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Part IV: Beyond the Wilderness Idea
According to Aldo Leopold and Jack Turner there are multiple ways to consider the wilderness. The first is a physical conception of the wild that has specific requirements in order to be considered a true wilderness. Leopold cites two absolute necessities that must be present in order for an environment to qualify. First an environment cannot be ordered. He uses the example of German forests to illustrate this point. Germany has a beautiful landscape with many gorgeous forests and meadows but it is not wild because the landscape has been arranged in a geometrical manner that reflects the organization of the Germans but is unnatural for nature. The transition from forest to farmland is abrupt and linear. Nothing is allowed to grow without being amended to fit the “cubist’s” mind. The landscape should also be allowed to remain vast and uncompromised. The larger a wilderness is the easier it is to remove oneself from the artificial world. Second for Leopold an environment must possess birds and animals of prey in order for it to be wild. Again the German landscape lacks this quality. Predators add the savagery to an environment that is necessary to be a wilderness. Safety is a concept that must be absent in order for a landscape to be wild. The harsh reality of the wild is that death is a constant worry for all organisms. It is a truly Darwinian existence.
Turner agrees strongly with Leopold’s physical description of nature but in his essay he chooses to analyze the psychological impact that a true wilderness should have on us. A true wilderness is not a place for recreation. It is not a place where we can go to have fun and escape from what we call work. It is not a place that can be visited and understood only through a short exposure to it. The wild is something deeper, more mysterious and more instinctive. It should capture our imaginations but not only in a pleasureable way. There is something frightening about places that are truly wild. They should strike awe in us. It is a place where we are so far removed from society and human intervention that no safety net exists and it is simply the individual looking out for self. It is only when an individual is left to rely solely on himself that a true understanding of the wild can be gained.
The only way according to Turner to get to this point is to live in and by nature so as to create that personal interaction. When this happens the wild can truly inspire the human mind and allows us to create art that can capture some essence of the wilderness. A true understanding of the wilderness also helps provide us with the most pure reason for protecting the environment. The fad of environmentalism is not a proper reason. It should not be a passing concern that is driven through popular consent. Instead a true understanding of the wilderness helps reveal essential aspects of human nature and shows us how we are best suited to live in and by nature and this will help us understand why altering or destroying the wilderness must be avoided.