Nothing is more wild than our imagination. Blank spots on the map are places to explore; we enter them not knowing what we will find. We need wild places to challenge us. And maybe change us, too. If we are not quite sure how we will be when we come out, our passage is exciting!
When we are children, everything we do is new, and wild. I was fortunate growing up to have a guide, my father. He took me to wild places, rivers and mountains with no people around, where my imagination could run wild. We hiked and paddled through woods that are, as Robert Frost imagined, “lovely dark and deep.”
These places were well guarded. We often endured hardships to even get to them. The secrets they held were only unlocked by experiencing them on their own terms. By paddling endless hours against the wind, by hiking in an all-day rain, or blistering sun. We had many miserable miles to go before we slept. Sometimes the wilds only revealed themselves by sleeping in mud and mosquitos.
Few things make me feel more alive than drying socks around a campfire, applying lotion to sunburned wrists and eating dinner through a mosquito net. And when the clouds part to look up and find the north star, right where it belongs at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. Wondering if somehow these same celestial guides brought Lewis and Clark west or the Fremont expedition home. Were they also warmed by the same eternal campfire? Did owls also echo from the pines around their camp, or loons call across their lakes?
Perhaps frost on the ground will tell us more in the morning about what has passed by. Who still has the freedom to roam this land tells us a lot about how wild it truly is.
I am thankful I had the chance to explore wild place as a child. But it was not an accident. We need wild places for our kids to develop their imagination, their sense of belonging and understanding. And we need to capture for ourselves that same awe we had when we were children, so we can help our kids find their way. These days my questions turn to what kind of guardians of the wilds will we be? What kind of guides will we be? Will we save places for our kids imaginations to run wild? And will we take them there?
Phil Hough is the executive director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.