On October 24, the Onassis Foundation published an #iSTANDfor article by Dr. Luke Hunter. In it, Dr. Hunter explains the importance of wild places. He highlights how animals like big cats need these spaces to survive, and how we humans rely on them as well. This is a timely piece, because a recent study found that wild places are quickly disappearing (Watson et al. 2016). Reading Dr. Hunter’s article also led me to reflect on what wild places mean to me.
First of all, let me be clear that when I say “wild places,” I am not referring to wildernesses devoid of people. The notion of virgin wilderness is problematic for several reasons: not least because some modern “wildernesses” were created by the forced relocation of indigenous peoples (Cronon, 1997). Rather, when I speak of wild places I am referring to landscapes with thriving ecosystems. Humans may use them, and indeed many people depend on them for survival. But wild places have not been subject to the sorts of wholesale degradation that accompanies large-scale industrial development (Watson et al., 2016). If they have, then they have been allowed to recover.
As Dr. Hunter points out, wild places are crucial for big cats. It is in these areas where most large herbivores can flourish, thereby providing sustenance for apex predators. Wild places can also serve as “source” populations: locations where enough young can be raised to help compensate for the high levels of mortality that often befall big cats in human-dominated landscapes. But for me, wild places have personal significance as well.
I have spent most of my life in urban and suburban areas. While I do not regret my time there, I have always been drawn to less built environments. As a child this largely meant metro parks, which played a significant role in my development. But there were a few times in which I have been able to visit larger wild places, and they left an indelible mark on me.
The first of these instances was a week spent at a fishing camp in the Canadian province of Quebec. Its name was 3 Seasons’ Camp (Camp 3 Saisons), and it remains the most beautiful place I have ever been. There were no roads leading to the camp; requiring my friends and I to take a long boat ride through Lake Kipawa. But it was well worth it. Never before had I felt more alive, and I will always be grateful to my friends for taking me there.
Another trip Dr. Hunter’s article made me think about was the time I hiked on Mount Rainier. It was only one day, but it was incredible. It was my first time on a mountain of that size, and the views blew me away. I was overwhelmed by the splendor of my surroundings, and felt nearly euphoric.
Approximately two months after my brief spell on Mount Rainier, I was able to return to the mountains of Washington. This time I spent five days at a retreat center in the Cascades called Holden Village. Instead of being on a single mountain, I was surrounded by snow-covered peaks. Watching the fog role back each morning to reveal the massive rock face in front of me (see the featured image); exploring the thriving forest; and hiking above the tree line were highlights of my time there. It was a dream come true.
My life has been enriched by the experiences I have had in wild places. The three instances I have described introduced me to true joy, and left me thirsting for more. Now I frequently find myself yearning to return to wild places, in order to rediscover the freedom I have found there. It is my sincerest hope that everyone; regardless of race, gender, income, or any other such factor will be able to experience the wonder of wild places. It is equally important to me that those human communities who rely on wild places will continue to be able to do so, and that their rights will be legally recognized (and that such agreements will be honored).
However, neither of these dreams will come true if wild places cease to exist. Therefore I urge you to join Dr. Hunter and I in standing for wild places.
Hunter, L. (2016). #iSTANDfor: Wild places. Retrieved from http://www.istandfor.net/istandfor-wild-places.