Wilderness is a Sharpening Stone
Wild country demands something from you; it is your undivided attention, and when you come out you will be a better outdoorsman for it. It is truly a raw experience that strips away the distractions of modern life. When I use the term wild country, I am talking about places that have not been tamed man, the only forces at work are elements and the inhabitants. When you enter these places you have no advantage as a human, there is no observing from a safe distance, the only choice is to become part of it. I had an experience in the fall of 2015 pursuing elk in the mountains of southwest Montana that gave me another taste of what it takes to make it.
The weather forecast that week was cold, windy, and snowy. Perfect, from the perspective that it would limit the number of people willing to push into the high country, where we knew the elk would be. The elk were there because it was wild tough country, there were no roads, no motorized vehicles were allowed, and cell phones don’t work. It is just the mountain, the elk, the wolves, the snow, and you. Even with a rifle, the human hunter is an insignificant force out on that mountain. You feel that insignificance with every step as you trudge through shin to hip deep snow. Then you spot some elk, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t almost at the top of the mountain, but they are there, and it stokes your fire to keep on pushing.
It is almost anticlimactic, and there is certainly a sense of loss and reverence when you climb, stumble, and slide down next to the 700 pound bull you just killed. The hunt is over, and the weight of the responsibility you have to get this awesome creature off of the mountain to feed your family is immense. At this point all you have is what you carried with you. Whatever you left in the truck won’t help you now, and you had better be careful because a misstep or a careless cut can be life threatening out here. The weather is a blessing and a curse because the cold will preserve the meat, but the blowing snow and chilling cold are going to take their toll in the next 72 hours when all of your effort will be focused on getting this meat many miles back to the truck. At times you will question your sanity, but the task has to be done.
The experience I had would not have been the same if it was easy. Humans need resistance to grow, and wild country provides it in spades. Unfortunately, this country is a non-renewable resource. The wildlife, timber, and plants that lives on it are, but the landscape itself can be destroyed, and will never return to its once pristine condition. If we let this slip through our fingers, we won’t get it back, and our children will never be able to reap the benefits we wasted.
The threats our wild country faces is primarily driven by greed. Someone sees these lands as a commodity they want to control. It is not good enough that they be managed as they are now, for the good of all. Balanced for the benefit industry, agriculture, recreation, and environmental preservation. A great example is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; which for many of us who live east of the Missouri river, is a rare opportunity to find a true wilderness experience. This area is threatened right now by mining companies that would do irreparable damage to this pristine country, to extract sulfide-ore on its fringes, doing incredible damage to the entire watershed. The idea that some politician or industry lobbyist would try to convince you, that you should allow this treasure that sits in our backyard to be destroyed; all because a European or South American mining conglomerate wants to make a profit in northeast Minnesota, should outrage you.
The last thing I will say is this. Get out, have some adventures, and there is no way you won’t come away with a strong sense of responsibility to preserve wild country. There are a lot more people looking to exploit these wild places, than there are people fighting to protect them. If you don’t know where to start, go join one of the groups that is out there every day fighting, and get involved where you can. For what it is worth, I am a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. Even if all you can do is educate yourself and share it with your friends, it all makes a difference.