“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, Novelist, on the topic of Wilderness
September was a big month for wildness, and for wilderness as well, with a trifecta of celebrations to lift the spirits of spiritual activists everywhere. First up, in Utah we honored the 50th anniversary of the creation of Canyonlands National Park, a gem of red rock desert wonder near my home in Moab. It is a place of powerful solitude and restorative quiet, where the sun dances a spectacular light show across the landscape’s color palette, and the deep darkness of a star-filled night sky offers humanity the healing and much needed gift of perspective.
Nationally, we marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the USA’s Wilderness Act, which honors and protects the wildest of lands, thanks to a moment where humans had the foresight to safeguard the areas "untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Other public land designations, like those managed by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management are mandated and valued for “multiple uses”, such as recreation and resource extraction, which don’t always mix well in the same spaces. Even our cherished national parks are paradoxically required to be both “protected and promoted” at the same time, not an easy balancing act. The designation of Wilderness, however, is one of the few official valuations of wild ecosystems for their own worth, their “intrinsic value” rather than judging them by the utility they offer to us humans. This is a vital, important and increasingly unusual perspective in today’s world indeed.
And internationally, the third glimmer of hope came in the form of some 400,000+ people in New York and more than 100,000 elsewhere around the world marching to call on world leaders for strong action to curb climate change. The People’s Climate March ranks among the largest demonstrations in history (ever, for any cause), though time will tell whether political and business leaders will answer the call.
I personally experienced this triple-header while camping with a small group of dedicated earth guardians. I explored the Hidden Splendor and Muddy Creek proposed Wilderness Areas by day, and spent the night with my headlamp fixed on the words of author Mary Reynolds Thompson. In her new book Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness, Thompson describes how, as we step into the stillness of the desert, we can be reminded that we are ‘enough’, that we have everything we need.
Full of powerful exercises and contemplative practices, her book shows us how spending time in the desert and other ecosystems can move us from an experience separation to one of wholeness, from alienation to belonging, and from our modern, domesticated, ego-centric mindset, to an experience of eco-centric wildness and true connectedness to all life. Like other preservationists and eco-philosophers before her (Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Albert Schweitzer, Deena Metzger and others) Mary Reynolds Thompson makes the case that, as Thoreau said: “…in wildness is the preservation of the world.”
Whether you live in a wild place or in the middle of the city, Thompson’s book serves as a roadmap for any spiritual activist, reminding us “to be wholly human is to be wild.” She encourages us to open to the “wild and creative energy of the Earth that seeks unique expression” through each of us, and dares us to take regular breaks from technology and the human-built world in order to reconnect with nature and our own wild souls. I encourage you to heed her call, and spend this autumn season reclaiming your own wild soul, and recharging yourself for the work that lies ahead as we come together in search of a better world.