- Writer’s Memo
This piece of writing was extremely difficult to coax out of my mind. The immensity of the ideas I had to sort through and consider really presented a struggle to the composition of this piece. With so many things that I wanted to include, I had to be sure that flow and composition were important to the center of my writing – this way the reader could follow along easily and make their own connections. The purpose of my writing was to be sure that the reader understands my position in reverence to wilderness at the ultimate educator and source of knowledge, as well as countless other resources. The content of my writing is based on my experiential learning, past experiences and connections, and on readings and studies from the WW course content. This paper is meant to be a synthesis of all of my feelings and thoughts toward the values of wilderness and my attitudes toward its future use. During the composition of this piece, I learned that outlines and note cards can be your best friends when trying to organize so many different ideas. In addition, it really helped to have immediate access to all my sources so I could continue to reread and reanalyze my thoughts. In going through this piece, I hope the reader can see my well-composed thoughts about nature’s value and my advocacy for a more thoughtful society.
Particularly, I am interested in the effects of interaction with wilderness as a source of happiness. In our class of wilderness writers, we have a very diverse group of learners and personalities. Though all of us elected to take this course, some of us seem to be more enthusiastic to participate in outdoor activities than others. Does being outside more often really affect someone’s happiness? What does our experience in the wilderness/natural environment teach us? In addition, as Leopold and Noss question: does the size of the wilderness affect its impact on the human mind and its intrinsic value? I have developed my own ideas to find that wilderness is not dependent on any factors other than the constructs of the perceiving mind. In addition, the ultimate purpose of wilderness is to serve as the ultimate teacher for mankind.
I chose this question because I find it curious after participating in so many different activities, I seem to be happier and more understanding. I am interested in finding out if this can be attributed to my own spiritual connection with nature and wilderness, or due to my developed social relationships with classmates. I would like to know if Mosden’s notion of ecopsychology is one that is worth pursuing. Are we really cut off from true learning experience? I am finding that I agree with Dillard a lot in the respect that I do not feel wilderness is bound by size or location. I have experienced wilderness in some very interesting places and sizes during the duration of this course.
So far, I have pursued a few different avenues when it comes to developing my own ideas about wilderness. I have considered all of the values, services, and functions of wilderness as presented my Bergstrom’s article. I am beginning to believe that wilderness is a source of happiness for people because we use it for so many different purposes. I have also found that it depends on the consumer’s mindset as to whether they have a meaningful relationship with nature. After participating in the course readings and discussions, I do feel that I am ready to formulate my own statement about wilderness:
My ethics statement at this point is such:
Wilderness is a diminishing source of well-being for human kind that should be valued regardless of size, location, or alterations. The inclusion and availability of outdoor exploration and education is vital to the academic, social, and mental/emotional growth of every individual. The deficiency of true wilderness and its value as the truest educator is becoming increasingly significant to the happiness and fulfillment of humankind.
Innumerable questions have come to my mind during this journey and exploration of wilderness values. Fortunately, I have been able to construct my own understandings and interpretations via the readings and on-hands experiences provided by the Honors Wilderness Writing course. The most perplexing question I have faced in the course is probably considered very obvious: “What is wilderness, really?” The most important thing I have had to learn in my investigations is that every individual will have their own ideas and perceptions of what makes wilderness. Sometimes it has been difficult to read articles or participate in discussions with others who do not share the same views as I do. This has been an extremely valuable learning experience due to the acceptance and awareness I have developed in relation to environmental issues and wilderness conservation. I have truly learned to hold an academic discussion that examines sources with scrutiny, questions norms, and changes views. My strong personal opinions of wilderness directly influence my understanding of what wilderness provides to me and how I will treat it in the future. I believe that wilderness is an inherent part of our identity and that we cannot separate ourselves from our instincts.
As Jennifer Pharr Davis states in her book, Becoming Odyssa, wilderness “is a teacher like no other. It has no required reading, assignments, projects or grades. It has no expectations. It has no prejudice or discrimination. It doesn’t care about your socioeconomic status, age, gender, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, education level, occupation, family, name, the clothes you wear or the car you drive. What a fantastic place for an individual to find out who she really is! (Davis 2011)” Furthermore, wilderness is an individualistic construct: every person has his or her own understandings and applications of wilderness within their lives and environments. My own life experiences and discussions with others about nature have led me to understand wilderness for its ultimate value: education. Without observing other animals within their environments, documenting changing phases and cycles of the Earth, and learning from nature, mankind would never have accomplished so much within our species. We are so far advanced as a whole – only due to the lessons that nature and its other inhabitants have taught us. Everything we own, create, consume, and conceive is related directly to the wilderness and its products. Wilderness teaches us to ‘disconnect’ from life and renew ourselves, to value diversity of Earth’s creatures, to stay healthy by eating and sleeping well, and to be observant and patient with others. On quite the other hand, our current society is structured in exactly opposite proportions. We are molded to pseudo-‘connect’ with others via technology, eat highly processed foods, interrupt our bodies’ natural cycles with medicines and caffeine, and to expect instantaneous gratification from others. We have strayed so far from where we really should be that we have completely forgotten about all of the benefits nature brings to our lives.
