I step onto the grass and feel the moist soil between my bare toes. My pace picks up into a sprint, freed from the confines of the indoors. I stop abruptly and watch a squirrel in the distance burying an acorn under a giant oak tree. Waiting until it leaves, I scurry over to where it was and dig up the nut and move it. I continue my adventure and feel sliminess underfoot. Looking down, I see dark purple colored mulberries scattering the ground. I eat one, it’s delicious. A few minutes later, I have a stain around my mouth and a full belly. Feeling energized, I scramble over the fence, separating my yard from the neighbor’s. I enter their small patch of pine trees, smelling the aroma they give off and getting lost in my mind. As I come back to reality, I look around and am disoriented, a sense of fear trembles in my body. I begin to run in every which direction, until I hear a call in the distance, “dinner’s ready.” I follow the voice of my mom; hop over the fence and into my house. My heart beat racing, I am overwhelmed by the journey I just had in the wild of my backyard encased by suburbia.
Since eight years old, my perceptions of wildness has changed as I have experienced places like the endless forests of Vermont, pristine coastlines of New Zealand, and remote canyons of Utah. For me the sense of wildness is the feelings and emotions experienced by humans when in the natural world. It is the fear of getting lost and knowing it would take days for someone to find you. It is having the ability to live off the land due to the bounty of flora and fauna, whether is it eating mulberries in a backyard as a child or snacking on prickly pears in canyon country. It is knowing you are part of the food chain, stealing an acorn from a squirrel or fearing a hungry bear in mountain forests. It is the sense of being alone in the landscape vulnerable to the elements of snow, heat, exhaustion. Ultimately wildness gives that sense of primitiveness, where thoughts are concentrated on current needs and comforts, not materialistic desires.
Now, the wildest I have ever felt has been amongst the sandstone cliffs, snowcapped mountains, and vibrant vegetation of the Colorado Plateau. It began as I tossed my 50 pound pack in the trailer, carrying two weeks’ worth of food and gear. As we drove off to the trailhead, my phone quickly was out of service, roads turned to dirt, and telephone lines disappeared. Stepping out of the van, you feel the remoteness of the Dirty Devil. I was in the sticks now. For those two weeks, we bushwhacked through dense tamarisk and pulled Russian thistle thorns from our bare legs. Trails don’t exist out here. We came across the impressions of dinosaur prints in the ancient mudflat rock, a rare sight. But only to realize that we are part of only a handful of people who have and could access this paleontologist’s dream. We found an entire petrified log in the Chinle formation scattering the trail. Such a sight would have been picked over in a less remote spot. On the next section, following the stream bed of Horseshoe Canyon, we only saw people one day, in Canyonlands National Park. The rest were spent alone, where our voices were the only ones for miles. We came across small arrowheads uncovered by the spring winds. As I picked one up, I realized that the last person to touch this artifact was most likely the person who made it thousands of years ago. Then came Dark Canyon, where there was always a conscious thought of bears in the highlands. It is becoming rarer to feel this presence since many of these top predators have been pushed passed their thresholds by humans.
Seeing this change of perspective from a small child getting lost in my neighbor’s yard to living in the backcountry of Utah, I wonder how my definition of wildness will change in the future? After experiencing one of the remotest areas in the country, will I need to find land even more unscathed by humans in order to expand my mind and feel wildness? Will I become a stuck-up hiker, angered by the sight of other people as I hunt for solitude? As this perception grows, it is important to maintain a conscious connection of humans and nature, and not to be over-consumed that people should not be a part of the natural world. Therefore, a sustainable future is one that fosters these senses and views of wildness to raise awareness and establish relationships with the natural world. It is encouraging children to get lost in their backyards or neighborhood park. It is understanding that the sense of wildness does not have to coincide with a designated wilderness area. It is taking time away from the confines of walls and artificial lighting to explore and be humbled by the power of nature. Such a future would reestablish this connection that has been lost as commercialization and technology have filled that void. Therefore, I challenge you to think about your own definition of wildness, and how you can allow this perspective to grow and better not only yourself, but the community around you.