared”. His motto is “Be Open”. My instinct to make lists and consult maps was challenged at the very outset. We spent the first hour of one of our early trips parked at the curb outside my house in a deep philosophical discussion of what it means to be on an adventure. 

Steve also introduced me to the wonder of the National Forests of the U.S.A. There is no fee for camping in the National Forests, but there are Leave No Trace rules. A world of freedom opened up for us when I discovered we could easily make camp, cook, clean up, sleep and deal with personal waste (!) outside of crowded developed campsites.

We have, however, depended on either his former Toyota or my late husband’s Honda to transport all our gear.I would love to be able to experience the freedom of going into even more remote wilderness areas, either with a 4-wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance or a backpack. (The latter would be more realistic if I were ten years younger and in better shape…)

We have enjoyed the diversity, the grandeur, and the autonomy of places not dominated by human impact. I find those sacred spaces truly inspiring… and extremely photogenic.

(I had to include that last photo just to prove I’m not kidding about the Girl Scout bit…)
I thank Amy for sharing her inspirational Travel stories and for inviting us into this Travel Challenge. 

Autumn in the North Woods: Part Two

When we broke camp in the Chippewa National Forest on Tuesday morning, the condensation on our tent fly froze instantly. Time to head south to Wisconsin!

 Our destination was Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Along the way, we stopped at Amnicon Falls State Park. The river was high and rushing mightily, churning up tannin-colored water into thundering root beer cascades. 

We told the WDNR ranger that we were thinking of heading towards the western section of the Nicolet-Chequamegon National Forest to camp and to Bayfield to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. She directed us to the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center for more information. Now, you might not get excited about Visitor Centers, but this one is truly amazing. First of all, it’s a quality museum facility featuring interactive exhibits, a National Park Service film, an historical archive library, a bookstore, and an observation deck – three floors of cool stuff! Outside, there’s a nature trail and research nursery. I’m pretty sure the building itself is LEED certified. BEST OF ALL, it is a collaborative effort of the local community (Friends of the Center), the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and University of Wisconsin Extension – which means that staff members from each of those entities are present to answer questions and amplify your understanding of the area. The two we talked to spent considerable time with us, giving us numerous maps and tips and sharing the vision of the Center, its history and unique features. If it hadn’t been so late in the afternoon, and if we didn’t have the urgency of finding a campsite before dark, we would gladly have stayed until closing. Did I mention that admission is completely free? Your tax dollars at work. I took a picture on each floor before heading out with an armload of information.

We camped at an old CCC site in the forest and planned our Bayfield outing. We rose to temperatures in the 20s and headed out for the Grand Tour of the Apostle Islands. The sun was shining, the air was cold, the eagles soared overhead, and I couldn’t have been more invigorated and elated! 

We headed southeast from Bayfield to revisit a favorite dispersed camping spot in the town of Three Lakes, WI. Across the forest service road from this site is the Headwaters Wilderness, a true, federally designated wilderness. We first camped in this private paradise seven years ago. It’s in National Forest, so the site is “first come, first served”.  I was leaning over the dashboard hoping no-one else was there. We were in luck, and this glorious day had a perfect ending. 

The weather turned damp and drizzly the next day, so we only stayed one more night. Our privacy was disturbed once by a sole fisherman who had been tipped off to the spot and came to check it out. We had a pleasant conversation, and he left. We walked the fire service roads and revisited another spot where we’d camped one year when our favorite place was “taken”. 
By this time, we hadn’t showered for eight days. I began to picture Steve as Sasquatch emerging from the forest…  …which he found rather funny. On our way back to camp from our after-dinner walk, Steve suddenly told me to hold very still. A skunk was foraging at the side of the road. We waited. He crossed the road and began to forage on the other side. We waited. Then, he turned and headed straight for us. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I was barely breathing. The skunk stopped four feet from us and looked up. He turned tail and hustled away from us as fast as his short, furry legs could go! What a relief…what a delight!

Our sojourn in the forest was punctuated by encounters with wildlife of many kinds besides the skunk: beaver, deer, bald eagle, red squirrel, vole, grouse, spider, leech and slug, to name a few. Also hunter. Gunshots rang out near our campsites occasionally. Road hunters in blaze orange cruised by. We found the remains of a grouse at one trailhead.
I am almost entirely ignorant of gun culture, mostly by choice. The relationship that Steve & I want to have with the world is non-violent, following the Buddhist koan “do no harm”. Our culture is, however, complex. There’s a lot that I will never understand, and I don’t want to judge. I am grateful that we were able to experience long stretches of silence and peace on this trip, in which we could contemplate our place in the cosmos. Perhaps we are atypical of Wisconsinites, or of Americans. “What do you do out there in the wild if you’re not hunting, or fishing, or riding a motorized vehicle?” We sit. We walk. We sleep. We listen. We look. And I take pictures.

I am very grateful for the land around me and for the people who work to protect and preserve it. I do my best to join in the work. I invite you to as well.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my photo journal.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitude and Wilderness

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established a means for our nation to set aside large parcels of land where the human presence is temporary. Among other valuable things, this provides for “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined experience” for those temporary visitors who enter its space and leave it “untrammeled”.

Why is wilderness and solitude important to the human soul? I would argue that it is vital to our perception of our place in the Universe, a place of humility, not dominance or mastery….

hero

…and a place of natural social freedom. 

pinnacles summit

Solitude is instrumental in developing self-knowledge and strength of character.

renewal 2

When we seek solitude, it is often because we are looking for a greater level of honesty,…contemplating colors…a greater level of awareness.

