My first polished peace provides a narrative wilderness experience and demonstrates the challenges and rewards inherent to the wilderness. I began by just trying to remember what I did that day, and then I added my thoughts and feelings about those experiences. By writing this piece, I learned a lot about myself and why I decide to take risks.
When I first saw the boulder area, I was both excited and relieved. Excited because I began to anticipate the enjoyment I knew I would experience climbing the large boulders, and relieved because I had pictured a very different place. Somehow, when the Hebron Rock Colony was described to me, I ended up picturing a large valley with huge, perfectly spherical boulders. In my imagination, these monstrous boulders were covered with slippery ice, and they portended twenty to thirty foot falls into pits of deep, hypothermia-inducing water. When Dr. Egan told our class about the possibility of death, I pictured falling through the ice into freezing water and then becoming trapped beneath the ice. My classmates would then gather around the human-shaped hole in the ice, helpless to rescue me as I drowned beneath. So when I finally viewed the sloping hill of Hebron Rock Colony, and saw what appeared to be easily climbable rocks with relatively unthreatening water flowing down between them, I was relieved. While I was glad to know that I would not find myself helplessly trapped beneath the ice, I was also a little disappointed that it would not be as dangerous as I had believed. For some absurd reason that unfortunately overrode all of my healthy instincts of self-preservation, I wanted to face danger. I actually wanted to experience the feeling of mortal terror that I assumed skydivers and stunt drivers felt on a regular basis. Instead, when I saw the rock colony, I thought, “It’s just like Cunningham Falls.” Cunningham Falls is a state park in Maryland which has a rock valley similar to Hebron, except the rocks there are slightly bigger and probably more dangerous. My brother and I had gone scrambling up the falls there since we were little, and it was always the highlight of our trip to the park. Seeing Hebron for the first time brought back these great memories, and any anxiety I had had gave way to the excitement of climbing the boulders.
I took a route up the left side of the colony, going from boulder to boulder while being wary of the occasional icy rock. However, I soon realized that just because Hebron was not difficult on the onset, it did not mean that you could not make it more difficult for yourself if you wanted the challenge. I hiked with a group of people, and for a while we all stayed on the same route. However, the route eventually seemed impassable due to a large gap between the boulders. The rest of my group took a different route, however I was determined to find a way across the water. I spotted a boulder that sloped down steeply into the water. The stream was a few feet wide, and on the other side was the slope of another boulder, just as steep. Due to the decline on both sides, I realized I could not just jump the gap unless I wanted to go flailing down into the stream. After weighing my options, I eventually sat down and used my hands and knees to slowly let myself down the steep, slippery, slope of the first boulder. I stretched both of my legs across the gap, but found my laying in an awkward position across the gap, with no way to push the rest of my body over. After assessing the situation, I reached one leg over the gap, and then tucked my other leg behind me. I then pushed off my tucked leg and shifted my body weight over to the other boulder, making it over the gap. After crawling up the wet slope to the top of the other boulder, I felt accomplished. I continued on my route until I reached a point that was simply impossible to cross. After realizing that route I was taking had become impassable, I sought another path through the woods off to the sides. As I trekked through the woods, I noticed two large boulders that were wedged up next to each other so that the only way between them was to slip through a narrow gap that resembled a cavern. I decided to make by way through the gap. At first, I walked through it relatively easily, even though I did have to duck my head. As I journeyed further, I was forced to turn my body sideways, until eventually my arms were pressed against one side of the cavern while my back was pressed against the other. I sidestepped my way through, until I finally escaped to daylight on the other side. As I continued up the rocks, I found a crevice in a rock above me that was on the route I was taking. However, this crevice had very little room on which to grip. While there was another way around, I wanted to climb the crevice in order to test my climbing ability. After strategizing for a little while, I found that all I had to do was lift myself onto the ledge with my arms, and then continue to use my arms to pull myself to the top. While I could have taken the less-challenging route, that would have felt like cheating. I felt like if I did not challenge myself as much as possible, I would not make the most of the hike.
