Some would argue they are too old or disabled to enjoy Wilderness, and even if they are fit, they desire a machine to get the most out of it. This human desire speaks to the human need to have more, to do more, to get what one wants, when one wants, how one wants, and where one want. Any exclusion is taken personally, a loss of individual liberty, a gross unfairness. This is a normal feeling. It is not fair. I cannot have what I want.
Yet, Wilderness excludes no one. You can enjoy it just being beside it, riding in on a horse's back, walking, running, and if disabled rolling through it on a wheelchair. Before I had ever visited a Wilderness, I was mesmerized and thrilled by the knowledge there was some special place I could go at little cost where only basic knowledge and basic equipment were required. Once there, I came and went and stayed anywhere in solitude, in prayer, in adventure, in difficulty, in joy, in loneliness, in love, in conversation, and in friendship. I walked at the same pace generations of my fathers and mothers before me walked. I stopped frequently struck by the fleeting moment of an animal disappearing in the forest, of dappled sunlight dancing across the hillside, of fields of bright flowers waving in unison. In Wilderness, I relish being that fleeting visitor, just as I relish my passing life. When the day comes (now sooner than later), when I can no longer visit Wilderness, I will treasure the thought that I left the untrammeled, the unknown, the ever-new for another generation to explore.
In 1805, Montana looked different than it does today. In the intervening 213 years, our culture managed to subdue all of Montana, count it, claim it, map it, tax it, and house within its ground weapons enough to incinerate it many times over. We call this civilization. Even so, a common myth is Montana is a bastion of wildness. If so, consider Montana has only four areas that are less than 6.2 miles from a road. Even in the wildest place in Montana, one can walk to a road in less than a day, at most in two. (https://explorer.earthengine.google.com/#gallery/Roadless10km, http://www.roadless.online/map/).
In 1805, Montana was 100 percent Wilderness and supported many 10,000-year-old cultures. Since then, Montanans have done away with all but 11.5 percent of all our wildest places. Of the 11.5 percent, 3.7 percent is Wilderness, 1 percent is National Parks, and only 6.8 percent remains Wilderness eligible (http://wildmontana.org, http://www.wilderness.net). By comparison, California is 14.9 percent Wilderness. Yes, bash California all you want, but it has 302.7 percent more Wilderness than Montana! Since Wilderness is the highest form of land protection our country gives, one may suppose California is 302.7 percent more worth protecting than Montana. Consider too, given that California is the 6th largest economy in the world, Wilderness and a strong state economy are compatible. I suggest giving the Montana Congressional delegates a call to remind them Montana deserves more Wildernesses, and Wilderness does not hurt Montana’s economy.
I do not claim to be a religious person, yet I know every major religion began as a retreat to wilderness. For 25,000 years, our cultures have successfully demonstrated our ability to subdue the earth and every living creature on it. I contend 2018 is a year to love, cherish, and honor what remains -- to renew a sacred vow. To turn a phase from the Book of Revelations, from the least to the greatest, those who protect the earth will themselves be protected. After death is certainly not the time to discover we failed our stewardship test.
About seven years before my house on Clarke Street was built (1884), Psalm 148 inspired Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "God's Grandeur" (1877). My house remains, and his poem remains, too (oh, so beautiful); however in 2018, we can no longer say with confidence Hopkins did "And for all this, nature is never spent." Nature is spent. We know it is spent. Therefore, my wish for 2018 is more Wilderness for Montana, for our great nation, and for the next generation. Good will to you and your family. May you be renewed daily as Hopkins says with nature's "dearest freshness deep down things." Happy New Year!