Posted on June 18, 2009 by
Please welcome today’s guest poster, Mickey. Mickey is a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and as an avid mountaineer, he is well acquainted with wild places.
We focus a lot around here on the things that each of us can do to be better citizens of the planet, to live in a way that doesn’t exhaust the earth, air and water on which we depend, and maybe to reverse some of the damage that we’ve already caused. I guess we do this because it’s what we can do and it’s our responsibility.
But what is it we’re trying to save? Our own welfare, for sure, but believe it or not that isn’t reason enough for some of us; after all, our planet will likely limp along just fine at least until after I expire. So what, through our explicit actions, can we save right now that isn’t expressed in pollutant parts-per-million, tenths-of-a-degree temperature increases, or rates of glacial melt?
Wilderness. The earth as we once knew it. The earth as we still know it, if only in our imaginations.
Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac:
To the laborer in the sweat of his labor, the raw stuff on his anvil is an adversary to be conquered. So was wilderness an adversary to the pioneer.
But to the laborer in repose, able for a moment to cast a philosophical eye on his world, that same raw stuff is something to be loved and cherished, because it gives definition and meaning to his life.
Edward Abbey echoes the sentiment in his essay Freedom and Wilderness, Wilderness and Freedom:
We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go crazy in peace. Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in. Even the maddest murderer of the sweetest wife should get a chance for a run to the sanctuary of the hills. If only for the sport of it. For the terror, freedom, and delirium. Because we need brutality and raw adventure, because men and women first learned to love in, under, and all around trees, because we need for every pair of feet and legs about ten leagues of naked nature, crags to leap from, mountains to measure by, deserts to finally die in when the heart fails.
As for me, I just want a big backyard to play in. A quarter-acre of manicured fescue won’t cut it. More than that, I just need to know it’s there, Abbey’s “place where [we] can go crazy,” if only to keep me sane.
What, dear reader, does wilderness mean to you?