The Value of Wilderness

This morning Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite writers, shared a link on Facebook to a delightful article in today’s New York Times.  The article is called “Blissfully Lost in the Woods” and was written by Nicholas D. Kristof.  In it Kristof tells the story of a recent two hundred mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail he took with his fourteen year old daughter.

After detailing some of the exciting events of their adventure, Kristof says “This trip, even more than most backpacking slogs, was a reminder that we humans are mere bricks in a vast natural cathedral. As we tumbled in snow pits, as rain fell on us, we mused that we’re not landlords of our planet, or even its prime tenants. We’re just guests.  In short, the wilderness humbled us, and that’s why it is indispensable.”

Kristof makes a number of valid points here.  He is right in affirming that we humans are just guests on this planet.  For centuries Christians have been making the same claim by affirming that this earth is not our home, that we are simply pilgrims “passing through.”  Pausing to realize this helps us keep things in perspective.  It also serves as a reminder that we ought to be good houseguests during our time here on earth.

Kristof is also right about how nature or wilderness has a way of humbling us.  I’ve experienced this many times.  I have felt very small in the presence of giant mountains.  I have been reminded of my mortality by nature’s powerful forces quite often.  I have also been forced in wilderness settings to acknowledge my limitations and shortcomings.  All of this is good.  God knows most of us could use more humility in our lives.  In fact, I cannot help but think that the beauty, grandeur, vastness and complexity of nature are all part of God’s plan to help us stay humble.  This makes wilderness “indispensable” indeed!

Kristof goes on to say, “Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote. It’s an Olympiad for all of us.”  He bemoans the fact that fewer and fewer people are being exposed to wilderness and suggests that this must change if we have any hope of preserving wilderness.  He writes, “To guarantee wilderness in the long run, we first need to ensure a constituency for it. Environmentalists focus on preserving wilderness, because that’s the immediate priority, but they perhaps should be as energetic at getting young people to interact with it.”

Here, too, I think Kristof makes a valid point.  Those of us who love God’s Creation and recognize it to be His “other book” need to do all we can to help people connect with nature.  Doing so will be good for their body and mind alike.  Even more importantly, doing so will be good for their soul.


(I chose to illustrate today’s post with images I’ve taken in the Pacific Northwest.  The top image shows Mount Rainier, the middle one was taken on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and the bottom picture features Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.)

Here’s the link to the article cited above: