“Why, for instance, is the ‘wilderness experience’ so often conceived as a form of recreation best enjoyed by those whose class privileges give them the time and resources to leave their jobs behind and ‘get away from it all’? Why does the protection of wilderness so often seen to pit urban recreationists against rural people who actually earn their living from the land? Why in the debates about pristine natural areas are ‘primitive’ peoples idealized, even sentimentalized, until the moment they do something unprimitive, modern, and unnatural, and thereby fall from environmental grace? What are the consequences of a wilderness ideology that devalues productive labor and the very concrete knowledge that comes from working the land with one’s own hands? – “The Trouble with Wilderness” by William Cronan
My first week in Oregon was spent enjoying and gaining knowledge about the “wilderness” that surrounds me. I am surrounded by trees far taller than I am used to, mountains in the not-to-far distance, and trails that lead me further into contemplation and sublimity. My second week in Oregon was spent reading about the politics of nature, the way that our perception and understanding of nature are deeply influenced by the history and power structures of our world.
As I process the two weeks that I have been here, I can’t help but think of how uncomfortable this experience is. It is uncomfortable to learn new information that convicts me and inspires me to change. It is uncomfortable to step out of the current pace of my life to meet new people and have an entirely new structure of daily life. It is uncomfortable to not have the pleasures of technology that I am used to. However, it is incredibly sweet to spend time in a space of people willing to be uncomfortable together, willing to learn together, and willing to evoke change in the world.
Amidst the discomfort and stretch to grow that I feel, I also recognize feelings of contentment, fulfillment, and peace. As I spend time in nature which I will learn to call “home”, I have been allowed to be an embodied participator in the “wilderness” that cannot and should not be separated from me, though I leave my mark on it daily. Some sources of contentment and fulfillment are the two cheerful and goofy goats that reside on our campus. My daily chore was to milk the goats in the morning, which was a huge source of joy for me this week.
Another source of joy this week was the delicious food that we received from the garden. We have full access to the garden and are encouraged to explore it and find foods that we want to cook with, make tea with, or eat while we explore! My cabin-mates and I have been having a cup of tea to end every day, re-capping our day together, and discussing our reading.
Our reading can feel pretty intense, especially when reading “After Nature: A Politics of the Anthropocene”, so I feel lucky to have homework-free weekends where I get to bake, catch up letter-writing, and summit mountains!! Yesterday I made beet hummus with fresh beets from the garden and today we summited Mt. McLouglin, which was about 13 miles, 6.5 straight up and 6.5 straight down. This was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done and it was very challenging and rewarding!