We have become people who can live without the wild. We will watch The Reverant and imagine and talk about the wild 1800’s. We will ride a ski lift, look across vast lands of wild and imagine being wild as we ski alongside hundreds on the downslope. We day hike in refuges and National Parks and think we are one with the wild. But we believe we can live without it.
As President Trumps emasculates Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments today, it is hard to imagine him having ever backpacked the high country or the low country. Though carrying all argumentative swagger boasting style of Teddy Roosevelt, he brings the modern dream of timber rather than trees and oil-copper-fracking rather than landscape. Though the act is deplorable, the reduction of wild fits the US mindset of a growing-building economy rather than a maintaining-healing-imagining economy.
The loss is more than a loss of wild in favor of land development. The loss tears at the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of people and animals and plants and soil. Life, in all forms, live better when the imagination allows for the unknown around the next corner. Vision of the unknown is something American settlers and American Natives had in common. The people who existed in the land knew they did not know every nook and cranny and the excitement of young and old alike was the canyon yet walked and the stream yet drank. When people from lands far removed rode and walk this land, it was unlike any other they’d known. Every rise brought the possibility of something new, something unheard, something fearful, something exciting, and wonderment.
The loss of wild is a loss of soul in favor of the unattainable, more. We are defined by our wilderness or lack of it. Senator Clinton P. Anderson spoke of this saying, “Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should—not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.” With the loss of wild we lose not only our soul, but the souls of our children and their children as well. To lose the wild is to lose their wellbeing.
Lewis and Clark arrived at Celilo Falls on October 22, 1805. Native folk were busy in their work of fishing. What they experienced was the trade fishing of community. Native harvesting of salmon in the Columbia Basin watershed surpassed eighteen million pounds. Then in April 1956, nearly a hundred and fifty-one years later, the gates of the Dalles Dam were closed. The natural monument of Celilo Falls was lost within the next year. The number of salmon harvested today is a fraction of the wild Columbia River. Few people remember the wild days of the Columbia and no person who is 60 years-old or younger have ever known or visioned the thunderous falls of the Columbia. The loss of wild is certainly economic. In a deeper sense though, when the wild vanishes so does the individual and community soul.
As televisions, computers, and phones transmits the Presidents words on this day. Listen closely. For when wild souls are lost the heavens cry.