What is wilderness? What’s happening to wilderness? And what do we do about it? Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry are three people who all directly or indirectly answer these questions in their writing. In Gary Snyder’s book, Turtle Island, he defines wildness and gives us a possible solution to pollution. Wendell Berry agrees with Gary Snyder’s definition of wildness, but he takes a different point on it. Berry voices his concerns and explains that we need a more direct experience with nature. Both Berry and Snyder mention the same things that Rachel Carson mentions about pollution. Unlike Berry, Carson believes that we can use nature, but in moderation.
In the Transformation section of Plain Talk, Gary Snyder defines wildness, quoting, “Wildness is the state of complete awareness. That’s why we need it,” (Snyder 99). By “complete awareness” Snyder means anything that’s around us. If a wolf is wild, it notices all the predators or prey around it. In our sense, we need to be aware of the nature around us. When we live in civilization with technology all around us, we lose awareness of nature. We can see this with people on their phones ignoring other people. If we can’t see other people, how can we see the world around us?
Wendell Berry agrees with Snyder. Berry explains how even simple technology like railroads and highways make us forget our origins. He says:
Because of railroads and improved highways, the wilderness was no longer an arduous passage for the traveler, but something to be looked at as grand or beautiful from the high vantages of the roadside. . . and because we no longer traveled in the wilderness as a matter of course, we forgot that wilderness still circumscribed civilization. – Berry 100
Berry says that since we no longer use nature to get where we need to go, we forget that it’s there. One of Berry’s biggest points is that wilderness is at a distance now more than ever. On page 100, Berry explains how we forget “the civilized and domestic” depend upon wilderness. Without our natural basis, there’s no way we could have any roads at all. Berry then gives his definition of wilderness. “Wilderness – that is, upon natural forces within the climate and within the soil that have never in any meaningful sense been controlled or conquered,” (Berry 100). It’s interesting that Berry mentions “any meaningful sense,” because this conversation grows into what Rachel Carson says about nature.
Rachel Carson takes on Berry’s “any meaningful sense” in her argument when she says:
Who has decided – who has the right to decide – for the countless legions of people who were not consulted that the supreme value is a world without insects, even though it be also a sterile world ungraded by the curving wing of a bird in flight. -Carson 127.
Here, Carson is questioning who has given us the right to decide that the ideal world has no bugs – that we could extinguish a whole species of bugs because we don’t like them. She’s saying that humans are ruining wilderness without “meaningful sense.” Berry further analyzes that some people do think that controlling nature is meaningful. He explains the idea of a nurturer versus an exploiter. Exploiters are thinking of the most effective way to get things done, while nurturers try to savor it. An exploiter would be a businessman who doesn’t have time to worry about how much paper he’s using or how much smoke is coming out of his factory. But, Gary Snyder brings up the point that, “You cannot communicate the forces of nature in the laboratory,” (Snyder 107). Snyder understands that wilderness is important, and it can’t be recreated. We’ve seen what happens in Jurassic Park when we try to mess with nature. It fights back.
That’s exactly what Rachel Carson says in her chapter Nature Fights Back. She says, “The truth, seldom mentioned but there for anyone to see, is that nature is not so easily molded and that the insects are finding ways to circumvent our chemical attacks on them,” (Carson 245). Carson explains that nature finds ways around our tactics, and they begin to adapt around it. She further says that, ‘The control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance,”(Carson 297). Trying to control nature will only backfire. We always want to control the wilderness. But why?
Snyder explains that humans fear the wild inside us. He compares the wild to a coyote, to which he says, “And the Coyote singing/is shut away/for they fear/the call/of the wild,” (Snyder 22). He phrases it as a coyote’s beautiful howl being shut away because people fear its wild. Snyder therefore says we fear the wild inside of us. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to tame it, or because we’re afraid of what it can do. Or maybe we’re afraid to know who we really are because that could mean waking up in the Matrix. Through all this confusion, Gary Snyder poses a simple solution. He says, “This is fear of one’s own deepest natural inner-self wilderness areas, and the answer is, relax. Relax around bugs, snakes, and your own hairy dreams” (Snyder 96). Relax around nature, relax yourself. Nature isn’t bad. What are we afraid of?
Carson’s solution is to let nature be on its own. She says to let nature do it. “The really effective control of insects is that applied by nature, not by man,” (Carson 247). Nature was here first, we should let it be. Berry agrees, saying “the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope,” (Berry 14). Berry says that our only legitimate hope is to cherish what remains of the wild and to remain direct with it because that’s the only way we’ll remember it’s there. He says:
The catch is that we cannot live in machines. We can only live in the world, in life. To live, our contact with the sources of life must remain direct: we must eat, drink, breathe, move, mate, etc. When we let machines . . . we inevitably damage the world ; we diminish life. -Berry 92
This is exactly what Gary Snyder said about not being able to understand the forces of nature in a factory. Berry says we need to be closer to nature and actually live in it to remember our wilderness. He explains on page 100, “with the rise of industry, we began to romanticize the wilderness – which is to say we began to institutionalize it within the concept of the ‘scenic’” (Berry 100). We can’t see the world as scenic. As Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, and Gary Snyder all agree, wilderness is within is and it is us. We can’t keep it at a distance. It’s where we come from, and if we don’t cherish it, we won’t have a home, we’ll have a factory. If we keep fighting our natural selves, the wild will fight back until everything is destroyed. One thing has proven true, and that is that wilderness always wins.