Essays About

The Wilderness No Longer Feels Wild

Cruising the fjords of Alaska last summer and trying to imagine I was Captain Cook seeking the Northwest Passage, the thought kept intruding into my mind that on this same earth, only a few thousand miles away, were New York City, Tokyo, and Dubai, where at this moment people were talking on cell phones, riding subways, and checking stock quotes. This reflection pruned the wilderness of its power, for instead of the dangerous place our ancestors walled their cities against, it was now the walled enclave amid a wilderness of civilization, no longer threatening, but threatened.

Our contemporary experience of wilderness often seems more simulated than real. We designate wildernesses instead of discover them. We put a fence around the wilderness, not for our sake but for its: a cage to keep it wild. A protected wilderness is an oxymoron.