The place I’ve been spending this week is the habitat of grizzly bears, caribou, and mountain lions, none of which I’ve ever seen here. Two of these species view us as potential, if troublesome, prey. In actuality, even here in the wilderness we’ve made the human presence felt and wildlife sightings are somewhat rare. I saw more deer in New Jersey than I’ve ever seen here. Kind of makes you wonder about the human reputation among other creatures. We like to look at them in zoos, but we don’t see them in their natural surroundings. I like to think that it’s because they have so much space out here to wander—we see plenty of evidence of moose, for example, without an antler or dewlap making an appearance.
The environment, as created in our won image, has become somewhat sterile. Kind of the angry, old white man’s view of government. One color is all you need. Variety is too challenging, and threatening. We’ve driven the wolves to extinction around here, so you won’t see any of those. Won’t hear their plaintive howls on a moonlit night. You’ll see motorboats aplenty, and cars with fancy technology, and airplanes buzzing overhead. This will have to do for wilderness, since other places are fast developing into surveillance states to protect the rich men’s money. Wilderness means nothing to such people, unless it can be exploited for personal gain. The thing is, once it’s gone for them, it’s gone for us all. I found a sardine tin shining like silver in the silt on the bottom of our lake. Our fingerprints are everywhere.
The problem isn’t new. Even some monks in late antiquity found that when they headed into the desert for heroic feats of spirituality, they were followed by the curious. Crowds would sometimes gather to watch them being holy. Would that break a saint’s concentration? Do I even need to ask? The forest service asks us to stay on the trails. The trails are well trod. Out of sight, but never far from mind are the bears and cougars. We’ve driven them out of our path and then congratulate ourselves on becoming the top predators. Once the beasts are gone we turn our instincts on our fellow humans. To flush them out into the open we must tame their wildness. And when it’s all gone the only rule will be, in this distorted vision, that of rich white men. An angry grizzly bear would be far more congenial.