Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Wilderness...

Linderman Lake in the South Warner Wilderness in Modoc County, California

        The Shaw Historical Library — an affiliate of the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon — is a bioregional archive of human and natural history for the "Land of the Lakes," a large bioregion encompassing south central Oregon, southeastern Oregon, northeastern California, and northwestern Nevada. Published annually, this year's Journal of the Shaw Historical Library commemorates the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act for its 50th anniversary. Titled, Why Wilderness...50 Years of Wilderness in the Land of the Lakes, the journal — more of a book, really — explores wilderness areas of the region with personal accounts, essays, maps, and beautiful color photography. Why Wilderness... features essays from local ecologist and professor emeritus of biology at SOU, Frank Lang; executive director of Oregon Wild, Sean Stevens; hiking guide author Bill Sullivan; Crater Lake National Park Historian, Stephen Mark; regional editor for the Klamath Falls Herald and News, and Chair of the Shaw Historical Library Journal Committee, Lee Juillerat, and many more, including an essay from myself, Luke Ruediger

        Below is my essay featured in Why Wilderness...50 Years of Wilderness in the Land of the Lakes. Copies of the journal can be purchased for $20.00 from the Shaw Historical Library website.

Why Wilderness?
Summit Lake and the Diamond Peak Wilderness

Wilderness is a place on the landscape acknowledged for its wildness, a refuge from the industrialization of our modern world. In some cases it exists as a political reality, in some cases it does not and remains imminently threatened. Wilderness can be a majestic mountain paradise or dusty sagebrush flat speckled in bunchgrass and teeming with antelope; it can be an impenetrable slope of chaparral or quiet oak woodland; it can be a wild blue river in a deep rocky canyon or a plateau of scrubby lodgepole pine. It is a place where wolves can howl, elk can wallow, cougar can scream, salmon can spawn undisturbed in streams, and all things wild can live free. Where fire, flood, extended drought, volcanic eruptions, violent storms, and other forms of natural disturbance sculpt countless unique biological communities in a vast mosaic across the face of the land. Either sublime and dramatic, or seemingly typical and lacking in scenery, wilderness exists as a blank space on the map, yet fills an important void in our society. 

     Wilderness is a refuge for all wild things, where the forces of nature have shaped forests, grasslands, rivers, valleys, and peaks, and where the greedy hands of industry have yet to reach. Wilderness has not been commodified. It exists outside the current base of capital where resources are steadily churned into profits at the expense of our earth and to the detriment of future generations. Wilderness is the only landscape in our society where spiritual and ecological values outweigh economic values and the pressure of global markets to plunder local resources. Wilderness exists as an acknowledgement that exponential growth and development are threats to the earth and our own wellbeing. 

     Wilderness represents humility and restraint in a society where such values are distinctly lacking. It provides a feeling of reverence not found within the confines of the Wal-Mart reality. It offers a deep sense of place, and a respect for that place, to all that are open to it. Wilderness provides a connection, a window into the past and hope in the face of an uncertain future. Wilderness, through its silent persuasion, its awe-inspiring beauty and its untapped abundance, provides us with a way forward.

Mt. Thielsen Wilderness, a volcanic landscape in the Land of the Lakes.
      Wilderness allows us a moment to sit on a ridgeline at sunset, like so many have before us, and gaze across the horizon contemplating our world and the role we play in it. It allows us the clarity to see the connections and acknowledge our role as stewards among this natural community. After a night under the stars the wilderness allows us to awaken in the dirt, from a slab of stone, or the verdant green growth and welcome the sunrise as a part of this community. It allows us to feel the power of a charging bear or the silent terror of a stalking cougar, yet it also provides the protection of an ancient forest canopy or the bliss of singing songbirds and flower-filled meadows on a summer day. In these fleeting moments we can find our truth, we can find our way, we can become one with the sky and the land and the water that flows across it; we can feel the innate connection that makes us human animals among a natural community.

     Wilderness is not land free of human influence; it does not ignore the stewardship of indigenous people nor negate their legacy. Wilderness is a reflection of its history, yet largely free from the homogenizing imprint of modern industrial society. Wilderness is stewardship and management for biodiversity, trumping tree plantations, logging roads or strip mines.

     Wilderness, although a modern human construct, provides an immersion in nature that builds deeper relationships, spiritual ties and stronger land ethics. Our ability to build a new society based on sustainable, responsible and respectful interactions with the natural world will depend upon our sense of humility, restraint and interconnectedness. 
     Through wilderness we can once again discover these ancient traditions.
Luke Ruediger

Crater Lake National Park, although the crown jewel of the Land of the Lakes, it has no protected wilderness.