The Necessity of Wildness
A recent issue in a periodical to which I have subscribed for decades included an ecological article on the relationship between human beings and other species. The author wrote:
“We were never meant to operate as an autonomous and independent species. We desperately need the full cooperation of other species to survive, from large mammals that maintain a crucial balance within ecosystems to microbial communities in our own guts. I know in my bones that to thrive I need connection with the trees and plants and wilderness, and most importantly with animals.”
Most people experience some sense of enjoyment and benefit when out in the natural world. By natural world I mean the parts not altered by buildings, concrete, asphalt, dammed rivers, and cultivated land. This is why parks – city, county, state, and national – get tons of usage by the citizenry. A few, of course, decry anything uncivilized. Like NYC residents who own Hummers but for whom off-road is the Safeway parking lot.
An example is the campfire. Campfires (backyard or off the beaten track) are enjoyed by almost everyone. Perhaps this is tied to some clan-of-the-cave-bear memory deep in our DNA. A subconscious connection to our long-ago ancestors for whom the fire meant warmth, security, and cooked food. The 1982 movie Quest for Fire graphically illustrates this.
My childhood, with rare exceptions, did not include camping, backpacking, or forays into wilderness. I don’t know from where it came, but beginning in early adulthood I have had this desire/need to be out in nature. The farther from any hint of human activity the better. In 1992 I spent considerable time alone in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, which is only accessible by foot or helicopter . . . there is not a single road within the park. Five miles from the nearest human being and bushwhacking with no trails, I felt a deep peace. Even when I found myself having a conversation with a grizzly bear thirty yards away. A connection was intimately felt.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1861 essay, Walking: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Some folks either do not know this or chose to ignore it. Others realize that if we do not heed Thoreau’s wisdom, we will be digging our own grave as a species.