Wilderness has of course been around for way more than 50 years, but The Wilderness Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1964 gave protection and preservation to remaining places in this country where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…”
The idea of safeguarding wilderness for current and future generations has since become a worldwide phenomenon. yet there are still unprotected places large and small worthy of wilderness designation
For my better half Erik, it’s a place of refuge. It’s a place to decompress, to experience solitude, and return home recharged and inspired after spending time in its healing and soothing energies. He often comes home with new ideas for creating art as well. Wilderness palpably reminds me that there is so much in this world that I may never fully understand, that as a human being I am a tiny yet powerful part of the planetary and ecological puzzle, and that here in Montana, I am not necessarily at the top of the food chain. I am totally responsible for my own safety there and for my own actions.
I love the gift of being able to lose yet also find yourself in nature, and in the wild. Things appear, seem and feel less complicated there, too. Our senses and awareness are heightened and magnified. Solutions and creativity surge and emerge after immersing ourselves in nature..
Even if you never experience wilderness in person, it’s comforting to know there are places where we allow natural processes and forces to interact without our micro-managing the environment to our advantage.
Over the past 50 years, wilderness areas have also gained an immeasurable and perhaps unforeseen advantage. Within larger national parks such as Yellowstone, lands managed for their wilderness values and characteristics also serve as baselines for study and research, to be compared with nearby areas more directly impacted by human activity.
At a time when some are calling for no more wilderness, that we have already have enough (or even too much) of it, that we may need remaining unprotected wild lands worldwide for energy or mineral extraction or human settlement, I beg to differ.
The earth is not creating any more wilderness. Right now, we have the power and capacity (and hopefully the wisdom) to set aside as many remaining wild lands as possible. Future generations could count on experiencing and enjoying places without a heavy human footprint or our long-term presence. Other species with whom we share the planet today would have a fighting chance to adapt, migrate or move in response to climate change related impacts.
One day I will also likely be too infirm or old to directly enjoy and experience wilderness. A little over 20 years ago, a lifetime’s worth of stories, movies, music, and photographs inspired by wilderness lovers, explorers and advocates triggered my desire to come West, to explore what others with incredible foresight and humility and unselfishness had preserved. There is still so much at stake today, as people in Montana fight for protection of the Badger-Two Medicine area and other treasured wild places, and people elsewhere advocate for areas close to their hearts and souls.
In the end, I think about our nieces and nephews and their families in the future, and what they will be able to enjoy and experience. Will they be able to sleep under a clear and starry light sky, and hear elk bugling, or the distant howling of wolves? Will they be able to build tree forts, ride bikes through the woods, or play games inspired by being out in nature? Will they become competent stewards of remaining untrammeled wild spaces in their own backyards, or say silent prayers of gratitude to nature lovers who came before them?
Dave Foreman once said that “Wild things exist for their own sake”.
Deep down, all of us have something wild and free and powerful in our hearts and souls-often revealed and brought forth to life through nature connection, through connection with something that is larger than ourselves.
Can we afford to live without wilderness?
Can we afford not to dream?