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A Wilderness Manifesto




Imagine you have been transported backward in time (thousands of years). You are standing in a dense forest and the sound of wildlife is ever present. Evergreen trees with mossy trunks are abundant, and ferns line the undergrowth, saturating it with their color. You discern the melodic chirps of songbirds floating down from the canopy, and the rustling of a creature unknown to you in the undergrowth about ten yards to your left. You see a doe step into the clearing ahead and then vanish back into the forest as swiftly as she appeared. Now you are back in the present. Are you standing in a large bustling city, surrounded by traffic and pollutants (of the noise and chemical variety)? Is the forest the same as it once was? Of course, it isn’t; even if it has become a National Park, humans have altered it in some way, whether to add buildings, restrooms, camping areas, dams (yes, dams – in a National Park!), or simply maintaining trails for visitors.
My own opinion on the wilderness debate has certainly been influenced by my personal experiences in it – and I have always loved my ventures into it. I was also very much a tomboy when I was younger. I loved playing outside and pretending. I would have adventures,and loved exploring the “wilderness” (be it hills, mud, weather, rivers or woods) around me. I remember taking walks and eating blackberries from bushes on the mountain where my Grandad and Grandma Jeannette live, and picking fresh vegetables from their garden. I have been swimming in the ocean, rivers and lakes, and stood under waterfalls. I have always loved going for walks and exploring the areas close to my various houses, like Annie Dillard did (although it was a short drive away) in her essay, “Living Like Weasels”. I have also had dogs around my entire life. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t have a dog around. This only contributed to my love of animals, and my wilderness ethic. Playing with, training, loving and learning how to understand my dogs’ behavior helped me to understand the animal world that much more (reading about animals, and watching educational shows about them out of curiosity helped too). I feel like anyone who has been around animals would understand how you can feel connected to them. I wanted to capture my wilderness adventures through photography, stories and drawings. Nature has always been my muse, and I have attempted to recreate my imagination by creating artwork and characters – many of which featured wilderness settings and wild (often fantastical) creatures.

All of the above factors have contributed to the strong connection and respect I have for nature and its inhabitants. Nature has always been my place of play, escape and inspiration, and its conservation has remained an issue close to my heart as a result. As I have grown older I have become aware of various injustices humanity as a whole has caused. I feel that if we do not changed our actions we will end up regretting it.

Why can’t we realize what we are doing to our planet? We are multiplying exponentially, without regard to the space we occupy, and the harm it causes. We fight over land, destroy predators, and create pollution and waste. We destroy forests, disrupt ecosystems and drive entire populations to extinction. To quote Godfrey Reggio, director of “KOYAANISQATSI” (a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance”), “We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon one another. In our world the “original” is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.”
Unfortunately I feel like our population as a whole does continue to treat nature as though it were only a resource to be claimed and land to be conquered. We forget that we could be enjoying it, exploring it, and saving it for the species that make their homes there to continue to live in. It is considered difficult if not impossible to restore or expand nature, but that seems like a poor reason to continue to take up land and exhaust natural resources carelessly and without regard for the planet’s other inhabitants. However this would mean the slowing of our current rate of population expansion, and sharing the world’s resources and space more evenly amongst said population. We can also use renewable sources of energy, recycle our current resources, and avoid the destruction of our current areas of wilderness.
I feel that part of the reason for our apathy about the wilderness preservation issue stems from our preoccupation with the thought that everything is disposable and replaceable. If we could appreciate the natural wonder and beauty that exists in the environments around us, perhaps we would care more about its well-being (it, after all, is just as alive as we are). In his essay, “Storytelling and Wonder”, David Abrams makes the point that we evolved through oral culture and not through technology or the written word. My Grandad has always told the most riveting stories; besides those from his personal life, he told me tales that he originally heard them from the most fascinating locals, travelers and the best storytellers he has met throughout his life. My Grandad’s stories are rich with his mountain heritage, and the ethics of living with the land. Abrams says that the local land influences stories, just as being in it influences us. I associate the mountains around my Grandad’s house with his stories from them, and take his messages of living with the land to heart.
In Aldo Leopold’s essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain”, he makes the point that removal of one species can change an area drastically – something we might not normally think about when taking out predators or destroying species to make room for ourselves. Biodiversity is of utmost importance if we want to preserve any semblance of wilderness (and our planet’s health). Leopold agrees that it is important for us to preserve wilderness, as it is “the salvation of the world”. The wilderness needs to be protected, and I feel that we are far too errant in our destruction of the natural world.
I hope that through my art, photography and animation I am able to spread values that share the idea of wilderness conservation and express its importance. In a letter to a friend, Ansel Adams stated, “Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these.” This writing resonates with me, but I also think that art can shed light on quite a few of the issues that are difficult subjects and a source of debate for man; it also has the capability to inspire thought and reflection, and can make its viewers pose important questions to themselves and others. One of my life goals is to, through my art, spread awareness of those issues that are most important to me and that I think should be in the forefront of societal thought (wilderness preservation being one of these).
At first I thought this essay would end up being a debate and an exploration of the various loopholes and arguments surrounding the term wilderness and reasons we should preserve it. While I hope I have offered a few of the latter, I have realized that I don’t think all of the former extraneous details are what we should view as most important in our argument about wilderness preservation. I, by nature, like to explore various ideas and parts of a subject and I hope my rambling thinking (as this is a blog after all) hasn’t gotten in the way of my core values. However, I will admit to thinking that we are simply out of control. We don’t realize that we are contributing to the destruction of our own planet at an alarming rate, and if it continues unchecked, it may be left vastly altered if not completely unable to be restored. Imagine if we keep expanding, and eventually occupy another planet (similar to a situation in Philip K. Dick’s, “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, where mankind occupies every planet and moon in our solar system), and leave Earth by the wayside (after all, to some we have already “conquered it”). Some politicians have considered this – including Republican Newt Gingrich. He was reported by CNN to have said, “I want to restate, far from backing off, I want to restate, America has a destiny in space.” Have we so quickly given up hope for our planet? Can we not reverse our increasingly rapid journey down the destructive path we persist to continue down? I think that we can, although it will require a large shift in consciousness, awareness and perspective from all of humanity.
Take a walk outside sometime, and find your own personal wilderness. Observe the landscape and your fellow beings and take a few moments to hear the noises they (and nature, i.e. the wind) create in your surroundings. Close your eyes and feel the inner peace and serenity that it must, at some level, create within you. Develop your own wilderness ethic, and think about all that nature gives to you. My own wilderness ethic is constantly evolving; I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

