“Wilderness,” to me, describes a vast amount of land and resources essentially lacking any human involvement and intervention. In his Walking (1862), Henry David Thoreau supports this simple definition by writing, “Life consists of wilderness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him” (39). Part One of The Great New Wilderness Debate, however, builds on my definition and expands upon it. “Wilderness” constitutes the many expansive aspects of nature, beautiful because it is untouched and not owned by mankind.
Ralph Waldo Emerson paints nature in a beautiful and serene light in his Nature (1836). He writes, “Nature never wears a mean appearance” (28). Emerson admits that we attribute this kind of poetical frame of mind when we think of nature and wilderness. There also exists this sense of innocence and “perpetual youth” associated with the woods and nature that few adults can see because they only maintain a superficial sight (29). Emerson continues to explain that not one man owns the wild. No one can own the landscape. According to Emerson, the wilderness belongs to God, we are but “part or particle of God” (29). Thoreau, on the other hand, writes that the wilderness should be utilized for public use, and cites the Indians and their ability to share nature amongst them to survive. After reading Emerson’s and Thoreau’s views on nature, I have come to the conclusion that wilderness belongs to no one and to everyone simultaneously, to be enjoyed by all.
In Our National Parks (1901), John Muir interestingly comments on nature’s ability to be forever beautiful. He writes that as long as nature’s landscapes remain wild, they can never be ugly. Muir underscores wilderness’ necessity to this world. His essay ultimately supports the maintenance of national parks, yet also emphasizes that a wilderness will always exist because man cannot change it enough to make it nonexistent. “[The mountains and canons] these must always be wild, for man can change them and mar them hardly more than can the butterflies that hover above them,” writes Muir (57). He also describes nature as a safe haven for man. Beautiful forests contain little dangers as compared to city homes.
Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir all agree that man should escape to the wilderness and appreciate its accessible and incomparable beauty. The other essays mention man’s detrimental treatment of nature, but these three authors focus mainly on nature’s charm and overall goodness. My definition of “natural” from last week has certainly evolved this week: “For something to be deemed truly ‘natural,’ its present and previous state must rely on its lack of human interference and intrusion.” This week, I add that the wilderness and nature are intertwined, that they are also fundamentally beautiful in every aspect because they are wild and that they are therefore essential to human existence and human solitude. Man and the wild must maintain a balance between manipulation and survival. The wild’s expansiveness appeals to the human heart’s desire to be free and untamed. We must walk through the wild woods and reflect upon our place in the colossal universe. The wilderness constitutes a much larger part of this world as compared to human beings, and will therefore continue to exist after we are gone. The “wilderness” will forever be alive.