Friday, April 3, 2015

In wildness is the preservation of the world. Henry David Thoreau

I bought that bumper sticker at the Thoreau Society store in Concord, along with a small collection of his late writing—I wanted to support the society, but hadn’t much money.  It was the only bumper sticker on my late, lamented Corolla; my new (to me) Ford Focus has none.  (I may need to go back to Concord this year.)

I know a Wild Place hidden in plain sight not far from my home in the city.  I have only been there a few times, and not at all in almost a year.  But I’ve been looking for an opportunity: a weekday morning when school is in session but I’m not at work.  Quieter that way.  Less chance the neighbors will object.  Finding myself at loose ends this morning, I took my tripod and went.  

 A pile of rocks makes a good vantage point to see a good fraction of this place.
Context is important: here are the rocks my tripod was on.

Almost immediately I came upon Change.  A new make-shift camp had been set up not far north of the more substantial one near the southern border.    Trash on the ground included left-over paint balls, evidence of battles.  The snack food bags showed that the youth were doing more harm to themselves than their opponents.  (I didn't even know Twinkies were still made!)

I already knew the local kids played in the woods.  And it bothers me.  And it bothers me that it bothers me.  It's the old conundrum in its most urgent form.  Wilderness is not a democratic concept: if it's for everyone, it ceases to be really wild.  Its attractiveness, perhaps even its value, declines with popularity.  

When I was young I had my own Wild Place: an old cow pasture just the other side of a stone wall from my yard.  It ceased to host its little herd of Black Angus cattle when I was still very small, and during my formative years it was undergoing secondary succession--changing to shrubland on its way to being forest once more--at about the same rate I was.  The field was my personal kingdom, my wilderness, my battlefield, the place I acted out childhood games, my place to be at home in nature.  

I was in my middle teens when the backhoes first showed up to install their upright perforated pipes, and it became increasingly clear the old field was to be subdivided for houses.  I engaged in futile acts of vandalism in an effort to slow or stop it that I knew would fail even as I broke or filled with rocks those pipes installed to assess the height of the water table.  I was away at college and then graduate school as the houses went up.  There is no sign today that the field ever existed except one: the old stone wall still divides my parents property from that unspeakable subdivision.  

That particular field was the nearest Wild Place, but not the only one.  I can't claim that the biodiversity of that town suffered measurably with its disappearance.  It was simply mine, and helped form me, and shape the feelings I have today toward wild nature.  

Today a generation is growing up that lacks direct connection between people, and still less a connection with nature.  It is this generation that will make the hard choices needed to avert even more catastrophic climate change, mass extinction, overpopulation, the continuing depredations of the most effective invasive species the world has ever known.  

This Wild Place is still wild, still beautiful--though I wish the kids would clean up after themselves.  But I cannot in conscience grudge their adventures.  They are doing what I did.  (I was decades older before I learned to value leaving no footprints.)  I hope playing and building here will lead them to value diverse over simple, life over possessions, Wild over tame.  

Thoreau's quote is easy to misread.  I've done it myself repeatedly.  He was not talking about Wilderness, though that has its own value.  He meant Wildness--OURS. 

I didn't realize how noise would telegraph from the tripod.


 Besides rabbits (Eastern Cottontail, since New England Cottontail has gotten scarce) and Canada goose, I also saw signs of coyote, heard birdsong, and accidentally bothered a big red-tailed hawk.

Video shot from flat rock below.

Besides vernal pools, the melting snow has created a little stream.

Life consists with wildness.  The most alive is the wildest.
Walking    Henry David Thoreau

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