Foglesong: Wilderness Warms the Soul

By Samuel Foglesong

Our species differs from others in how we value the natural world. On one hand, some people view nature in terms of the value of the resources it provides and others in terms of the intrinsic value of nature itself.

To be fair, there is some overlap in these value systems, but it is safe to say most people subscribe more heavily to one side or the other.

Unfortunately, neither side is particularly receptive to arguments from the opposition about how to care for our planet. How you think about the ground beneath your feet is an unshakable personal opinion.

Given that I believe so strongly in the intrinsic value of the natural world, I shall submit myself to the ranks of those making the case for a more existential appreciation of nature. I will do so by illustrating the benefits nature has for the human soul.

The most important thing nature provides is perspective.

In a time when monotony characterizes the majority of social living, perspective is priceless. To immerse yourself in wilderness after weeks of traffic jams, expense reports or hours of monotonous labor is a truly magical thing.

When you stand atop a mountain and you listen to the silence — I mean really listen — you begin to understand the awesome power of the earth. How long the rocks have been there and how unthinking and unmoving the trees and the dirt are gives you a sense of how insignificant and fleeting human life is.

Contrary to popular belief, the notion that our existence is finite does not need to be a depressing one. It inspires us to live each day to the fullest and appreciate the fact that we get to exist on the earth for any period of time at all.

We are all conscious of our own mortality, and immersing ourselves in nature helps us not only to accept it, but also to appreciate it.

At the very least, everyone can appreciate the value of being able to retreat from the monotony of routine. As the human population grows, wilderness shrinks. In the absence of wilderness, we will increasingly embrace false retreats, escaping into the numbness of drugs or the fantasy of television and alternate realities.

Nature provides us with a sense of perspective and honest retreat — we should all recognize the importance of that.

Beyond that, nature adds fun and a sense of adventure to life. Wilderness has always been admired for its unpredictability, for being a place where every person can measure themself against the elements and test the limits of their strengths.

Let us end with a quote by Holocaust survivor and writer Primo Levi:

“And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head …”

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