For our Wilderness Writing class, we have been reflecting on the definition of the word “Wilderness.” I’ve come to find that it’s a very difficult term to define. With some Google research, I see that the general consensus is that Wilderness is something that is untouched by humanity, or is considered “pristine” in that regard. While I see the merit in that answer, I have to disagree.
Wilderness, in my opinion, is an experiential word. It’s something that does not have a consistent or universal definition; instead, its meaning can only be reached by examining our own experiences with it. While I’ve always felt this way, it’s been something I have found difficult to argue. Until now, at least.
Well, to start, I think the Wilderness has something to do with familiarity. I don’t mean to say that if you come to know a place, it loses its status as “Wild.” But when you become so familiar with a place, when you grow so close to it that it almost becomes an extension of you, it is no longer “untouched.” Let me give you an example. Picture, for a moment, that you are in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Your located a few hundred yards from a tiny, remote island, with a population that barely breaches 200 people. You are 121 feet beneath the surface of the water. When you look forward, you see nothing but limitless blue, a color you thought only existed in the movies. When you look behind you, you see what seems like an endless expanse of coral. You know that only a chosen few have seen this view, and you know that the beauty of it lies in the fact that no one has set their hands on this area.
Is this the Wilderness?
I would expect you to say yes. (If you didn’t, well, you’ve got me lol.) For me, this is not. In fact, I can think of nothing more familiar, nothing less wild. That image, the one I just described to you, is a small area located about 30 yards from a Dive Site called Randy’s Gazebo off Little Cayman, BWI. It is my favorite place in the entire world. It is untouched and adamantly protected by the Islands. (Literally – it is illegal to touch the coral.) However, this place rests so closely to my heart, that I could never think of it as anything but home. Maybe “home” and “Wilderness” are not mutually exclusive terms, but for me, labeling that spot as “wild” just doesn’t fit.
How about another one?
As I was walking through the crowded streets of Paris for the first time, the first thought to enter my mind was “Wow. This is wild!”
Wild. My use of that word was not a coincidence. In fact, I don’t think there could be a more appropriate word for the experience. Here I was in a place I had never been before. I didn’t know the geography, the customs, the language, nothing. The only thing I could do was explore it, and that is precisely what I did. I imagine I would have done the same thing if you had dropped me off in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, or the Mojave Desert, and those are places I would undoubtedly consider the Wilderness.
So, to conclude, I think the term Wilderness is a much trickier word to define than we give it credit for. For my own purposes, I evaluate the “wild” status of a place given two criteria: What is my experience with this place, and How do I feel about it now? It’s a loose definition, and it gives me the freedom to cater it to my personal experiences. However, for the purposes of “Wilderness Preservation,” I’m going to take the Laissez-Faire approach. (Pardon the French, it’s wearing off on me lol.)
The Wilderness is a place were we do, and have for a considerable amount of time, just Let it Be. Although I don’t agree with the concept, we have separated ourselves from Wilderness, and it is for that reason that we must define it with the notion that we are separate from it. So, here is my Nature-oriented definition of Wilderness:
“The Wilderness is a place in which Nature has total control, and all human influence either exists in harmony with the land, or has been recaptured by Nature itself.”