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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Wilderness Commentary

Air Date: Week of

Jeanne Wilkinson describes finding wilderness in her own neighborhood.


CURWOOD: The word “wilderness” usually conjures up images of untouched forests or remote mountain peaks. But as commentator Jeanne Wilkinson tells us sometimes you find wilderness where you least expect it.

WILKINSON: In the late sixties, I left the city to go back to the land, to do my part, to save the world through organic farming. But idealism doesn't carry too much weight on a dairy farm. Instead, you need an inexhaustible supply of money, time, patience and faith. When my favorite heifer, eight months pregnant, was struck dead by lightening, well that was it. In the eighties, I said goodbye to my sixties dream, applied for student loans, and went back to college.

I didn't have far to go. There was a university in a town only 25 miles away. I'd been there many times. But moving, uprooting myself and my two sons, that was hard. I missed the country, its million smells, and shades of green, its sky unbound by angles and roofs. So I hopped on my Goodwill bike and rode around town looking for green places to blunt the edges of this new life.

One place I found wasn't new to me. I'd seen it before when it was three blocks of army-issue Quonset huts, transformed into housing for married students. I'd drive in from the farm and stop by to visit a friend who used to live there. Her tiny round home was pleasant and cozy. Pretty pink roses bloomed outside her door.

But when I came exploring on my bike, the metal huts were gone, torn down. Where people had washed dishes and made love and yelled at each other, only bare concrete was left. Front stairways stood leading to nowhere. Roses bloomed in the yard, oblivious to the fact that their tender had abandoned them. Yard grass, once clipped short and neat, now grew long and silky as a young girl's hair. The people were gone. Nature had moved in, and I had found an accidental wilderness.

Every year, its domesticated past was harder to trace. More floors cracked and crumbled. More squirrels chattered. More birds sang. Roses, now hemmed in by wild blackberry vines, barely squeezed out a ragged bloom. Strange and spiky plants snaked around old shower drains. Fragile stalks pierced through asphalt and concrete. Nature, fierce and free, was taking over the place.

But now the sleepy college town turns into a city as Wal-Marts and suburbs sprout out of old farm fields. Last summer may have been my last visit to the accidental wilderness. The “No Trespassing” signs were new and shiny, instead of bent and rusty. I fear there are plans for the accidental wilderness, big plans. But if you know what's in store for it, please don't tell me. I'd rather remember it like it was, exuberant and growing. And sometime, somewhere, I'll find another one, another place that has, through some miraculous lack of human initiative, become an accidental wilderness, too.

[MUSIC: Denali, “Prozac,” DENALI (Jade Tree – 2002)]

CURWOOD: Jeanne Wilkinson used to be a dairy farmer in West Central Wisconsin. She's now an artist and freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.




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