Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6.5 Minutes)
Something grand, right out your back door.
Gonna be bold and start with a few hypotheticals: Imagine every mountain peak has a bitumen pathway to the top and helicopter access. Every valley has a bitumen road carved into it to the waterfall at the top of the valley. Every river has a bridge over it, and better yet each river is channeled into concrete canals. At the top of every peak is a cafe. And a hotel. And from each peak you can look around to all the others from the comfort of your car, every other high point covered in roadways and hotels and cars. At night, the stars are out competed by high beams.
Imagine this at your favourite piece of scenery – or to the top of Uluru, Cradle Mountain, or Wollumbin.
It’s a totally gross hypothetical. Most can imagine it easy enough, as most people in the world are surrounded by some/all of these elements in the urban environment. It’s straight up unacceptable that where we spend most of our time we can’t drink from creeks or rivers and don’t breath the cleanest air, and to do so have to travel to areas to ‘refresh’ and seek respite from the hectic nature of our urban life.
One of the beautiful elements of wilderness is the opportunity we are each granted to reflect, experiencing the sheer contrast urban areas have with the wilder ones. What elements of the wilderness would you like to see at home? Clean water? Clean soil? Strong biodiversity? Quiet, or the near silence of wind caught in the tree tops?
To complement the wilder places, I’ve been reminding myself to see the bush closer to home. Or the greener grass on this side of the range, I guess.
It’s mid-morning and a wallaby is startled out of the shade of a she-oak, hopping off through the sedges, taking pause to look back in my direction and check out what disturbed it now its intimidation levels have dropped. Day long on this aspect of the hill the bush is gorgeous when the sun’s out; it gets a real rich yellow colour from the ageing sedges that merges with the scattered crisp green canopies and shade of the eucalypts. Staring up the hill the curve meets the open blue skies, uninterrupted. The gulls down on the shoreline are always making a racket. Or when coming back here in the evening, you’ll have a couple yellow-thoated honeyeaters chasing every bird away, or a heap of swallows feasting on the wing.
I really dig my local patch of bushland, it’s delightful. During winter and spring I was out amongst it most days of the week, walking through the sedge and sitting in the shade of the Amigdalina gums. Studying or working away at home, I’d break up my lectures and readings with time in the bush, in some ways reinforcing what I’d just been learning but in other ways just pacing or running around, resting my mind. These days, after work I get home, drop my bags and keys inside, don my runners and go for a run through the same area.
From a purely human-focused perspective, this area ticks all the boxes, even though it’s entirely surrounded by houses. It’s close to home, can host walking/running recreation, I don’t need a heavy pack, native species and solid bird watching are on offer, and my mates are close by to join. It’s an all round winner!
These days words like pristine are essentially hollow, given the global changes to climate. Our species fingerprints are all over the scene. And much like our surroundings, the depth of our understanding of nature evolves over time.
I’ve just wrapped up reading two fantastic books that I highly recommend picking up/borrowing – the first is ‘Rambunctious Garden’ by Emma Marris. Through a swathe of angles Emma pulls apart some of the history of environmental and wilderness conservation, and casts her thinking into the future, into the myriad of ways we could protect and reimagine our backyards with wild values at heart. The second is Second Nature by Michael Pollan. He explores nature through the eyes of a budding gardener, and how the attitude of growing vegetables and establishing a garden have changed over time, and whilst complicated and nuanced, are an important interpretation of nature.
Emma, and most folk with an interest/obsession with land ethics or deep ecology, frequently refer to Aldo Leopold. An amazing writer, he brilliantly wrote about his interactions with his local patch of nature – open grasslands in central northern America – and helped redefine how many people thought about their surroundings.
Aldo wrote that ‘One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds‘. I agree in that once you see an issue of any kind you’re destined to forever see it (that’s confirmation bias for you). Although what’s more pressing than the frequency of observation, is being reminded that we are not alone. Knowing that there’s an ever growing number of people concerned with the health of their surroundings.
I do feel that if we’re able to see an issue, then we must do whatever we can to help it. People know and want to see the state of the environment improve for themselves and following generations of life, and rightly deserve to be able to live in homes surrounded by clean air, water and soil.
Given that we spend most of our times at home, one flow on from wilderness inspiration is, as Marris puts it, knowing that ‘there is nature in more humble settings’. Wilderness is just one element. We can’t be in the wilder places all the time. I dwell on wilderness much but I’ve relished in seeing the benefits and values of nature closer to home over the years. Because of the local bushland, I know our air is clearer, the hum of the city dulled, animals closer, and the water that runs into our backyard filtered. Without this patch of quiet and access to others like it, our baseline of expectations for ‘home’ would be different.
Our local patches of bush close to home are incredibly important to us. They need care and smart management given the close proximity to high densities of people. If we’re spending most of our lives in urban environments, these areas just have to be healthy, strong, and enjoyable places that don’t sacrifice clean water, air and biodiversity.
A favourite line from Rambunctious Garden is: ‘We’ve forever altered the earth, and so now we cannot abandon it to a random fate. It is our duty to mange it. Luckily it can be a pleasant, even joyful task if we embrace it in the right spirit.‘
I’m inspired by the wilderness but wilderness alone will not save us.
We need to protect our local patches too.
This piece (finally) wraps up my ‘Back Home..‘ series. I spent the summer months delving into what wilderness means to me. I wrote about being on the top of Frenchman’s Cap, on some of the challenges of being out bush, about lengthy multi-month hikes, and about the need to chip in with a changed attitude to protection for our backyards.
If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails there’s always plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.
Heading into winter I’m working on a physical print book, and excited to hopefully release it in coming months. Follow me on Instagram here for updates and where/how to pick up a copy.
I always want to hear what you think – what does wilderness mean to you?? Comment below!
Happy trails my friends,
During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.
The inspiration for this piece is right outside my backdoor in nipaluna/Hobart, on the traditional lands of the muwinina people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.
Bibliography / Suggested reads:
- Emma Marris ‘Rambunctious Garden‘
- Aldo Leopold ‘Sand Country Alminac’
- Micheal Pollan ‘Second Nature‘