What is wilderness?

What is wilderness?

A few years ago I asked a question on my Facebook page, what does wilderness mean to you?

It’s a term heard everywhere, but what does it mean? Can you drive to it? Does it involve helicopter drops, month-long trudges, battling bugs and backpacks full of Spam? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means ” a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings. An empty or pathless area of a region.”

The term has changed over time. It was more common in the past to regard wilderness as a place of neglect or abandonment and not profitable. We couldn’t farm it, cut it, shape it, and it had no dollar value. In many regards, it was worthless.

Sometimes the wilderness can be unpleasant. And we just wish we were at home, in bed, snuggling with our cat named Harriet. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

For some, wilderness is a white man’s word. The “uncivilized” and “worthless” land that we call “empty”, usually isn’t. The forests of the Selkirk mountains, in the valleys that are many days thrash from the highway have strong and vibrant ecosystems. Before the white man, this region was home to Indigenous people. The idea of “wild” didn’t exist. It can be argued it’s a term used to separate ourselves from other beings, thereby taking us out of nature. Perhaps it’s our attempt to classify something we don’t understand. We’re trying to add structure to something we deem chaotic.

Last February, I was on a trapline in northern Alberta. I was with a trapper working on my masters (degree) project, which was how the oil and gas industry find oil. This trapline was in one of the least economically developed areas of the province, the Caribou Mountains beside Wood Buffalo National Park. The trapper said it always annoyed him when people would come on his line and say it was the middle of nowhere, or how they couldn’t wait to get back to “the real world”.

Everywhere is somewhere. Every speck of the earth is inhabited by someone, such as a bird, bear, or beetle.

For the trapper, his trapline is the real world. The trees, plants, animals, and not “stuff covered in concrete and metal.”

Although he usually traps alone, he never feels alone. He’s surrounded by animals, which he calls his friends.

“I don’t find this as the middle of nowhere. This is home. And there are wonderful friends out here. They might not speak English or French or Spanish, but we talk.”

Not a single section on this planet is empty. It’s buzzing with life. It’s all someone’s home.

Humans have impacted everything. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

The responses to my Facebook post were varied. Many said it was a place untouched and free from humans. But can that exist? We’ve impacted everything. Our pollutants swirl around the Arctic and even our national parks are far different from decades of fire suppression.

A friend once said wilderness is a place where you can walk all day and not end at a pub. Others on Facebook got philosophical, saying it’s within all of us. We are the untamed, the chaotic, the uncivilized and the wild. Wilderness is within. It’s where all our hopes, troubles and loves are found. It’s the place where a man who desires nothing, finds something, and holds on.

There was one post I thought was notable and worth ending on. “The Wilderness: If you don’t know what it is, you should go there. It might change your life or kill you. Either way, bring something to eat.”

If I were you, I’d bring a cheese platter.