The First Wilderness

It is many years now since I have wanted to go off and hide; to disappear from the world. At least in an active sense. That desire may always burn somewhere inside me. It has been true that I have often felt more comfortable in the wilds, away from the noise and bluster of the world of people. Yet, the wilds are not always a place, a defined locale, but more often a state of mind, of being.

This question of the word wilderness. Since reading it a few weeks ago, I have been troubled by the phrase “the first wilderness”. I understand what was meant by it, but it still made me scoff. In truth that is perhaps what troubles me most often, my inclination to have certain disdain for the works of my fellow humans. Do not mistake me this is not arrogance. I do not suggest that I hold myself in higher regard, but rather that as a member of the group I see folly in the doings, the comings and goings, the ponderings and blusterings of all of us.

Wilderness: an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region; a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town; a position of disfavor, especially in a political context.

There is often an inherent negativity in opinions towards the idea of wilderness. Not to all surely, but the fact remains that in mixed company you will argue over the meaning of the word; the perceived implications implicit to the concepts behind the word. Type the word into google and the preponderance of citations will refer to the Wilderness Act. A congressional piece of work which relies heavily on the word untrammeled.

Untrammeled: not deprived of freedom of action or expression; not restricted or hampered.

A state of being which exists without influence. Even as I type that it sounds absurd. What is fundamentally meant by the idea, as I understand it, is a place that exists absent of the influence of humans. Which is again absurd. Profoundly absurd in regards to the exclamation, or proclamation, as it may be, that we created “the first wilderness”. Or perhaps not. Perhaps in that statement can be examined all that is fundamentally human.

Once upon a time I read this:

“Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”


This morning I read this:

“When he walked out into the sun and untied the horse from the parking meter people passing in the street turned to look at him. Something in off the wild mesas, something out of the past. Ragged, dirty, hungry in eye and belly. Totally unspoken for. In that outlandish figure they beheld what they envied most and what they most reviled. If their hearts went out to him it was yet true that for very small cause they might also have killed him.”

It was this that finally stirred in me the drive to tread this path. Particularly the last two sentences. This is where the truth lies in regards to wilderness; in the human relationship to it. It is the ever present internal struggle we each have with ourselves, with each other, with our world, with our existence, with our beliefs.

We love and we hate free will.

We desire control of our experience, our surroundings, whether in the world or in our minds; which amount to the same thing in many ways. Yet, too often we fear to exert control, and similarly many desire rather to have control exerted over them. The wilderness of the mind; we wish to be able to roam free there, free of the influence of others, yet when we walk those paths we fear where they might lead. Too young we are taught that we must cultivate our minds and not to let them wander. We are encouraged (to put it lightly) to behave with restraint and self-control, and living the way we must, in direct proximity to one another most of the time, there may well be sense in this. But that sense of control is too often developed out of proportion in the drive to then control one’s surroundings.

Wilderness, to some, represents freedom; freedom of existence, freedom from influence, freedom of experience perhaps. To others, being uncontrolled and unconstrained, it represents fear and uncertainty; fear of being lost, out of control. To others perhaps wasted opportunity; unclaimed resources, unharnessed abilities, undirected existence. Mind or landscape, the same is true for both.

The first wilderness is beyond our grasp. We do not create such ideals; do not define them. Or perhaps we do, but only to ourselves, to our own human experience. And in so doing what have we done? Have we advanced our understanding in some manner? Our experience? If so, of what? Of ourselves? In establishing “the first wilderness” did we not merely exhibit our presumption to exert control over our surroundings? By declaring a place “untrammelable”, do we in some way boost ourselves up to a more enlightened state of understanding and existence?

I understand the purpose for this and in truth, have been a supporter of the idea. Though in deeper consideration, it too often for me falls back to another example of praising our own perceived triumph over previous tragedies. Exclaiming pride in our own actions which merely serve to forestall or undo our own bad behaviors.

Perhaps this is learning? Growth? I am uncertain, for the fundamental argument is still there. We still love and hate ourselves… “In that outlandish figure they beheld what they envied most and what they most reviled. If their hearts went out to him it was yet true that for very small cause they might also have killed him.”

And what of those who wish to hide? To be alone? To wander? Can they be allowed to go on thus; unrestrained, undirected, uncultivated? How boundless can such wilderness be? Where do we go from here?



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