When we are able to connect and become a part of nature, we are able to gain knowledge from our outdoor experiences. One of the innumerable instances we can benefit from nature’s educational value is through field trips. One may consider a field trip in the traditional sense, but many more options exist outside of the school curriculum. A range of ages from toddlers to grown adults can explore new places and find out new things about the environment. A field trip may not always be a field trip in the stereotypical sense. No matter your age or ability, nature has lessons to teach all of us. Depending on our own life experiences and our understandings of nature, the things nature teaches us can vary greatly. If we ignore the call of nature and its generous wisdom, we will actively create a gap in our understandings of the world.
Instead of filling the void in our lives with empty technology and fruitless busy work, we should instead seek out our own answers about the world. Questions and statements about the real values of wilderness and nature have been posed by droves of authors, poets, photographers, activists, philosophers, scientists, and citizens throughout history. The environment has been a central point of intrigue and inspiration to mankind since the dawn of time; naturally, everyone has their own ideas and decisions about its value and structure. My own views about wilderness are similar to those of author Aldo Leopold: “Many of the diverse wildernesses out of which we have hammered America are already gone; hence in any practical program the unit areas to be preserved must vary greatly in size and in degree of wilderness” (Leopold 1949). I feel that the value of wilderness is not found in its vastness of size. Wilderness can be found in any space, large or small, as in Dillard’s story of the weasel. As Dillard sat in a suburban area, she still observed some truly ‘wild’ behavior of wildlife and felt uninhibited herself (Dillard 2013). This feeling of hers was not achieved due to the size of the land area she was on, but as a mental construct of her own. Like Leopold and Dillard, reputable scientist Reed Noss agrees: “wilderness, and natural areas in general, should be evaluated primarily in terms of their contribution to the broad goals of protecting and restoring native biodiversity and ecological integrity to our planet.” Rather than focusing on the immense size of the area, we should focus on quality of the land and the biodiversity it has to offer. In my mind, nature and wilderness are synonymous: I am able to find wilderness just like Dillard does, in the simplest of places.
Another factor that supposedly affects the concept of wilderness is the location of the land itself. For example, would we consider New York’s Central Park to be real wilderness? Despite the many man-made bridges, ducts, and other decorations that have been added to the natural landscape, there still exists a home to trees, wildlife, and plants galore. Just as a deserted forest, this environment is able to sustain itself and perpetuate its own needs without human interference. On a much smaller scale, I would also consider my sorority house’s front yard to be a natural wildlife setting. Though I can sit on a man-made porch and drink lemonade and listen to my iPod, I can still remove the buds from my ears and hear the birds chirping and watch the squirrels playing in the spring. Wilderness teaches me to focus on the present, the here and now; and it reminds me that each day is a blessing. It teaches me about spirituality and peace.
Lastly, I personally confronted the issue of wilderness virginity. Does the fact that the forests have been cut, grounds have been cleared, and crops have been harvested affect the wilderness’ educational value? My own answer to this question is no. The amount of truly untouched land left on our planet is extremely acute: less than 2 percent remains unscathed by human influence (Marsh 2005). If we based our understandings of wilderness on the virginity of the ecosystem, we would have to say that true wilderness in our world does not exist. I disagree with those who believe this because I feel that my paradigm of wilderness allows me to see wilderness in any natural setting – if I look hard enough. My definition of wilderness is fluid and ever-changing. It is based on one’s own mental construct and must be adaptable at all times. The wilderness still offers us the same lessons in any one of its forms; we must just be willing to listen to its call. However, I do not disagree that constant human expansion and consumption has taken a very serious toll on our wilderness and its natural resources. The environment has a beauty that we cannot comprehend – it always perpetuates and replenishes itself. However, the environment will only replenish itself with minimal human interference. In order to avoid losing the invaluable instruction that the wilderness provides, it is imperative that we as humans get our act together – fast.
