Preserving the wilderness is our patriotic duty
America is the land of opportunity. As individuals, we value the right to choose. We have the freedom to better ourselves by taking on challenges.
These wild lands have been here for millennia. Long before the birth of the United States, many knew these lands intimately. They shaped the culture and spirit of the Native American tribes who first called them home.
The American “frontier” was the edge of settled land, beyond which lay wilderness. Crossing the frontier attracted a melting pot of people, all looking for the promise of opportunity and freedom beyond what they knew as civilization. The call of the West reached multitudes, from explorers Lewis and Clark to Horace Greely. Its allure appealed to all kinds of people for every sort of reason. Always, our wild lands defined our spirit and unified us as Americans. In saving wild places, we are saving the heart of what it means to be an American.
Wild places have defined our country. Landscape painter Thomas Cole, in his 1832 essay “American Scenery,” noted that “American Scenery … has features … and glorious ones, unknown to Europe. The most distinctive, and perhaps, the most impressive characteristics of American scenery is its Wildness.”
Wild lands are a strong part of our shared heritage. In Europe, wild lands were preserved for the nobility, the landed gentry. In America, wild lands have drawn people from all backgrounds. Beyond the villages, farms and fields were forests open to hunters, trappers, explorers and settlers. Wild lands are a mirror, one by which we define ourselves.
Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Jeremiah Johnson: As frontiersmen they showed a spirit inspiring generations of Americans. No less iconic were the men, women and children who trekked across the continent as pioneers to start new lives. While the “frontier” closed a century ago, what it embodies is still an important measure of who we are.
We have a patriotic duty to preserve those wild places. We need a frontier we can cross to find our own sense of who we are. If we lose wild places, we lose part of how we define our American spirit and character.
On July 4th, we celebrated the independence needed to found our nation. Let’s remember, it was the wildness of this continent that attracted rugged individuals. It is wild places that mold the independent spirit that makes America a land of opportunity and freedom.
The author is the executive director of Friends of the Scotchman Peaks.