Monday, October 19, 2015

I ache for wilderness

My treks into nature are within small islands of fragmented forest among neighborhoods and cities. It is a denuded forest logged out once or twice with many species gone from the landscape. The apex predators are gone - wolves, bears, cougars and what is left are the small mammals, who don't pose a threat to humans, and surviving species of birds, amphibians and invertebrates.

The closest I've come to wilderness was a visit to Yellowstone National Park, yet, that experience is managed. Wolves are collared, bison are culled if they stray from park boundaries and wildlife is confined by invisible yet set borders. Famous female wolf 832f was shot and killed, legally, by a hunter when she strayed outside of park boundaries. How can you tell a wolf, "Hey, you can't go there?" 

How do you contain the wild?

Another experience was a hike at Mount Rainer National Park. Along a trail, where the edges were muddy from a recent rainfall, I spotted a paw print of a mountain lion. I stood immediately at attention, sensing with my ears and eyes the surrounding vicinity. It was a deep, innate, instinctual response, deep from the ages of time, a response to a predator of challenge. For the remainder of the hike I was on alert. When a couple passed by, their presence brought me comfort until they left the area then the unease returned.

Prior to venturing into these areas, I had read up on bear and mountain lion attacks, how to avoid and what to do in a confrontation. Although I went over in my mind how I would handle it, I wondered if I would do as I had read or collapse in a heap of fear.

To be honest, there was something edgy, something of an exciting feeling knowing I could go toe to toe with an apex predator. Crazy I know, not something I wanted nor desired but, I believe seeing that print brought me close to feeling what it might just be like in true wilderness. It was a leveling feeling.

 I sit at a campfire now, writing among nature knowing the surrounding forest is less than half of what it was. Why are there county parks, state parks and national parks where people come in droves to be with nature? Do they have a yearning for wilderness like me I wonder as I look around at my fellow campers enjoying the serenity that only nature can bring.

I’ve read a number of books written by authors who trekked and lived in the wilderness. How I admire their tenacity, their courage, their self-reliance. I want to do the same.

And I ponder, is it a good thing or a bad thing that there is little left of the wild? Do we need wilderness? Do we need wild? All I know is that my spirit aches for it, it aches to experience it, it aches to feel how it was, and without feeding spirit and without that connection to what once was and what our ancestors lived with and among, what are we?

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