I trekked through the forest for a little while until I was finally able to rejoin the boulders. After being in the woods, it was refreshing to climb on the rocks again. After a while, I came across a large boulder with a tree growing on it. On the boulder were a variety of man-made rock piles, called cairns. When my family took a vacation to the Southwest, we hiked a trail in Utah that had cairns throughout the entire trail. There were even little cairns that had been placed on tree branches. I remember how at the time, simply seeing that sheer number of cairns had almost made me think that through some freakish natural phenomenon, they had formed on their own. I decided to add to the largest cairn, and then constructed my own, which I wedged in the branches of a tree. While I made my cairns, I thought of that other trail, and I hoped other hikers would be inspired to make Hebron Rock Colony as magical a place as that trail was. While building my cairns, I noticed an abundance of small flat rocks on the boulder. Inspired, I began to skip them into the nearby water. While it took me a couple of tries to remember how to skip the rocks, I eventually remembered and began to make my rocks skip at least once, sometimes more. Finally I left the boulder with the cairns and skipping stones. After hopping from boulder to boulder for another twenty minutes or so I finally reached the top. While getting to the top of a hiking trail often provides a scenic overlook or spectacular view, getting to the top of Hebron provided a different feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. The actual view was not that impressive, but seeing all the boulders I had climbed made me appreciate the hard work it had taken to get to the top. However, I soon became bored standing at the top and decided that I needed to make my way down.
On the way back down, I noticed a cliff off to the side that someone else in my class, Chris, had climbed. I followed Chris up the small cliff, and after battling my way through the brush, I finally found myself on top, overlooking the colony. Whenever I would go on a hiking trail, I always wanted to climb the rocks on the side in order to provide myself with a little extra dose of adventure, which I experienced while climbing the small cliff. After deciding that the cliff failed the “Would I survive a jump from this height?” test, I decided to make my way back down the cliff, which, as often is the case, was much harder that going up. Due to the steepness of the slope, I slid from tree to tree, until I eventually I crouched down into a crabwalk position and used a controlled slide to get myself to the bottom. After climbing the small cliff, the rest of the way down was mostly uneventful for a while. I took similar paths, though I still took challenges where I could. As I neared the bottom, I came across a very wide gap over a very deep drop under which flowed rushing water. I had found the danger I was looking for. On the other side of the gap was a very narrow, possibly slippery rock. Under normal circumstances, I probably would not have even attempted the jump. However, Chris and Daniel had already made the jump, so I really had no choice. My pride required me to make the jump as well, no matter the risk. Chris and Daniel were on the other side encouraging me to jump, while one of my professors, Dr. Egan, let me know that I didn’t have to do it. I cautiously eyed the jump and mentally calculated whether or not I could make it. Some people cannot think about attempting dangerous jumps, they just have to do it. If they think about it, they’ll mess up. However I tend to take the opposite approach. I have to mentally prepare myself for something before I can go through with it. So after sizing up the gap and psyching myself up, I made my leap of faith. I was in no way comfortable with the jump, but I wanted to challenge myself, and if I knew that if I did not take that jump, I would be letting myself down. Thankfully, I made the leap, and it felt great. I made two more similar, though slightly less harrowing, leaps on the way down, and each time I did, I felt better about myself and the way I faced these challenges. Finally, I reached the rest of the class, which was sitting on a large boulder surrounded by water at the bottom.
Once I arrived at the bottom, I began to eat my lunch, which I had packed in my backpack. As I sat on the rock, I remembered that I left my heavy sweatshirt on a rock further below in a pile with the rest of the classes’ coats and backpacks. Eventually, some of my classmates went to the rock to retrieve what everyone had left there. I noticed them bring back multiple bags and coats up to the rock our class was sitting on, but none of them sweatshirts were mine. I felt as if I was at the baggage carousel at the airport, seeing item after item go by without recognizing any of them as mine. I began to become mildly worried that some disreputable hiker would run off with my sweatshirt, and that I would freeze throughout the rest of the trip. I decided that I needed to climb down to the other rock in order to find my sweatshirt. I rushed my down; the days climbing had made jumping from rock to rock almost effortless. Finally, I reached the rock and found my sweatshirt lying there safely. I grabbed my sweatshirt and made my way back to the group. Then I finally sat down, and began to write about my experience at Hebron. As I wrote, I realized that my desire to experience danger was based on respect. Not only did I want to be respected by my peers for facing and conquering dangerous circumstances, I wanted that feeling of self-respect that comes from completing a dangerous task. I also realized that I had come away from Hebron Rock Colony with a different impression than I had when I got there. Instead of seeing it as a place where everything would be easy, I saw it as a place that could be as challenging as you wanted it to be, and then some. For those who were not used to rock climbing, the boulders were still climbable. For those that wanted a challenge that challenge was there. That’s what I decided was one of the great things about the wilderness. It allows you to test yourself and your abilities against very real dangers. It allows you to go past your limitations, and achieve things you could not achieve sitting at home. The wilderness lets you live.
