LCI is excited to be co-hosting the Grand Canyon Semester for Fall 2014 with NAU’s Honors Program and Grand Canyon National Park. The GCS students are kindly providing blog updates of their activities this fall so that we can live vicariously through their experiences– hooray!
By Emily, Jayleen, and Monika
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
Jayleen and Emily
This week we went into the wild, literally into the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. For many of us, it was our first time backpacking, which entails carrying all of your gear and food in a pack and walking for miles to find the perfect campsite, and hopefully some water along the way. Through the seven principles of Leave No Trace, we learned how to respect the Wilderness before, during, and after trips by minimizing our impacts as a group of 17 people on such a fragile ecosystem. We compared our backcountry experience to that of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild while sitting around a campfire. Despite varying and contradicting opinions, we all came to the conclusion that Wilderness, or wilderness, regardless of your definition, is essential and beneficial for personal growth. On the note of personal growth, a leadership exercise on Saturday demonstrated self-awareness, which is a direct result and necessity of experiencing the depths of nature. In order to get a one-on-one experience with nature, we did a Zen of the Rock activity, providing an opportunity to embrace solitude, which is often the most sought after quality of wilderness. Free to roam off trail, each of us found a unique spot to meditate and fully relax, which is sometimes hard to do in our busy lives. Whether it was how to walk with heavy pack, properly hydrate, tie a Bowline knot, or simply be present in the backcountry, this trip was incredibly valuable for each and every one of us in a unique and personal way. The skills acquired are invaluable and will continue to be beneficial long after stepping off the rocky trail.
René: “The food was way better than I was expecting. It was cool to not be reliant on outside resources, but it was hard to come back- I didn’t realize how busy Flagstaff was until I spent three days in the Wilderness.”
Jayleen: “Though I’ve spent a lot of time in the backcountry, each time I go out, I learn something new about myself, as well as new skills that will make me more prepared and resilient for future adventures.”
Anna: “This was my first time doing a multiple destination backpacking trip, and I really enjoyed the routine of packing and unpacking at each spot. I also enjoyed cooking on the small backpacking stoves; I was amazed how well they cooked the food! Overall, I just enjoyed being with everyone in the program, and I think we all had an amazing time.”
Jamie: “I really liked backpacking for the first time. It was a cool experience to survive for a few days with only what you could shove in your pack and the packs of your friends. I was able to prove to myself that I’m capable, I can provide for myself in the conditions I have, and I’m curious as to what more I can challenge myself to in the same way, both physically and mentally.”
This week’s module discussed the Wilderness Act of 1964, which initially designated 9.1 million acres of federal land as Wilderness and created the Wilderness Preservation System. Today there are over 109 million acres of Wilderness, managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Wrecking the Nation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The act defines wilderness as:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
We were surprised to learn that while Wilderness areas provide strong protections, they still allow mining and grazing, in specific cases of pre-existing valid claims. Another controversial topic with land preservation was the history of how indigenous people were kicked off of their land, in order to “protect and preserve” the land from human impact.
We just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act last month, but unfortunately wilderness designations have slowed down significantly. Congress has not approved any wilderness designations since 2009. In the current 113th Congress, there have been 27 proposed wilderness areas, covering over 13.5 million acres, and none have been passed yet. In response to their inaction, Obama has approved National Monuments to protect the areas that Congress has failed to. So far, Obama has created or expanded 13 national monuments, and protected over 260 million acres under the Antiquities Act.
The idea of having a wilderness area to escape to, a place where a person can seek isolation and form a deep connection to pure, untouched nature is especially powerful. The Wilderness Act was key to protecting these areas, and preserving the ability of man to have this escape. Humans are animals after all, and do not belong in these concrete jungles, disconnected from the earth. Whether we realize it or not, we all crave a connection with the earth and value the vast beauty and mystery of nature. Had the Wilderness Act had not been passed, I am sure that we would have continued to develop and destroy all land for the maximum economic benefit, and only too late would we have realized the horrible mistake we had made. Of course, this focus on wilderness as a spiritual necessity for humans is an anthropocentric view, but areas of designated wilderness also greatly benefit the natural landscape and wildlife due to the great protections provided.
But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us — if only we were worthy of it.
― Edward Abbey, “Down the River”