In Wildness is the Preservation of the World

North Georgia Christmas
“Machinery and convenience are too often mistaken for civilization nowadays, but in fact civilization can be measured only by whether we live in harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine.” — Arthur Versluis in “Island Farm”

In her excellent post called “Winter Walks and the Wild,” author and editor Zinta Aistars ponders the reasons she is drawn away from suburbia into the bitterly cold, snowy countryside of Michigan. She’s looking for a connection with the wild and, when she finds it, she also finds harmony.

She’s been reading Arthur Versluis’ “Island Farm,” a book that author James Cowan calls “a Walden for our time.” The book matches Aistars’ experience and for those who cannot—or who have not yet—gone in search of nature in its most basic form, the book tells us what we are missing and what we have lost.

What we are missing is our connection with the rest of the planet. By this I don’t mean our ability to watch breaking news from the far side of the world as it happens or to communicate with others through blogs and Facebook. The wonders of our technology obscure its deficits.

When Thoreau wrote the words “in wildness is the preservation of the world” in “Walking” in 1862, he went on to say that “the founders of every state which has risen to eminence, have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source.” The comforts of our civilization have, I believe, not only blocked the flow of understanding and energy from that source, they have blocked our respect for the source as a viable source.

Nonetheless, we are hearing more about about nature and spirituality and connections these days. When we first heard such thoughts, we—as a modern society—tended to label them as tree-hugger platitudes and new age mumbojumbo. Now we’re starting to see that there might possibly be something happening behind the fog of platitudes and mumbojumbo. Hard science documents some of it and personal experience, like that of Zinta Aistars, documents some of it.

At present, we’re not yet sure just how big “it” is. We’re drawn more and more to the wild, but we’re not yet ready to plunge into it with a point-of-no-return attitude: “I want to become one with the deer from the comfort of my toasty warm car.”

The nearest shaman in our neighborhood still has a lot of teach us about connecting with the wild. And we still have a lot of listening to do before we’ll understand once and for all that our lives depend on that wildness more than on our technology.

“Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.” — Aldo Leopold in “A Sand County Almanac”

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5 thoughts on “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World

  1. I certainly believe that, to the same extent that we as a species have lost touch with the wild country, we have relinquished our right to a future on this planet.

  2. Thanks for the nod, Malcolm. I’ve been drawn to the wilderness all my life, and have had this sense all these years while working in “civilization” that this is the temporary part of my life, the dues being paid, until I can return where I belong.

    Island Farm is one of the most remarkable books I have read it in a long time… and as you know, I am a voracious reader. It does stand side by side with Walden, and that is saying something … because Versluis understands our contemporary issues so well.

    We are in disharmony with our world, and we fear Nature, even as we sense inside ourselves a stirring of a great need, satisfied in no other way but in returning to it … not to conquer it, but to learn to live in harmony with it … our Mother, after all.

    1. I have felt that way, too, Zinta. The daily commute into cities was all preparation for something other than the cities. Fear, I think, is a large part of the equation. Nature is the standard symbol for the badness that lurks outside the safe city. So, when we go there, we need to take our lights and our appliances with us, to develop what is raw into something that is purportedly civilized. What a backwards approach it all is.

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