We went to the “wilderness” yesterday. Granted there were cows grazing, but the stream is allowed to choose its own course and the cottonwoods grow and fall of their own accord. There are fences but nothing else of domestication in sight. Is this a spiritual resource, as Wallace Stegner suggested? It is for me. It is not a complete wilderness, but it carries many of those qualities. When Stegner wrote of the necessity of such places, was he making an assumption that everyone wants spirituality or finds it in wildness? I want to believe he is right, that the need for wilderness is innate. I can’t imagine that it is not true, but there is much in human nature that I cannot imagine.
Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter written in 1960 promotes the “Wilderness Idea,”…which he considered a resource in itself. Being an intangible and spiritual resource…” He mourned the losses of wilderness that, as he saw it, have led to “a lost chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical, and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the material world and competent to belong to it…” He feared we would find ourselves without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, claiming that we need to preserve wilderness “because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health, even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.”
Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28) Wallace Stegner names this the call to be a weed species. We have become a weed species and we have unleashed other weed species. In Stegner’s 1990 essay It All Began with Conservation, he also quoted Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Oglala Sioux. Only to the white man was nature a wilderness and only to him was the land infested with wild animals and savage people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. But of course now the “weed species” are established and we have to think creatively. We have to continue to question our ethics. We have to invent without making Frankensteins.