Wilderness Experiences

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ever since the U.S. Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, the term “wilderness” has been one of those buzzwords which can inspire some of the most inane arguments. As the government defines “wilderness,” the wilderness is a place without motors or modern amenities, and a place which is allowed to independently evolve in its natural state. To many people, the term “wilderness” simply means “the woods" and being in the wilderness has more to do with a sense of place in their heart than it has to do with obtaining the appropriate camping permit.

Legally, I live about a mile off from the federally designated wilderness. However, I also live 55 miles away from the nearest town and if I wanted, in less than a day I could be in a world without motors. Technically the cabin’s not in the wilderness, but we’re definitely in the woods. And what a busy little bit of woods it is.

When the decision was made to spend the summer at the cabin, I knew that at age 25, I had succeeded in living the dream that so many people save for retirement. Who doesn’t long for quiet mornings spent sipping coffee on the deck or watching the sun set over a still lake? What I’d forgotten is that everyone has their own idea of what a good time at the lake constitutes. For whatever reason, I didn’t realize a summer spent on a “wilderness” lake would be a busy, daily mash of vacationers.

Just as the term “wilderness” is debated, what people deem wilderness experiences varies drastically. Simply comparing the rhetoric of Conservationists with Common Sense to that of the Friends of the Boundary Waters reveals that common ground in a common ground isn’t that easy to achieve. While Andy and I think nothing of motoring down the lake a bit to fish for an hour or two in the evening, we stand on our deck with our jaws hanging open whenever -- insert one of the options: a water skier, speed boat, pontoon boat, snorkeler, jet ski -- passes by on the lake. When you’re raised in the old school wilderness with motor boats and canoes, even kayaks are viewed with mild skepticism.

Most people aren't set on ruining your personal wilderness experience. And when your livelihood is tied with people having and repeating wilderness experiences, it seems best to reserve some judgment. Sure we can raise our eyebrows, sigh, and wonder what the heck “they’re doing now.” But if they’re not harming the environment (too much) and are attempting to obey laws, we have to realize that their wilderness experience just isn’t ours. That, and the fact that Labor Day is only a couple weeks off . . .  


  1. I have always believed that wild places have much to teach us about our place in the world. What a beautiful blog.

  2. Love the commentary, Ada. You're so right, wilderness really is controversial! Ha. My family and I always like to joke that somewhere that receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year is hard to consider "wilderness." ;-)


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