Russell, from Pixar’s Up is an official Wilderness Explorer!

Works Cited

  1. Abram, David. “Storytelling and Wonder: On the Rejuvenation of Oral Culture.” n. page. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://www.wildethics.org/es says/storytelling_and_wonder.html>.
  2. Adams, Ansel. “”On Love, Friendship and Art”.”Web. 28 Mar. 2012. <http://jimdoty.com/learn/adams_art/adams_art.html&gt;. Bose, Debopriya. “How do Humans Affect the Environment?.” Buzzle. (2012): n. page. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-do-humans-affect-the-environment.html&gt;.
  3. Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” n. page. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.
  4. Dick, Philip K. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Vintage Books, 1965. Print. <http://www.philipkdick.com/works_novels_stigmata.html&gt;.
  5. Dillard, Annie. Living Like Weasels. Web. <http://www.courses.vcu.edu/ENG200-lad/dillard.htm&gt;.
  6. Foust, Jeff. “America Has a Destiny in Space” Space Politics. 06/03/2012. Web. 15 Apr 2012. <http://www.spacepolitics.com/2012/03/06/gingrich-america-has-a-destiny-in-space/&gt;.
  7. Leopold, Aldo. Thinking Like a Mountain. Oxford University, 1949. Web.
  8. Reggio, Godfrey. “Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance.” The Qatsi Trilogy. N.p., n. d. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.koyaanisqatsi.org/films/koyaanisqatsi.php&gt;.

Aha! Moments

  • Seeing a phoebe bird at River Park North: I had been wandering the park and taking pictures, and I kept thinking about how I wanted some good bird pictures. I sat on top of a picnic table near the water and under some trees to meditate. I opened my eyes and an Eastern Phoebe bird landed right in front of me. It flew to various spots and perched while I took photos of it. It was perfect.

  • Wading in the creek: I have always wanted to go in the  creeks here, but couldn’t because of their reputation as being polluted and unsanitary. With the help of waders, I was finally able to do so, and it was freeing.

  • Reading Ansel Adams: This post just resonated with me, and I appreciated reading Ansel Adams’ views on art. (letter here)
  • Hiking trip; realizing and accepting limitations: I suppose I would consider this an “Aha” moment because I was accepting of the fact that I couldn’t keep up with my classmates, and perfectly content doing what I could.

  • Linville Gorge; nature as my muse: During a free-write on nature and spirituality, I came to the realization that I would define my relationship with nature as nature being my muse – my personal artistic ventures are often inspired by natural subjects.

  • Shackleford Banks; I went to Shackleford Banks knowing that (after the first hiking trip worsening my injury) it would be inadvisable. I toughed it out anyway because I needed the experience and “excursion time”. I realized my limits and pushed them.

1. What are you noticing in your coding? What surprises, intrigues or bothers you?

My coding had a lot of self, science, writing, and what I thought might be “selfish” due to the fact that they involved what I gained from my experiences with wilderness (which bothered me the most).

2. What is the relationship between your learning (aha! moments), your blog and your daybook? What happens where?

I recorded a lot of “aha! moments” in my daybook, but obviously none of my photos were there – which I feel is a necessary part of sharing my experience in this class. I think I felt more comfortable recording personal experiences in my daybook as opposed to my blog.

3. What has been most significant in terms of aha moments – the experiences in nature? Readings? Writings? Do they work together? How?

The experiences in nature certainly sparked my aha! moments, but writing about them in my daybook cemented them. The readings offered another perspective.

4. How has this class influenced your wilderness ethic, sense of stewardship/advocacy and your interest in science and writing?

I certainly feel a closer relationship to the wilderness, and a sense that it is my duty to, for example, clean up wild areas that have been littered upon. My interests in science and writing have remained about the same, but this class has allowed me to satisfy them.

I actually don’t have any pictures from this experience (a first). I was excited to go to the dog park – I always am – because I absolutely love dogs. I love seeing all the different dogs, and I can’t wait until I have one of my own to bring there next semester! The focus of this experience wasn’t dogs however, it was making fire. To begin with, we each got our own magnesium fire starters. I was overjoyed to have one of my own, as my boyfriend had one and I knew it was really cool. We had no trouble lighting our fire nests with these, which is why it is my personal favorite method of starting fires (instant gratification much?). We also tried making bowdrills, but mine was without much success, so I observed everyone else as they got theirs to start smoking. It’s kind of neat how with limited materials, it’s possible to make your own fire-starter to use to survive in the wild…definitely something to remember how to do.

Linville Gorge was a fun (and not too difficult) hike, and we were rewarded with some really great views. The caverns were really interesting, and I was very excited to get to see some adorable hibernating bats!