a careless relationship with wilderness

In his essay, The Trouble with Wilderness, William Cronon makes the case that, “Wilderness offers us the illusion that we can escape the cares and troubles of the world.” 

This escapism results when the idea of wilderness is used to promote unhealthy postures of individualism and consumerism. These are problems that stem from a careless relationship with wilderness. 

It’s not surprising that we often seek quick-fix solutions to complex maladies. We need relief from over-stimulation. We need a boost out of our cultural malaise. And the promise that pretty landscapes will salve our spirits is enticing.

What’s important to remember is that spiritual sustenance is a relational affair. And that relationships are rooted in mutual engagement. 

A wilderness experience is not meant to be an escape from responsibility. It is meant to serve as an opportunity to strengthen our capacity to relate with otherness. It’s meant to affirm our sense of responsibility.

In his essay Cronon also points out that, “The special power of the tree in the wilderness is to… teach us to recognize the wildness we did not see in the tree we planted in our own backyard.” Or in the tree we encountered in the park. Or in the weed sprouting from that crack in the sidewalk. Or in the power of an encouraging word or kind gesture to plant roots and bear fruits in the lives of others we encounter in our day-to-day.