I consider myself a child of the millennium. I got my first email address when I was six; my parents gave me my first cell phone when I was ten; and just a few weeks ago I played skee-ball in my living room using only my laptop and smartphone.
I never expected to be a tree-hugging, mountain-climbing hippie. I actually really enjoy the modern era, running water and all. I often find myself impressed with what man (and woman) has been able to do with the resources at hand. In fact, when I moved to Utah for college, I expected to see the same neat lawns and open fields I’d grown up with in Ohio (and I did, though something was definitely “off” about it all).
I found something much better. I discovered Red Rock Utah. I remember seeing red rock formations on calendars or screensavers and thinking they were just photoshopped – something else manipulated by man. To this day I am stunned that such marvels and masterpieces are formed by nature alone. It awes me to think of the centuries of sun, wind, and water that created these natural beauties.
This awe, I believe, is at the heart of any fascination with, or appreciation of, wilderness. Whether it’s the lush wilderness of California, the bracing wilderness of Alaska, or the other-worldly wilderness of Utah, wilderness has the power to inspire awe in people across generations and nationalities. In fact, wilderness is more important and relevant than ever in this era of technology and global commerce. Because wilderness is defined as an area untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor, it presents a stark contrast to the ever-increasing footprint of mankind. In 2002, National Geographic reported that 83% of the land surface of the earth was directly influenced by human activities – wilderness is not, and should never be.
Wilderness, at its worst, inspires pure fight or flight instinct and pits man against bare elements to survive. It is a reminder of how far we have come out of the woods and into civilization. Perhaps people who do not like wilderness are afraid of the unconquerable will of wilderness. Rather than embrace the humility that wilderness always brings, they would rather forget that man was ever a vulnerable creature.
However, at its best, wilderness is a treasure to be preserved for all to see. Not because it makes us feel small or great, but because it is by itself great, and yet so small. Wilderness continues to fight against encroachment and its inhabitants survive in drastic circumstances. We must fight for wilderness and wildlife or risk losing a sense of home. Not the climate-controlled homes that most of us are used to, but the exhilarating and death-defying homes we all ultimately came from.
Though, as humans, we will never lose our survival instinct, it can often be dampened by the barrage of technology that marks the 21st century. In preserving wilderness we preserve key ecosystems. We preserve a shared history. In preserving wilderness, we preserve ourselves. As a millennial child, I don’t know what it felt like when man first landed on the moon, but I can only guess that it was as exhilarating as seeing a night sky full as stars and wondering where my atoms came from, and where they may eventually go. I believe that wonder is not a generational feature but a human feature, and that it can best be preserved through the protection of wilderness.