Wilderness ~ a few thoughts
Me and my dog team in the Alaskan Wilderness
Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved By Daryl L. Hunter ~ written for and originally published in The Greater Yellowstone Resource Guide
“I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth” – Steve McQueen
Does Wilderness have a value of its own? For most people wilderness and wild places are an abstract, intangible entity that most have never experienced, therefore cannot understand. For those who have they are never the same, an indelible mark is left upon their soul. Paradoxically wilderness can be both daunting yet ethereal filled with both danger yet also a delicate beauty. Once immersed in the baptism of the wild lovers of the wilderness become lifelong advocates of wild places.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes, and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
— Sir John Lubbock
- Me on a cross country camping trip in the Gros Ventre Mountains outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming
My early exposure in the boy scouts to wilderness was a life changing experience. One backpacking trip into the High Sierra opened up a window for me to a whole new world. I was hooked; high and wild places were destined to be my home.
“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
— Sigurd Olson
As a young adult I moved to Alaska, and I lived on the banks of the Copper River, I would look to the east and marvel at the fact that there was nobody out there for five hundred miles it was a great feeling. It wasn’t that I could use that five hundred miles for anything as there were no roads or anyway to get in there except airplane, but it was just nice to know all that wild country was right there, A wild subjective ethereal ambiance crossed the Copper River and enveloped me.
John Muir once said: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Edward Abby concurred: “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”
After moving to a different part of Alaska I soon learned how to penetrate the wilderness by dog team, and traveling by dog sled I didn’t feel as if I were traveling through the wilderness, I felt as though I was a part of it.
“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”
— Wallace Stegner
- Me in the Gros Ventre Wilderness with my horse Skip. The Gros Ventre Mountains are in the Bridger Teton National Forest east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I later moved to Jackson Hole Wyoming, another locale surrounded with wilderness, the nineteen million acres of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The stunning scenery and great wilderness beckoned. The wilderness although the largest intact ecosystem in the lower forty eight states was only a fraction of Alaska’s but wonderful just the same. This time my ticket into the wilderness was by horse, a great way to experience the American West that makes you one with the scene in which you are traveling.
Yellowstone was just up the road from Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone is a 2.2 million acre wilderness bisected by a small network of access roads so Yellowstone visitors can peer into the wilderness much as I had from the banks of the Copper River albeit on a smaller scale.
To Yellowstone’s roadways come the creatures of the wilderness to visit. Although Yellowstone’s wilderness is a fraction of Alaska’s, the amenities of Yellowstone’s wilderness are much accessible in a much smaller footprint and you don’t need a plane or dog team to experience it. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the world’s foremost natural laboratories in landscape ecology and geology.
“The more civilized man becomes, the more he needs, and craves a great background of forest wildness, to which he may return like a contrite prodigal from the husks of an artificial life.”
— Ellen Burns Sherman
There is a growing belief in this country that our wilderness areas are off limits to human use, and this just isn’t true. In wilderness areas you can ride a horse, hike, fish, raft, kayak, canoe, hunt and dog sled, as long as your propulsion isn’t mechanized it can be used. If you are healthy, you can get in there. For the infirm and aging wilderness aficionados can hire outfitters to get them there.
- Grey Wolf dash about uncooked, Yellowstone National Park
Wilderness is a part of American history; however, people have held various perspectives of wilderness’ primeval character throughout time. Pioneers had a different perspective than we wilderness aficionados have today. During the settlement of America, wilderness was something to be feared. One settler in the early 1600s stated, “Wilderness is a dark and dismal place where all manner of wild beasts dash about uncooked.” Three centuries later wilderness is perceived by many as the ultimate source of health both terrestrial and human.
“Wilderness is a necessity…They will see what I meant in time. There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. Food and drink is not all. There is the spiritual. In some it is only a germ; of course, but the germ will grow.”
— John Muir
In 1964 our nation’s leaders formally acknowledged the immediate and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our nation when they enacted The Wilderness Act of 1964. The United States was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas through law. Slowly, public views of wilderness have shifted more to a protection orientation. This was not the Nation’s first foray into wilderness preservation as Yellowstone was created in 1872 with many of the same goals.
- Burnt and recovering forest in Yellowstone National Park
As a guide in Yellowstone Park, I was asked daily why we didn’t salvage the burnt but salvageable logs in Yellowstone National Park from the fires of 1988. I would explain. “When considering the big picture, we must keep microcosms of the world in a totally natural state so that we can study them now and in the future. One thousand years from now after America has been using a large percentage of our national forest as tree farms as we should, these untouched microcosms will be a valuable laboratory and window to the biology of an unadulterated forest floor. As the centuries roll by and trees are not allowed to fall to the ground in our national tree farms the soil they grow will be altered, diminished because of the removal of wood rotting into the earth creating new soil. By retaining a percentage of our natural forest in the most restrictive category of preservation (wilderness areas) we will have maintained a window to the past, a living laboratory we can revisit to analyze how we might at sometime in the future be able to restore our 1,000 year old tree farm soil to it’s previous productivity.”
“It is imperative to maintain portions of the wilderness untouched so that a tree will rot where it falls, a waterfall will pour its curve without generating electricity; a trumpeter swan may float on uncontaminated water— and moderns may at least see what their ancestors knew in their nerves and blood.”
— Bernard De Voto
- Horseback rider takes a moment to admire Lake Solitude in the Grand Teton Mountains
Our egocentric, consumptive national mentality that fails to factor for posterity must be reconsidered. Sustainable yield is as impossible a concept for our government to grasp as is spending within its means. Maybe we should factor Gods creation into the equation when we have a grove of easy money old growth timber in their cross hairs. That said we don’t need to cut off our nose to spite our face. We still need stuff but harvest and extraction must be done in an acceptable manner.
I have good friends who are loggers who are angry about how the local forests have been mismanaged by the Department of Agriculture. The largest timber sale in United States history was here (Island Park, Idaho) and required Louisiana Pacific to build a mill because the sale was bigger than the local logging companies could handle. Politics wouldn’t allow the mill to close after the harvest was complete so LP logged longer than common sense allowed leaving nothing left for the loggers who had been here since their great grandfathers settled the place. Those sons of the pioneers who wished to continue in their inherited profession had to leave the area.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.”
— Charles A. Lindbergh
Thank God for Yellowstone and the surrounding wilderness areas because had they not been protected, pandering politicians and LP would have had ten more good years of cutting and the world would be a poorer place because of lack of diversity. At one time, you could see Yellowstone Park boundary from the space shuttle because of the over logging. If Louisiana Pacific hadn’t been brought in to over log the area, there would still be standing marketable timber for our former local loggers. Sustainable yield harvests must become an acceptable policy.
“Without enough wilderness America will change. Democracy, with its myriad personalities and increasing sophistication, must be fibred and vitalized by regular contact with outdoor growths— animals, trees, sun warmth and free skies— or it will dwindle and pale.”
— Walt Whitman
As John Muir once said: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul “ ~ There are places on this earth that deserve the most restrictive protections, microcosms of untouched wonder, beauty, unbelievable hunting and fishing. As much as I would like to be able to buy a quarter section of land on my favorite mountain, log it to pay it off and have my own little heaven on earth I’m glad that I can’t because; hopefully, my great grandson may be able to go up there and shoot his first Elk where I shot mine, as well as be able to see the land the way it was 500 years ago. That does have a value of it’s own.
Me in hunting camp, Gros Ventre Wilderness, Jackson Hole, Wyoming