My Wilderness Manifesto is about the different ways humans are trying to protect the wilderness. In this manifesto, I also offer my own solution to the problem. My thought process regarding this manifesto was to look at the two most prominent solutions for protecting the wilderness and see if I could offer a solution that existed somewhere in the middle. From this piece I learned that even if a solution does not seem plausible, it is still important to voice, in the hope that others might learn from it.
Wilderness has slowly been disappearing from Northern America since Europeans arrived and began to settle the newly discovered continent. Almost the entire continent was wilderness, and in general the Native Americans lived in harmony with their surroundings. However, the same forests that once covered the continent have now been torn down and replaced with roads, towns, and cities. Wilderness is steadily vanishing and currently exists in only a few protected areas. About 5% of the United States is protected wilderness, and if Alaska is not included, only 2.7 percent is protected wilderness (wilderness.net). Clearly if wilderness is to still exist in the future, it must be protected. Unfortunately, even those who want to save the wilderness are deeply divided. Even the word “wilderness” can be defined in a variety of ways, and some environmentalists claim that it does exist at all. Even if environmentalists can agree on a consistent definition of wilderness, they are even more divided about what to do about it. I believe that the best way to protect wilderness and foster its growth is to preserve endangered areas until they reach a stable level. Once that level is reached these areas can then be kept in a conservation stage during which humans can interact with the wilderness areas in non-damaging ways.
Before wilderness can be saved, people must know what it is they are saving. The definitions of wilderness are wide-ranging, and it can be difficult to come to one singular definition. According to the WILD Foundation, a wilderness area is, “The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet-those last true wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.” The website, wilderness.net, gives a more spiritual definition to the meaning of wilderness, defining it as,” rare, wild places where one can retreat from civilization, reconnect with the Earth, and find healing, meaning and significance.” Finally the Federal Government uses the term “wilderness” as the highest form of protection that can be given to a public land. No roads, vehicles, or permanent structures are allowed in these areas, and logging and mining is also prohibited (The Wilderness Act). However, all of these definitions have a common thread. Wilderness is a natural area that humans have not impacted in a negative way. However, this cannot be the complete definition. A tree surrounded by a city is not wilderness. Wilderness must be expansive, and must have room for its animals to roam. Therefore, wilderness is a large expansive natural area that is mostly untouched by human industry and technology.
Now that wilderness has been defined, why should it be saved? Many people are content to let wilderness be destroyed in favor of economic progress. They do not without stop to think of the negative impacts of wilderness destruction. Wilderness must be saved for a variety of reasons, the most important being our survival. Currently, the earth is suffering from global warming due to increased carbon dioxide. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.” However, wilderness forest areas have the ability to decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which will help contribute to a better overall climate. Not only do wilderness areas decrease the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, they also provide drinking water to many communities, and help clean our air (http://wilderness.org/why). Wilderness also provides a home for a variety of animals that simply can’t survive in the urban areas typical of modern society. Preserving animals from extinction and keeping them thriving in their natural environments is essential. Every creature makes up a delicate part of the food web, and losing one could lead to ecosystem collapse. Another reason that wilderness must be preserved is for the economic prosperity it brings. “ Outdoor recreation contributes more than $646 billion annually to the economy, supports 6.1 million jobs and generates nearly $80 billion in federal, state and local taxes”(wilderness.org/why). The final reason that the wilderness absolutely must be preserved is for the aesthetic and spiritual beauty that it provides. The wilderness is beautiful, and poets throughout the ages have written about its beauty. Writing about the wilderness was particularly popular among transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau. In Walking, Thoreau says, “There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the three-score-years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.” The wilderness is pleasing to the soul, and that is most important reason for saving it.
