“What Is Wilderness?”

After reading several articles about environmental issues being explored in American literature and the importance of preserving the wilderness in America  I decided to explore the concept of “wilderness”, namely, what that means to me as well as comparing the various definitions of wilderness against the backdrop of reality.

Using the various definitions of wilderness given in class, I attempted to find a parcel of land, first in my local area of Jacksonville, Florida, and then in other areas of the world,  which could fittingly be called “wilderness”. The first criteria I explored was the size of the parcel of land. Then I considered the equation: “What does size have to do with it?” Can’t a wild place be encompassed on anything from a continent to the size of a postage stamp?

How about a place with no development present by human beings, i.e., no housing developments, no pipes, no road, no Starbuck’s café, no landfill piles . Around Jacksonville, this became a pretty difficult endeavor. If one was to expand the scale past a hundred acres of land or so, there would be nothing to be found (postage stamp size is a winner on this point). Everywhere you look, there are signs of what could be called “civilization” and not very flattering ones at that.

Would wild preservation areas be considered as “wild”?  The problem here lies in the attempt to preserve the area in the first place. This is practically impossible without some form of interference. With the best of intentions, people manage to muck up any tract of land which they occupy in some way, whether it be building access, garbage or altering the landscape to fit their idea of whatever pristine wilderness should be.

This brings me to a more expansive question concerning the nature of wilderness: Does wilderness, by our standards of the definition, even exist? The central part of the equation when we talk about anything we call wilderness seems to be human beings. The separation of man and nature seems to meet a certain standard for making something “wild” or “unspoiled. Sounds simple enough, right? So I searched for areas where human beings and the rest of the natural world are entirely separated. I came to the following earth-shaking conclusion, namely, that “wilderness” does not exist! I base my answer assumption on simple logic above all other considerations. “How can he make such a statement ?”, the reader may say. Just consider closely whether there exists, on any part of the earth, a place where humans have not impacted  their environment in some way (the “footprint” of man). There is no such place. We humans, with our construction, our pollution, our manipulation of environmental processes, have affected every square inch of the earth, intentionally or otherwise, to some extent. We have taken the “wild” out of wilderness, often with the best of intentions as a motive, by constantly injecting our own habits into the mix. Perhaps it is not the maintenance of wilderness but the maintenance of humanity that we should be trying to master. The saying that “f you want to change the world you should try to change yourself” may be especially applicable here. We, as a society, can do nothing to improve upon what nature has already given to us. In order to coexist with nature we would be best advised to let nature operate in its own state with as little outside influence from man as possible.

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