Friday, April 4

Understanding Wilderness


Two worlds

It doesn’t have to remain misunderstood.  I know what it means for me.  But what does “wilderness” mean to our society?  What shouldit mean?

Our National Forests shouldn’t be seen as a repository for money making potential.  They shouldn’t be seen as large tree farms to wealthify a few.  At the very least they should be seen for what they truly do function as: huge carbon sinks that scrub the air we need for survival of all life on the planet.  And not just for our survival but for our quality of life.  We need to preserve our forests to fulfil their design.

They also harbor so much non-human (and human) life.  They provide shelter and sustenance for all kinds of wildlife that are crucial in their roles in the ecosystems we depend on for quality of life and survival.  Forests act as some of the best stormwater mitigation facilities.  They help regulate local climates and weather.  They store water and nutrients.  They buffer us from each other.  They add value to the Earth.    

Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado


Designated wilderness areas are important because they have the potential to be the most unspoiled of our forests if we care for them properly. 

These are the primary reasons we should preserve as much of our natural—or close to natural—forests as we can.  I’m not saying we should never cut down a tree.  But I am saying we shouldn’t rampantly and indiscriminately clear cut them because it would make someone rich or because we think we need the convenience of paper plates, single side printed documents, or store-bought landscaping mulch.  The waste that is involved in our forest management philosophies is criminal.  Sinful.

And what about desert wilderness?  Tundra?  Other biomes?  They all have their role in our greater Terran ecosystem.  We can’t afford to destroy any of them; or to develop them for human uses indiscriminately.  Our reshaping of the natural world needs to be tempered with a healthy respect—one we’ve obviously lost—for the environment, for our heirs, and ultimately for ourselves.

I think we’ve lost this respect because we’ve been conditioned to believe that everything has a dollar value.  This is simply not true.  While we can exchange anything and everything for agreed upon rates of currency, we cannot replace some of the things we buy and sell easily or in some cases at all. 

The effects of the colonization of our small communities by big box stores may well be impossible to reverse.  Those small businesses that have gone will be hard to bring back under our current paradigm.  And we desperately need them to recover our resilience.



Much like our natural systems, we need to restore our “natural” social systems as well.  We need to restructure our communities around…community.  Most definitely we need to move away from a globalized philosophy of life.  Resilience comes from localized strengths and mini-regions of support.  We don’t need to think too far beyond our own watersheds to find all the wealth we truly need and can enjoy in life.  Allof us. 

And if we need to delve into the unknown, the vast unknown places of the earth, the expanses of nature where adventure is ripe…then we should be able to enter into our local wildernesses and find ourselves lost on a path to being found.  We should be able to get away, find peace, seek truth, and enjoy something bigger than ourselves without having to create a vast retail empire that gobbles up resources, extracts the gold, and spits out the toxic waste for others to deal with.

Eastern Kentuckians shouldn’t have to depend on exploitive coal, oil, or natural gas operations for our livelihoods.  We should be able to live adequately, and even richly—on a human scale—off the land where we choose to live.  Dark hollers, cold streams, high ridges, and thick forests…this is the landscape of Eastern Kentucky.  Not flattened mountains of raw-scraped earth exposed to the sky and weeping tears of poison into their streams.  Not a landscape that lurks about seeking revenge on those that would allow their homes to be destroyed for a few dollars.  Not a landscape that is alternately diminished and lauded for the sake of material wealth as the liars that scurry about like the rats they are propagandize to the rest of the world.

Clear cutting—also—has no place in a culture that values the land and the bounty it provides.  People who have identified with the shady hollows and sunbaked crests of stone cannot readily adopt the identity of the naked muddy slopes of scoured hillsides and the hypercoagulability of their streams without also adopting the lie of greed.


Wilderness is an escape for me.  While I understand that little true wilderness still exists in my part of the world, I see that nature has a way of taking back the land and reconditioning it as wilderness before mankind can do much about it.  And before someone can cash in on the wealth that nature provides again in cycles, I find a window of opportunity to escape into the transitional forests and—if only for a moment—imagine I’m in a true wilderness, unspoiled, untrammeled, un-abused by the empires of Man.

Personally, my argument for wilderness is selfish.  I want a place where I can go and not have to interact with civilization.  I want to be away from roads, congestion, noise, societal demands, the pressure of responsibility, and the lie of greed.  But I can see on a grander scale that my own selfish desires to preserve wilderness align with the reality of a wilderness/forest preserved as a functional part of our environment.  It only needs to be preserved because we’ve nurtured our cultural greed into an insatiable monster.

So there you have it: my thoughts on wilderness.  I could obviously delve deeper into this issue, and I feel the need to make all of this into a more cohesive and concise piece of writing.  For now I will let it all fester here until I’m ready to rewrite and thrust it upon the world in some grander venue.



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