This week I immersed myself in the reflections of Sigurd Olson, who was not only a long-time wilderness guide and instrumental environmentalist, but also one of the most beloved articulators of the very concept of wilderness itself.
He called wilderness “a symbol of a way of life that can nourish the spirit”. He described it as the source of equilibrium in a world that is otherwise often antagonistic to sanity. He wrestled to illuminate the wilderness experience as “an intangible something compounded of the countless intimacies” that we know when we pay attention to our surroundings. He insisted that wilderness is for everyone and that it can be experienced not only in large swaths of untrammeled earth but also in small areas, what he called “minute sanctuaries”. He called wilderness a “spiritual necessity”.
Here are a few glimpses into several decades worth of his reflections that resonated with me:
That’s a question I’m committed to continuing to ask. It comes across as a simple question. But I don’t think the answer is obvious or static. It sparks all sorts of sub-questions; certainly geographical and ecological ones, but also political and existential questions; personal, communal, and theological questions; questions that chafe and questions that comfort. The question is itself a wild one. What is wilderness to you? I’m curious.