An essay by Nari Hwang, Grade 8 student from Shanty Bay Public School.
“To many a city person there comes a time when the great town wearies them. They hate its sights and smells and clangor. Every duty is a task, and every caller is a bore. There come visions of green fields and far rolling hills, of tall forests and cool, swift flowing streams.”
This excerpt from “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart, a book first published in 1917 and given by my grandfather to his father, still speaks to me over the years. It is still true for many of us. It explains that sometimes we need to go out into the wild places and do whatever we wish; to be free and to breathe in the clear wilderness air.
Wild places have the power to make us feel alive and free, they are vital to the health of the environment, and they have been a source of inspiration over the centuries for countless artists, scientists, free spirits and even office bound bankers like my great grandpa.
Feeling a little pull to the outdoors? Let’s go on a little journey and explore the importance of wild places…
Like so many adventures, ours starts… on the couch! Boredom rules! Someone suggests a walk and everyone sluggishly puts on their boots, squints into the sun and heads off to countless possibilities.
The cool air tingles our cheeks and our hearts start beating a little faster. In a moment, I am climbing a tree with my brother and sister. We are pirates! Hey, you grab a stick sword too and join in! With no laundry to do, or calls to make, the grown-ups loosen up too and we run and laugh and seek and look at teeny tiny inch worms, and feel the soft poofiness of mossy fairy places. Other times, we can just sit quietly and soak in the green earthiness. Experts in mental health even recommend that kids have the chance to get bored, get outside, and get creative. Whether to try new things, bond with those you love or enjoy some solitude and time to think, wild places, big or small are just the place to do it.
Let’s turn onto a new path, because wild places aren’t only good for encouraging that feeling of awesomeness! They are also a source of creative inspiration. Without the wild places, where would the wild things be? This is a question answered in Maurice Sendak’s children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are. Here, a boy travels to a fantasy land full of weird beasts, becomes king and then heads home in time for dinner. Wild places have been the source of creative inspiration in many books for young people — The Call of the Wild, Lost in the Barrens, and The Jungle Book are a few that I have read with my family. You can probably think of others too.
Think also of the music, dance, theatre and poetry that was inspired by singing birds, rolling hills or dancing leaves. Canadian visual artists like Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, the Group of Seven, Bill Reid and Kenojuak Ashevak have shown us the rough beauty of our landscape and have inspired many to pack lightly, put on some good hiking shoes, or slide into a tippy canoe to go see more of Canada. Each of these creative works asks us, to hear the call, to come along, to join in the adventure and experience a little wild — even if only in our imaginations.
However, we need wild places, not just because they are inspiring, but also for environmental reasons. Forests are good for filtering ground and surface water as it moves through toward bodies of water. They also absorb unwanted carbon dioxide and provide safe habitats and food for native animals and plants. Wetlands and marshes also provide important biodiverse ecosystems and form the main filtration systems in nature! Other places like wild fields or meadows are good for native pollinators, and a whole different ecosystem of creatures and native weeds that are vital to our earth.
Each wild place is a unique ecosystem that produces its own unique cycle and flow of nutrients. Plants and animals live, and serve a special purpose, then once they die and decompose, they turn once again into soil. New plants use that soil to grow, and whatever eats that plant will have new energy and the cycle will continue. It is miraculous and inspiring!
According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canada is home to more than 70 000 wild species and 43 national parks and reserves that cover nearly a quarter million square kilometres. It’s also home to 30 percent of the world’s boreal forests and 25 percent of the world’s wetlands.
But, our wild places are in danger because of us. We need to take action against things like climate change and pollution.
David Attenborough’s new film called “David Attenborough: A life on our Planet” talks about how our earth is changing because we take more than the earth can afford to give. He says, “The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe, barely noticeable from day to day. I’m talking about the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity… We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. We reduced freshwater populations by over 80% replacing the wild, with the tame… We must restore the biodiversity; the very thing that we’ve removed, it’s the only way out of this crisis we have created. We must re-wild the world.”
So, how do we do that? Most of us don’t own a big area of untouched land so how can we create our own little backyard wild place? Think about leaving an area in your yard un-mowed and plant some native wildflowers there. Leave the ditch near your home alone and let the native weeds grow for pollinators. Live near water? Consider a natural shoreline. If you need to remove an old tree, leave about ten feet of it behind and you will be supporting an insect and fungi high-rise condominium!
Wild places have the power to encourage adventure and fun, to improve mental health, to inspire great works of creativity and to sustain and strengthen biodiverse environments.
Remember I began with talking about my great grandpa’s book that has been passed down to my family? It also says that “this instinct for a free life in the open is as natural and wholesome as the gratification of hunger and thirst and love.” I can imagine him reading these words that also make me excited about wild places and thankful that we still have so many to enjoy. But with that comes a responsibility to protect those places and the species that live there. Let’s leave the wild places wild and ensure that generations to come can know their glory and wonder!