Written by Matt Pyster of the Student Conservation Association.
There are countless beauties in nature to experience, such as spiders hanging in their webs, a bobcat relaxing in the sun, or an owl perched in a tree.
However, if you talk to many conservationists, you will be able to find at least one thing that is putting each of these wonders in danger. Unfortunately, a side effect of continually focusing on these dangers is that individuals may develop a terrible ailment – what I call “conservation-itis”. The symptoms of conservation-itis include, but are not limited to: the misconception that nature is weak and always a stray step away from major harm, as well as the afflicted person turning into a dreadful bore! I don’t know about you, but I find its rather hard to enjoy something when you’re scared it can break at any moment. But good news! This post is about a remedy for that problem – and I’m offering it up free of charge. What is this treatment? Why, it is to explore some “uncharted” wilds of course! What are uncharted wilds you ask? They are a patch of nature in its natural chaos, not hand tailored to look orderly and sensible. They are places, small or large, just waiting to have their nooks and crannies explored. Let me tell you a personal story of when I used this treatment to help my own very serious case of conservation-itis. Note: I am not a paid actor, nor were any animals harmed in the making of this story (actually, technically I am paid. But that’s beside the point…please read on).
It is mid-day, and there is still traces of snow on the ground when my friend Alyssa and I decide to go for a walk near a local pond.
As we take our first steps, the woods open up to us. Speedily crunching through snow and ice, I feel my heart pounding as we make split second decisions to head up that hill, now to the left, now down to the frozen lake. Nervously we edge around the lake, fearful that we might fall through the ice on this impromptu path. Hopping over fallen logs I notice they are covered in lichen and moss. Stopping to inspect them, I touch them softly. The spongey mass that is below me offers resistance as I push down, a living mat. I discover my new favorite color pattern as I look at the moss – its an organic mosaic of greens and blacks. Continuing on to who knows where, I excitedly crawl like a dog on all fours under a swarming of jungle thorny plants; Alyssa simply walks around them. The trees thin out and soon enough we slow to a leisurely stroll, soaking in the world around us. As the hike goes on, we eventually leave the woods behind us, but the healing aspects of this journey sticks with me long after Alyssa and I part for the day.
It is medicinal to walk through nature, and at least for me this medicine is even stronger when I am exploring the unknown (or at least unknown to me). This is when I am inspired to be present, to really enjoy nature, and to love it. This is when I remember what it is like to be a true tree-hugger (tree-hugger is not an insult if a park ranger says it!). I am a conservationist, but often times I can get so caught up in trying to “save” nature that I forget the simple things. It’s important to fight to protect nature, but it is equally important to enjoy it, and to do so without having fear of breaking it. True, our actions do have an effect on nature, and it is not always positive. This is where a hiker’s common sense comes into play – such as not wandering off of the trails in a high traffic, and therefore high risk, area like a state or federal park. However, parks aren’t the only place where we can find this sense of unexplored wild. So if you suffer from a hopeless blight of conservation-itis, or if you simply want a preventative course, I invite you to go out and find your own “uncharted wild”. Whether it be climbing up a decorative tree in a city, walking into some local woods, driving 10 miles out from the city, or looking 100 lightyears up to the stars – find a place where you can go and explore. A