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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Wilderness

New York City Nature Preserves

By the time we can speak of preserving and protecting wilderness, it has already lost much of its meaning: for example, the Biblical meaning of awe and threat and the sense of sublimity far greater than the world of man and unencompassable by him.
"Wilderness" is now a symbol of the orderly process of nature.  As a state of the mind, true wilderness exists only in the great sprawling cities.
- Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia 

There are nature preserves dotted around the New York metro area. I enjoy taking my son to visit some of them, and they are a critical collective responsibility for managing our environment. Yet they are fragile places, holding on solely because of the active management of people who care about the quality of the places where we live.

As Yi-Fu Tuan says, the wilderness that exceeds our senses and threatens our lives is now comprised of development sprawling beyond our control. In former times, wilderness was the threat of nature reclaiming human settlements. Now wilderness is our own built environment threatening to push out the remaining pockets of nature, especially those pockets that we rely on to keep us feeling truly human.

Walking through parking lots is to wander in the wilderness

Crossing arterial streets is risking an encounter with fearsome beasts

Efforts to make improvements to places often result in oases,
where we stand on the edge of the wilderness that may still overtake us

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