Magazine article Earth Island Journal

The Heart of Wilderness

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

The Heart of Wilderness

Article excerpt

It's fair to say that we each have our own relationship with wilderness. For me, wilderness has touched me in very special ways: I once scattered ashes of a dear friend in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a place of peace, solace, and wonder for her, a place she wanted to belong to for eternity. I especially remember the time I pitched a tent in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, dozed to the sound of a myriad of frogs, and awoke to a chorus of wood storks and warblers. While there I canoed through tea-colored waters, cypress forests, and wetlands--a home to bears, herons, alligators, and egrets. It was the most peaceful I have ever felt.

Wilderness is special, for us and for wildlife. It provides some of the last great places for wildlife to be truly wild. In Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, I released black-footed ferrets back into the wilderness. I will always remember how eager these little critters were to break out of their cages. They seemed to know the great freedom that awaited them. At that moment, I wished I could be as free and wild as they were: no walls, no boundaries, no responsibilities.

Many people are not as lucky as I--to have wilderness areas be part of such life-changing moments. So many have not had the chance to venture far from home, to stand upon the sand and see a great ocean stretch on to the horizon; to look upward at the face of a mountain and not able to quite see to its peak above the clouds; to experience the vastness of the Arctic. Too many people haven't had the chance to simply rest in a clearing surrounded by great woods, hearing nothing--stillness--and at the same time, everything--the hum of crickets, the chirp of songbirds, the subtle movement of grasses on the breeze--all the sounds of a living, breathing world.

In the United States, "wilderness" has an official definition, and one that has been crucial in helping to conserve and preserve such majestic places. …

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