Thursday, November 27, 2014

Musings: Thankful for Wildness

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's finally here: the glorious, delicious holiday where we spend time with friends and family, feast on tasty food, and reflect on the things we're grateful for.  If only we could do this more often!

Throughout the month of November, many people take to social media to express the things they're thankful for. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a question posed by the Wilderness Society, one of my favorite organizations to follow.

"What wilderness areas are you most thankful for?"

I had to think about that one for a minute. I've hiked in national forests, state parks, and a good majority of the national parks in the western U.S. (thanks Dad!). But have I ever been in what one might call 'untouched wilderness'... areas "untrammeled by man... where man is a visitor who does not remain..." as defined by the Wilderness Act? Certainly, I'm grateful for all of the protected wilderness areas in our country, but I am not well-acquainted enough with these places to be able to pick one and declare that this is the one in particular which I am thankful for.

How about the places I am familiar with? My favorite place to spend time in nature or go for a short hike is Saint Edward State Park.  However, with a history of human presence, including a formidable brick seminary building and a forest which at one time had been completely mowed down, this park hardly qualifies as wilderness.

Old cedar stump at St. Edward, showing a notch left where a springboard was inserted for loggers to stand upon.

Moss Lake Natural Area, which I visited for the first time this year, is comprised of several hundred acres of forested land set aside for preservation in the midst of encroaching suburbia. But this area had also been completely clear-cut at one time. Not untrammeled. Not wilderness.

Hemlock growing out of a massive stump: the remnants of an ancient cedar that had been cut down years ago.

My favorite and familiar places are not wilderness, that is for sure.  As I mused on this fact, the realization slowly dawned on me that despite not fitting into the category of wilderness, these places are a perfect expression of wildness - the indomitable spirit of nature to overcome even our best and most destructive attempts to alter it.

Saint Edward State Park and Moss Lake Natural Area were once logged, left clear-cut and barren nearly a century ago. Visiting either of these places today, you'd never know it.  The forest has returned, along with its wildlife and ecosystem functions.  Wildness.

Moss Lake Natural Area today.

Saint Edward State Park today.

So, to answer the question: I am thankful for the places that have reclaimed their wildness from the destructive hand of humans - those places which defy attempts to civilize them.  Those places which offer astounding examples of resilience and adaptability.  Those places which, in their reclaimed wildness, remind and humble those of our species who see themselves in control of nature - above it, separate from it. 

I'm thankful for the second-growth forests, for hemlocks that take root in old cedar stumps, for the re-vegetated streambanks, for the rivers that run wild. I'm thankful for the notched stumps, the native species, the tiny little Doug fir sprouting in the cracked sidewalk outside my front door.  Thankful for the reminders that although we may destroy nature, its wildness imbues it with resilience so that - where once an ecosystem was laid waste and left barren - a beautiful new forest now flourishes.

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