Wilderness in the Anthropocene

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There are some who can live without wildness…. and some who cannot.              Aldo Leopold

I am one who cannot.

Canyonlands, autumn 2015:

Early morning. I wake early and heat water and quietly step outside, trying not to wake Fred.

I grab my chair and place it for the view. Ensconced with journal, tea, warm jacket and hat, I sit.

Vermillion streaks line the eastern horizon, the sun not quite risen. Sand and cliffs are dark violet, sleeping until the sun wakes them to reds and rusts.

I sit and watch. Slowly, imperceptibly, golden morning light begins to crawl across the red sand. I breathe; the light slides a bit further, inching closer to the violet cliffs, waking them to the day.

My thoughts turn to wilderness and last night’s book: ‘Satellites in the High Country’ (author: Jason Mark).  What is wild? What is wilderness? Do we need a new definition of wilderness? Is wilderness even important?

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That last question terrifies me. I fear that to many people, wilderness is unnecessary, extraneous, irrelevant to their lives. It seems that wilderness is being assaulted on all fronts, and though one battle might be won, the war is never over. I need to move off of this line of thinking…

There is a proposal to name a new geologic epoch after man: the Anthropocene. An epoch must show up in the geologic layers so that thousands of years in the future, geologists will be able to find the delineation in the rocks. Some say it is too early to name this epoch, others say that the date of the first above ground atomic bomb test is the perfect start date of the epoch (radioactive layers will be found from world-wide fall out), others say it should begin from the Industrial Revolution, still others propose the start of agriculture.

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Either way, naming a new epoch after man, the Anthropocene, seems filled with hubris. Yes, we have over-populated, over-used, over-extracted to the point that it feels as if we are barreling blindfolded down the road at 100mph, missing signs that warn the road is about to end.* There is no place on earth that is untouched by humans. From the CO2 content in the atmosphere, to acidic oceans, to erosion caused by building, to plastics and aluminum, we are ubiquitous.

Wilderness may no longer be defined as ‘untrammeled by man’. But….. But….

Looking out on these red rocks, I know:  THIS is wild. THIS is wilderness. The wild is free and unpredictable. The wild teaches me that I’m not in charge. These red rocks hold a mirror, reflecting the smallness of my desires. The wild has her own agenda.

Wildness brings me to my knees.

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“People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about our economic status or our running day calendar. Wildness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our own plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.” Barbara Kingsolver

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My hope is that Barbara Kingsolver will reach all people with her words.

*Paraphrase of highway, credit to Fred Baker, husband extraordinaire.

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8 thoughts on “Wilderness in the Anthropocene

  1. my sentience as well \ anthrobscene, perhaps, more descriptive of post-human emergence \ wilderness relieves my brain, the burren here (in éire) provides a much needed balm \ i hope you & fred are comfortable, happy, prepared to endure the forthcoming onslaught of stupidity accompanying the national election cycle \ through it all, maintain your connectedness to the beauty of our earth \ miss you__jke__||

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  2. DD Mike

    This is WW (wonderful writing). I loved the way you began by setting aside time for yourself, removing distractions, allowing you to focus. You forced nothing, you let the morning come to you. Then, you breathe (a brilliant, subtle, transition), you let yourself become part of the morning. The experience flows, unaltered, from your mind to the written word, transitioning from what you see to your vision, to a larger view. I have never seen you write better.

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  3. Experiencing the wildness allows us to feel more deeply, providing an intense clarity that is difficult to define. It is the ultimate dance partner, completely consuming us, igniting a fire deep within. We may lose the wilderness, due to our human ignorance, but I need to believe that the wildness will remain, untouched, untamed. Beautifully written Julianne.

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