One of my earliest memories is of the sun filtering through branches of a tall tree. My parents had taken me camping. I was two or three years old and it was naptime. I was lying on a canvas sleeping bag spread out under majestic redwoods in a coastal forest of Northern California. While I drifted off, I watched the kaleidoscope of light playing amongst the sweet-scented needles rustling in the breeze. I have never felt more at home.
From early experiences camping with my parents, I developed a passion for wilderness, which has led to both my vocation in the conservation field and my avocation of visiting the great parks of North America and Africa. I have been lucky enough to observe wildlife of all types, including wolves, cougars, lions, and grizzly bears. When I first heard wolves howling in Yellowstone, when I watched them gathering at first light to bound through fresh snow, my heart soared. When I first heard lions roaring in the Serengeti, watched grizzly bears lead their cubs across the Alaskan tundra, or traced the tail drag and paw prints of a cougar through snow in the Sierra, I felt the same clear sense of things being right in the world as I did when lying as a child under redwood trees. These experiences move me in ways so powerful that I can only assume they arise from a place of blood and bone, a primordial memory of the forests and plains of my earliest ancestors.
I believe in wildness. I believe in the large reach of undisturbed land necessary to sustain it, the sharp bite of the winters that make fur coats grow thick, the flowers and sweet grasses among which young animals play in the spring.
I believe in my own wildness, and yours. I believe in a place that is right for me and a place that is right for you. When I am in a place that feels right for me, I too want to throw back my head and howl. Like the wolves, I know I am free to be who I am, my natural and unadorned self. That, to me, is my wildness.
Age has hindered my long wilderness treks of younger years. I am now content to visit less wild natural places, the kind I experienced camping with my parents as a child. But even if I never see another free roaming wolf or grizzly bear or lion, the mere thought of them living their lives unfettered in the wilderness provides me with a deep sense of wellbeing. I equate this feeling with what my more traditionally religious friends report theirs’ to be when attending church or engaged in prayer.
I am worried that true wilderness will disappear in my lifetime. If it does, I will have lost my spiritual home. It is that simple, and for that dis-ease there is no cure.
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