The Relevance of Wilderness

I read an article today that called John Muir’s philosophy irrelevant. In case you don’t know, John Muir was an early environmentalist who believed in our oneness with the earth and advocated the importance of keeping some wilderness areas as undisturbed as possible so we can experience nature in its original state and to ensure that there will be wilderness areas for coming generations to experience. He founded the Sierra Club to further promote his ideas, and while the Sierra Club has gone beyond strictly environmental issues into other political arenas, Muir’s philosophy still holds true. It is important to spare at least parts of the earth from human depredation, because who are we and who would we be without the earth?

Muir’s detractors think his philosophy implies that only awe-inspiring parks are worth saving, and that his vision is rooted in economic privilege and benefits mostly rich white folks with the leisure to backpack, rock climb, and otherwise enjoy the far off places. They say that new generations, especially the diverse communities of working class and minorities, see the world differently than WASPs such as Muir, and that it’s more important to cater to their vision by creating and protecting urban parks and close-in mountain areas.

I don’t know what the rich think — as a matter of fact, until reading this article, I haven’t even seen the phrase “White Anglo Saxon protestant” in years. I’m certainly not a WASP — well, technically I am white, I suppose, though traces of Finno-Ugric blood might skew that a bit. But I am not Anglo-Saxon, protestant, rich, or privileged in the way such folks are said to be.

Nor do I know what the poor or those in diverse communities think. Perhaps they no longer believe it’s important to keep some wilderness areas pristine for the sake of our souls. Perhaps close-in parks are more important to them, but that is their choice. It does not negate the need for hard-to-reach wilderness areas. Besides, most people I know who love to hike or commune with the mountains or find solitude and spirituality in the far reaches of the wilderness are not rich. Some are retired with fixed incomes, some make great sacrifices to be able to afford the lifestyle they love/need, and some indulge their nature-lust in the small increments their time or money afford them.

I’m one of those who like close-in places because of the ease in accessing them. I can walk to the desert from where I am currently staying, and in fact have spent thousands of hours hiking those informal trails. Even if I never went up to the mountains, I still like knowing there are relatively untouched places, and that we as a people value them so much we will protect them.

Seems to me, such an ideal is always relevant.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


7 Responses to “The Relevance of Wilderness”

  1. Constance Says:

    We have many beautiful wilderness areas here for people to visit and use. The sad part is, there are people who use these areas and leave all their trash (bottles, cans, dirty baby diapers, etc.), strewn all over the area when they leave. They have ruined Azusa Canyon with their debris. Illegals???

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Trash and graffiti. It’s astonishing and disheartening to be out hiking and come across boulders and rock formations spray painted with all sorts of graffiti. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

  2. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I think we Humans are just selfish and thoughtless and think the world is here for us to use up. Some use the Bible to justify that they can use nature and animals however they wish. People who are able to remove themselves from immediate gratification and the need to have fun with the environment are now called ELITIST, as Muir would be called were he alive today. The man had the foresight to want to protect areas he knew would be desired for mining and drilling and cutting and burning and planting and building…. Under the guise of jobs or “needs” the whole planet is going under.

  3. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I read the article in your link and think it’s a rationalisation due to the fact that we’ve already screwed up so much of the land, it’s difficult to see it (much less have it) the way Muir viewed it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’ve got a good point. With off road vehicles, roads, trails, and towns that have grown near once inaccessible places, the lands have become just a recreational source, which is not at all the way Muir saw the world.

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