The real issue I have found in my wilderness writing is not “what is wilderness?” but instead, “what do we do with it?” in order to continue to learn from it. There are many different players on the field when it comes to environmental preservation, conservation, and use of natural resources. In a Wilderness Writing class discussion, we found that government agencies, privately-owned factories, energy consortiums, and even cities are fighting for the natural resources that our planet still has. With so much strain and demand on our means, how are we, as a whole, going to be able to support the Earth in the capacity it is accustomed to? Through my reflections and observations, I realized that I am more of a piece to the puzzle than I give myself credit for. I am a consumer, an advocate, and a statistic of the materialistic world. As a key constituent of the consumer lifestyle, what am I going to do to display my own wilderness values, change my mindset, and advocate for wise use of our planet’s bounty? More importantly, what will happen if our society does not see or disregards the impending doom?
Current dispute in the scientific world exists between human-centered and environment-centered land use. The majority of current land use, especially in the United States, is based on anthropocentric practices that deplete the land without worries about replenishment. Many humans believe that the land and its gifts exist as a resource to them to be used freely and with disregard for consequences. This indifference “has caused us to abuse the natural world in an attempt to separate ourselves from the natural world completely.” In order to create a more sustainable and healthy world, our civilization needs to realize that “nature is at our service, but not in the way that we have thought of it” in previous years (Mosden 2002). The happy medium survives in the even balance between human use and preservation: wilderness is flawless and self-sufficient without human interference, so we must try to intervene only when necessary and leave resources for many generations to come. Though this may be easy to say, it becomes extremely difficult to formulate a well thought out plan with so many conflicting views vying for attention. Just within my close group of peers, we all disagree about the most important values of wilderness. While I advocate for the wilderness as an educator, others may advocate that wilderness is a resource supply, economic booster, or a scientific cradle (Cordell 2005). I believe all of these opinions are detached from the emotional connections that are innate to us as mankind. We must not overlook the essential bond that we share with the wilderness.
The United States Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and also a place that exists on “5,000 acres of land” (US Wilderness Act 1964, Sec. 2c). While I agree that it was important for the United States government to define wilderness in order to appropriate its conservation and measurement efforts, I feel that this understanding is too narrow to fit my stand on nature. My understanding is that at this point, the United States was striving to find efficiency in taking care of our natural resources for the sake of our nation’s economy. Again, this is too constricted to encompass all of the educational value that wilderness offers. It is important to see the wilderness as a whole for its total values, rather than as capital to be used for our own personal gain. Too many individuals pillage nature for its natural resources, wildlife, and other extrinsic values without replenishing them or caring about their damaging effects. We must remember the educational, spiritual, and intrinsic values as well.
There are many other uses for our environment and the wilderness outside of reaping natural resources. Natural surroundings also serve purpose for recreation, wildlife, and science (Leopold 1949). The intrinsic and extrinsic values of wilderness extend further than aesthetic appeal to include social, economic, ecological, and ethical benefits (Bergstrom 2005). Social benefits of nature are among some of most overlooked. Not many people realize the true value of wilderness – or even its healing and restoring properties. Nature has the power to cleanse the soul and repair the psyche after life throws us curveballs. The intentional separation between humans and the natural environment is creating a rift that is not going to be easily fixed. In response to this rift, there is a new field of psychology that deals with the lack of nature’s influence in our daily lives. This ecopsychology states that increased levels of depression and fulfillment deficiency are “a direct result of our lack of knowledge about ecology and contact with nature” (Mosden 2005). There is increasing concern that the effect of the disappearing wilderness will be much more profound than most people anticipate. I believe that straying from the teachings of wilderness, we are opening the doors to destruction and failure.
While individuals interact with and participate in nature-based activities, they are not only building their basic knowledge, but learning wise use practices and how to be advocates for a better world. The scaffolding of activism and support on top of simple understandings about our world sets the tone for a more self-sufficient, healthy, and symbiotic environment. Without this understanding, we will continue to perpetuate our negative behavior toward the treatment of nature. Similar to author John Robbins, I believe that we, as humans, have an infinite capacity for either destruction or for creation. As a whole, we are leaning toward being “fundamentally selfish” beings that are propagating each other to be “accomplices in the status quo” (Robbins 2010). Rather than viewing wilderness as pure capital, it is imperative that we take a step back and see it as an entire organism before it is too late. At the most extreme case, humankind will destroy the natural resources and biodiversity we speak so passionately about. I believe this will be due to our extensive “education” and “promotion of awareness” that is not backed up by action and meaningful changes to our beliefs. Despite our empty promises of change, we must open our eyes before we doom our future generations to being robbed of the world’s truest education and inadequate resources for future use.
As I believe wilderness has the capacity to educate all those who seek understanding, so others see wilderness as capital, recreation, science, wildlife, or spiritual fulfillment. If our society is able to turn toward “moral sensitivity, education and cooperation”, we will be able to accomplish our goals of wise use (Robbins 2010). If we want to protect our wilderness and conserve the biodiversity that provides us with so much information, each individual of our society must be dedicated to the cause. We must become reactionaries and revolutionists in order to spring our nation into action. In doing so, we will not only save the wilderness, but also our health and quality of life.
