Sunday, September 7, 2014

In Wildness is the ...

Dennis Anderson had an insightful and thought-provoking article in Saturday's Star Tribune. At least it made me think about wilderness and what it means. I admit that the phrase "the BWCA is still the nation’s most visited wilderness" makes me do a double take, even though I know it generally fits with our legal definition of wilderness: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” I suppose I trip over the fact that, to keep nature untrammeled, we humans must submit ourselves to being trammeled (entry permits, designated campsites, etc.) In his book of essays, The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder notes that "wildness is not limited to the 2 percent formal wilderness areas." He makes what reads to me like a meaningful distinction between wild and wilderness. As much to the point, after many years of being in error, I finally discovered that Thoreau's famous quotation doe not refer to wilderness. He wrote "In Wildness is the preservation of the World." It's my personal belief that, if we are truly referring to wilderness, there would be signs at the trail head entry points that say something to the effect that "Beyond here, you're on your own. Rescues will not be undertaken." That would allow us to issue considerably fewer permits, I bet.

wild great blue heron
Photo by J. Harrington

Please don't jump to a conclusion I'm against either wilderness or wildness. I think we need plenty of each. I just don't believe we really want to preserve wilderness as much as we want to be able to get away from constant harassment by cell phones, boom boxes (or whatever they're called now), email, internal combustion engines, etc. Maybe I'll adjust my perspective after I've read the current issue of Orion magazine. It has a special section on The Future of Wilderness. No doubt that will also be thought-provoking, something else we probably need more of.

wild Canada geese
Photo by J. Harrington

Personally, I've always thought of Canada geese as epitomizing wild. Herons, sandhill cranes and wolves also fit on that list. You know, what we mean when we talk about wild animals, including the poor, tourist-beleaguered, bison in Yellowstone. I'm not as sure about bears that harass autos looking to be hand fed.

Even more on point may be my growing belief that we need to fit our concepts of wild and wilderness and preservation into a new creation story, such as the one David Korten offers. That might help us to better understand why we don't really benefit by destroying wilderness with mining even if it improves our GDP. We also count as positives the clean up costs that come later from our tax dollars, instead of measuring net benefits. I'm afraid Lynne Sharon Schwatrz' father is among those who wouldn't understand about wildness, let alone wilderness.

Cement Backyard

By Lynne Sharon Schwartz 

My father had our yard cemented over.
He couldn’t tell a flower from a weed.
The neighbors let their backyards run to clover
and some grew dappled gardens from a seed,

but he preferred cement to rampant green.
Lushness reeked of anarchy’s profusion.
Better to tamp the wildness down, unseen,
than tolerate its careless brash intrusion.

The grass interred, he felt well satisfied:
his first house, and he took an owner’s pride,
surveying the uniform, cemented yard.
Just so, he labored to cement his heart.


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