Everyone should have a reason for keeping wilderness alive. Unfortunately so many people do not; this is why wilderness is being destroyed at such a rapid rate. While reasons for preserving the wilderness vary, my personal relationship with the wilderness is one of recreation and spiritual wellbeing. Since I was young, my parents have always taken me on hikes and outings into the wilderness. I do not even remember the first time I went to my family’s favorite park in West Virginia, and my parents have enrolled me in nature camps since I was in preschool. I attended those camps until I outgrew it; after that I became a camp counselor for the remaining years of high school.
Whenever my family took a vacation, it was usually to visit the wild. Instead of going to a cruise in the Caribbean, we stayed in tent-like structures near a bay. When we went out west we went hiking in the Grand Tetons, and although we did see Old Faithful, we spent the majority of our time hiking around the various geothermal features. We’d go to lakes on a regular basis, where we would swim, kayak, and sometimes fish. While these parks do not count as the wilderness, they still instilled in me a love of nature. Due to my upbringing, wilderness to me means the opportunity for recreational activities. This alone is an excellent reason for wilderness areas to be conserved. I cannot imagine a world without hiking, or kayaking through freshwater.
While I certainly enjoy the recreational opportunities the wilderness offers, that does not completely explain why I love the wilderness. I could achieve similar recreational effects by walking on a treadmill or using a rowing machine. I love the wilderness because it’s beauty allows me to feel mental peace and spiritual fulfillment. When I’m in the wilderness, I forget about all the stresses of my day to day life. Instead of worrying about homework I have to do, jobs I have to apply for, and a myriad of other activities, I can feel some sense of peace, which is often hard to do in the fast-paced world I often find myself a part of. This feeling of peace is due to the natural beauty that surrounds me when I become part of the wilderness. While Cronon accurately depicts why it is somewhat foolish to desire to go back to a primeval state, being in the wilderness can make it incredibly tempting.
The major argument about how to save the wilderness is how it should best be protected. There are two major schools of thought, namely preservation and conservation. Conservationists believe that humans should be allowed to use the wilderness so long as they do not damage it. Carl Jordan, in his book Replacing Quantity with Quality as a Goal for Global Management, defines “Biological conservation as being a philosophy of managing the environment in a manner that does not despoil, exhaust or extinguish.” The conversation’s viewpoint is accurately depicted in the writings of Aldo Leopold. In his essay, “Wilderness,” he gives a variety of ways humans can use the wilderness without significantly damaging it. “Wilderness is a resource which can shrink but not grow. Invasion can be arrested or modified in a manner to keep and area usable either for recreation, or for science, or for wildlife.” He references how it can be used for recreation. “Wilderness areas are first of all a series of sanctuaries for the primitive arts of wilderness travel, especially canoeing and packing.” Another important non-damaging use of the wilderness that Leopold mentions is the use of wilderness for science. He points out that wilderness can act as a, “base datum of normality,” basically a control subject against which other land can be tested. He says that, “In many cases we literally do not know how good a performance to expect of a health land unless we have a wild area for comparison with sick ones.” Leopold clearly understands the importance of wilderness, and believes that humans and wilderness have an important relationship. “It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise.” However, there are flaws with conservation. Many of the National Parks that are being “conserved” allow logging, and a multitude of human activities that damage and ruin the wilderness. This is why preservationists suggest that man and the wilderness cannot coexist.
Preservationists are also deeply concerned about protecting the wilderness. However, as their name suggests, they believe in preserving the wilderness rather than conserving it. While conservation allows for non-destructive human contact, preservation does not. Preservationists believe that humans must be removed from wilderness areas if wilderness is to survive. They believe that there is no such thing as non-destructive human contact. Reed Noss makes a case for preservation in his article, “Soul of the Wilderness.” He says that humans are selfish for wanting to use the wilderness for their own purposes, as conservationists suggest. “But are we not somewhat selfish in our love for wilderness, our craving to be alone in places that humble and excite us, that are beautiful, or that challenge us recreationally and spiritually?” (Noss 7) Noss believes that in order for wilderness to be saved, man must remove himself from it. According to Noss, anthropocentrism has no place in protecting the wilderness. “Unless wilderness contributes to the higher goals of biodiversity and ecological integrity, in these times of mass extinction an degradation of ecosystems on a global scale it is perhaps frivolous to spend much time trying to protect it” (Noss 7). Noss is advocating biocentrism; the belief that humans must put the goals of other organisms first. However, this approach has its flaws. It is completely unrealistic to suggest that beautiful pristine wilderness be set aside, and humans not be allowed to use it at all. Going back all the way to the creation story in the Bible, it is obvious that man desperately wants wilderness that he is not supposed to have, and will get it no matter the consequences. It is also foolish for man to completely separate himself from wilderness, as man should truly be a part of the wilderness around him. Fortunately there is a middle ground between perseveration and conservation.
