“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!
Way back in February of 2012, I wrote a post titled “What’s Important?”. It was an essay describing the evolution of my ideas of “right” (as in “being in right relationship with”, “righteousness”) from the evangelical Christian tradition to a broader, Buddhist-influenced experience. It led to a string of great comments and word analysis.
My moral development has been challenged lately by the speakers, storytellers, and advocates I heard at the Wilderness 50 conference. What is “Right Ethic” or a right relationship with our planet? Where do we experience the emergence of this ethic? Does it come from the top down, imposed by authority in law? Does it bubble up from feelings of connection to places, plants, animals, ecosystems, communities? How do we evaluate our interactions with Earth? And how important or trivial is that interaction in our daily lives?
Having immersed myself in a 5-day arena of wilderness philosophy, it’s very strange to return to the Internet world and gaze on its landscape. Yahoo! news articles bombard my senses: “How to Crack an Egg”, “Romantic Move Goes Awry”, “Horse Rescued from Pool”, J-Lo, Renee Zellweger, sports teams, iPhones, who wore it best, etc. Is this what life on Earth is about? Really?! Even gazing on the more thorny parts of the landscape seems a little flat. Is death news? Is human drama relevant or manufactured? And what about the lives of the non-human inhabitants of this planet? The life of the Ebola virus, for example. What do we really care about that, other than the way that humans are effected?
What is important about Life? Just my life? Just human life? Just life that I recognize?
The keynote speaker in many of the Wilderness 50 sessions was Dave Foreman. He is a much-loved, original eco-warrior who is now 68 years old and retains the spit and vinegar of his activist days. Raised in the Texas atmosphere of Biblical preachers, he knows how to tell a story and describe a cause. He used this illustration in a few of his addresses: he visited a ficus tree, of the fig and banyan family, whose broad canopy is one of the biggest in the entire world. It stretched over his head and spread out in a space bigger than a football field. And each limb supported hundreds of leaves. A massive thing, this tree! He likened it to the Tree of Life and stood in awe. And then he realized that human beings, our species, of which there are more than 7 billion individuals, represent just ONE leaf on this great tree. That one little leaf right….there. That’s us. How important are we? How aware are we of the rest of the tree? Of how we influence it and how it influences us? Do we think about that…often? ever? Or do we pay more attention to our celebrities, bank accounts and pet peeves.
The weekly photo challenge came out on Friday morning, as usual. Only this Friday, I was setting up camp in the Dog Canyon campground in Guadalupe National Park, a wilderness park in Texas where there is no Internet (ya think?). I returned to Milwaukee just this evening, after 2 days of driving with only a 3.5 hour stopover to sleep in a rest area off the interstate in Missouri. Needless to say, I’m tired. This is a going to be a quick post. But the Cover Art example on the Daily Post reminded me so much of a shot I took during this 2.5 week journey, that I have to share it. To see the prompt and the example, click here. My ‘magazine’ is a periodical covering aspects of wilderness preservation. (Having spent 5 days at the Wilderness 50 Conference during this trip, I have much more to say about that…but I won’t go into it…yet.) And here is the cover shot:
I’ll be sharing a lot more about Wilderness and environmental ethics on this blog in upcoming posts. Stay tuned, please!