3. Working Bibliography
Cordell, H. Ken., John C. Bergstrom, and James M. Bowker. “Chapter 9: The Net Economic Value of Wilderness.” The Multiple Values of Wilderness. State College, PA: Venture Pub., 2005. 162-77. Print.
Davis, Jennifer Pharr. Becoming Odyssa. Beaufort Books, 2011. eBook.
Marsh, Bill. “Little Land on Earth Is Left Untouched.” The Seattle Times 31 July 2005, Nation & World sec.: n. pag. Print.
Robbins, John. n. page. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-robbins/spiritual-living-human -na_b_627166.html>.
US Wilderness Act. 1964. To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes Public Law 88-577, 88th Congress, 3 September 1964
In-Class Text Citations and Annotated Bibliography
Bergstrom, John. The Multiple Values of Wilderness: On Organizing Framework for Wilderness Values. State College: Venture Publishing, Inc., 2005. p 48 – 55. Web. <http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/ja/ja_bergstrom001.pdf>.
This piece of writing is helpful in the formulation of my manifesto because it provides an organized interpretation of what wilderness has to offer. Many individuals are very narrow-minded and only consider wilderness and the natural environment to be valuable for resources. They often overlook the other values that are intrinsically tied to the wilderness, as reflected in this article. Though lengthy, this article provided me with some new insight into how important the wilderness really is to my everyday life. In addition, this editorial thoroughly and carefully outlines the attributes, functions, and services that tie into wilderness. The meticulous breakdown of information in this writing allows for the reader to acquire an easy understanding of the diverse profits offered by nature.
Dillard, Annie. “Living Like Weasels.” . Virginia Commonwealth University. Web. 2 Apr 2013. <http://www.courses.vcu.edu/ENG200-lad/dillard.htm>.
This simple, short piece of writing offers a brief glimpse into what being “wild” really is. In particular, this article really helped me to think about what wilderness is and what it is really made up of. Dillard’s story provided me with a conflict of my own to solve: can wilderness occur in a suburban area as Dillard suggests? Or is wilderness confined to large expanses of land as defined by our national laws? This story is rather captivating, especially when Dillard taps into the instinctive and intuitive nature of animals. I think this will be a good contribution to my manifesto when comparing human attributes to those of the wild.
Leopold, Aldo. “Wilderness.” Sand County Almanac: and Sketches here and there. (1949): p. 210 – 213. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
I feel that this article is valuable to my manifesto because of its accurate description of the origins of wilderness. Leopold references the wilderness as a tool used by man to create civilization that is now very rare to find in untouched form. Leopold’s artistic style of writing really appeals to the reader’s emotions and sympathy toward the depletion of wild resources. Leopold uses his article to influence the reader’s views about nature serving more than just one purpose: he touches on wilderness being used for recreation, science, and wildlife. Also, Leopold uses his article to advocate for more wise use of wilderness for the sake of these three main areas. Though this is a dated article, I feel that it is still an accurate and relevant portrayal of the state of wildlife in our nation.
Mosden, Kari. “Can Ecopsychology Save the Wilderness Debate?.” GATHERINGS: journal of international community for ecopsychology. (2002): n. page. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
Mosden skillfully weaves this article to provide a fresh outlook on the mutual dependence of wilderness and mankind. Prior to this article, I had not even considered that my health and well-being could be based on my own connection to the environment. In this article, Mosden discusses the relevance of a new field of psychology, called ecopsychology, which focuses on human relationships with the environment to promote well-rounded life experiences. Mosden also presents a unique argument about anthropocentrism and the views of nature as a service to man. She gives the reader brief insight to the differences between anthropocentrism and environmental perpetuation beliefs. She asks the reader to consider: is it necessary for humans to interact with the environment? This article was very thought provoking and helpful in bringing a new topic to the table.
Noss, Reed. “Soul of the Wilderness: Biodiversity, Ecological Integrity, and Wilderness.” International Journal of Wilderness. 2.2 (1996): p 3-8. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. <http://wildernesswriting.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/noss.pdf>.
In this article, Noss presents an important idea: wilderness values and views can change. Noss takes the time to explore and reflect on his own understandings of wilderness before and after considering the effect of size on land classification as wilderness. Noss presents views that state all different kind of land must be valued for their diversity and independent value – this is an opinion that I highly admire. I think that this reading is useful to my own writing because this scientist is a writer that is skilled in composing his feelings and their changes over time.