The problem facing those who would like to save wilderness is this: How can wilderness be protected if humans are allowed to interact with it, and why should humans care about protecting the wilderness if they are not allowed to experience it? I believe the philosophies of conservation and preservation must be combined in order to successfully protect and restore wilderness in the United States. Certain endangered wilderness areas must go through a preservation stage in which all human interaction is banned from them for a designated period of time. Once they are deemed to be stable they can go into a conservation stage. The conservation stage will be a more stringent version of the same conservation practices used at national parks. National park and forests often allow companies to log and use the parks resources. New conservation policies must be enacted that actually allow for wilderness to be kept safe from those who want to use if for natural resources. However, I believe that wilderness, once it is mostly stable, must remain open for humans to use recreationally, in a non-damaging way. People will not support the saving of the wilderness if they cannot go out and experience the wilderness they’re saving. In the end, this balance must be struck if the wilderness is to be saved.
In the end, wilderness and humanity need to enter a symbiotic state in which they both can flourish. While some wish that humanity would return to peaceful state with the wilderness, they are incorrect, as humanity has never been at peace with the wilderness. As Cronon states, man has spent most of its existence living in terror of the wilderness. “To be a wilderness then was to be ‘deserted,’ ‘savage,’ ‘desolate,’ ‘barren’—in short, a ‘waste,’ the word’s nearest synonym. Its connotations were anything but positive, and the emotion one was most likely to feel in its presence was ‘bewilderment’ or terror” (Cronon). The comedian Louis C.K. has a standup act about how great it is the humans have escaped the food chain, and he’s right. People who think that man lived at peace with the wilderness while both hunting and simultaneously being hunted by animals are misguided at best. The food chain is not a place that anyone should want to return to. Yet now that we have escaped the food chain, we have a very different relationship with wilderness. We have destroyed it to the point that it is endangered. Now that it is almost gone, we idolize it like it is some sort of shrine, a shrine so beautiful that it even makes us ignore the natural world around us. This is an untenable position as well. A balance must be struck, and this is what Cronon advocates. “If wildness can stop being (just) out there and start being (also) in here, if it can start being as humane as it is natural, then perhaps we can get on with the unending task of struggling to live rightly in the world—not just in the garden, not just in the wilderness, but in the home that encompasses them both” (Cronon). Hopefully we will someday get to point as human beings where there will still be wilderness in our lives, but we have learned to live with it. Wilderness must be fostered and protected so there is wilderness for future generations. Hopefully, by combining conservation and preservation strategies, wilderness can be saved and can be enjoyed by future generations for years to come.
“Creation and Growth of the National Wilderness Preservation System.” Wilderness.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Cronon, William. ” Trouble With Wilderness.” (n.d.): n. pag. Williamcronon.net. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Jordan, Carl F. Conservation: Replacing Quantity with Quality as a Goal for Global Management. New York: J. Wiley, 1995. Print.
Leopold, Aldo. “Wilderness.” Wildernesswriting.wordpress.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Noss, Reed. “Soul of the Wilderness.” International Journal of Wilderness 2.2 (1996): n. pag. Wildernesswriting.wordpress.com. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Thoreau, Henry. “Walking.” Walking (n.d.): n. pag. Http://thoreau.eserver.org/. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
United States. Cong. The Wilderness Act. 88th Cong., 2nd sess. Cong. Bill. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Http://wilderness.nps.gov/. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
“What Is a Wilderness Area.” The WILD Foundation RSS. The WILD Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
“Wilderness.org.” Wilderness.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Wilson, E.O, ed. Biodiversity. Washington D.C.: National Academy, 1988. Nap.edu. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
My field notes were written so that people could read my observations about my natural environment, and well as what I thought about those observations. I would write my field notes my describing what I felt through my senses, and then what my overall conclusion of that area was. Through the process of writing my field notes I learned a lot about my own opinions of nature and the world around me.