075

To defile these areas of wilderness and solitude is an act of violence that attacks our own freedom and causes us to be unnaturally enslaved. I think it’s imperative that we protect the places in our country that still exist as wilderness and to restrict the encroachment of human development and over-population that threaten them, not only or even primarily for our own benefit, but because any real understanding of humility demands it. 

wilderness
Solitude

Weekly Photo Challenge: Swans at Half Light

hero

warmth

When I was a little girl, my father read to me from E.B. White’s story “The Trumpet of the Swan”. I was 8 years old when that book was published, and I can imagine my father buying it to read to me and my 3 older sisters with his own great curiosity about that remarkable writer neatly disguised as paternal generosity. I had a fascination with the part where the young swan stays at the Ritz Carlton in Boston and eats watercress sandwiches provided by room service, probably in part because I was born in Massachusetts. We had moved to the Midwest when I was 4 years old. When I was 14, we moved to California. When I was 29 and had 4 kids of my own, I moved back to Illinois. Five years ago, I moved up to Wisconsin. In the north woods, and the edge of designated Wilderness, I saw my first wild swans in the half light of evening as I was setting up camp with Steve. I thought of Louis the swan and of finding your true wild voice. I heard the deep silence of that Place and felt the tender understanding of my father, who loved the outdoors. I stood on the soft, summer pine forest floor and took these pictures. To me, the world is poetry – in moment and memory. 

Half-Light

Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind

After determining how to get from our campsite to the trailhead, we were eager to enter the designated Wilderness of this Wisconsin forest.  It had been logged more than 30 years ago and then left to return to a more natural state.  The trail was an old logging road that had not been maintained, and could barely be recognized under the summer foliage.  I felt the quiet buzz of insects around me like a choir of innocents in a holy sanctuary, the sun streaming through the new leaves as if through the stained glass of an ancient cathedral.  The forest was teeming with life while calmly silent at the same time.  I dared not speak, wanting to be absorbed into the pulsing breath of the place itself.  

the trail

Every detail seemed to be as exquisite in artistry as a religious icon. flowerI wanted to take it all in and cherish it for eternity. 

My camera became the instrument of praise and prayer that day, and I vowed to devote myself to Wilderness protection so that humans would always have a place to experience humility. 

wilderness
State of Mind

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wilderness Inspiration

This photo challenge is familiar.  In 2012, there was a similar challenge which I responded to in this fashion.  I still blog about all those things, but lately, I’ve come to realize that I have been going through an evolution inspired by a specific concept: WILDERNESS.  In fact, I have an entire page set up to link to my wilderness posts.  (Feel free to browse around there!)  This last weekend, Steve and I went to find some wilderness in the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  Sure enough, there were 3 federally designated wilderness areas in the western portion of that state.  We went to the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness in the Ottawa National Forest.  In 1987, logging operations there ceased and the logging roads were left to return to wilderness.  We were told by a forest ranger that the old road is a 7.5 mile “trail” that traverses the wilderness and given a map.  She warned us, though, that it’s not maintained.  We attempted to hike from both trail heads, but only got about 50 feet along before we realized that we would be foolish to go any further.  As I headed back toward the car, I realized that I was crying.  Not because I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to hike there, but for a very different, special reason.  It was as if I had been invited into the sanctuary of a foreign religion or to spend half an hour on a different planet.  I was humbled.  I was in awe.  I felt a reverence for the place that put my presence in profound perspective.  It wasn’t quite like I didn’t belong; it was that I belonged no more especially than anything else there, even the tiniest fungus spore.  It was a supreme experience of equality.  I did not dominate in any way.  I jokingly told Steve that this was a place “where men are food and flies are king”, but I was feeling anything but glib in my soul. 

To find yourself in the sanctuary of wilderness is to feel the breath of the Divine all around.  Breathe it in.  Be inspired. 

Inspiration

Morning Thoughts: Finding True Place In Wilderness

I found an essay called “The Body and The Earth” by Wendell Berry in The Unsettling of America published in 1977.  It is an extremely articulate and broad analysis of that “spherical network” that moves fluidly from agriculture, to Shakespeare and suicide, to sexual differences and divisions, and more.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning which describes the mythic human dilemma:

“Until modern times, we focused a great deal of the best of our thought upon such rituals of return to the human condition.  solitudeSeeking enlightenment or the Promised Land or the way home, a man would go or be forced to go into the wilderness, measure himself against the Creation, recognize finally his true place within it, and thus be saved both from pride and from despair.  wilderness threshold

“Seeing himself as a tiny member of a world he cannot comprehend or master or in any final sense possess, he cannot possibly think of himself as a god. 

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

“And by the same token, since he shares in, depends upon, and is graced by all of which he is a part, neither can he become a fiend; he cannot descend into the final despair of destructiveness. 

pinnacles summit

“Returning from the wilderness, he becomes a restorer of order, a preserver.  He sees the truth, recognizes his true heir, honors his forebears and his heritage, and gives his blessing to his successors.  He embodies the passing of human time, living and dying within the human limits of grief and joy.”

edge 3Human limits.  Humility.  Our struggles, our desires, our wants, our hopes and feelings of elation are not the stuff to tilt the planet.  There is a rightness outside of our sphere.  I like to remember that perspective each time I encounter the “world wide web” of hype and OMG! and products and extracting resources and cruelty and pettiness. 

Peace on earth, Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved