Wilderness is a necessity of the human spirit

Douglas Argyle | Desolation Canyon of the Green River, Utah

There’s a certain moment on a youth river trip when it happens: it’s usually around 8:30 on night two. The canyon walls are alight with alpenglow, the fire is just starting to crackle in the pan, and you sink in to your camp chair to take it all in. The guides are busy with the kitchen crew breaking down dinner, girls are chattering and giggling and boys are following stonefly nymph tracks in squiggles along the beach. There’s an occasional splash and clink as the last bits of gear move between boat and beach and infrequent bird calls sound from the acid green cottonwoods. You exhale audibly and make eye contact with an adult peer and exchange exhausted grins. The river is starting to fold you into it’s flow and the default world is beginning to drift away.

It’s now been over 24 hours since you last checked your email. Over 24 hours since you spoke about deadlines or stock options or politics. You’re starting to let go of your pet problems, the little worries and the nagging trivialities. You notice you don’t miss your smartphone. There is no urge to broadcast what you had for dinner to all 57 of your followers – even though it was the best meal you’ve had in recent memory. Right now you realize you are content to digest that meal on your own and to have the sights, smells and feels of the canyon for dessert.

The spectacle of kids finding adventure and delight in this wilderness begins to sting your eyes a bit. As the sun descends below the canyon walls in a glorious display of reds, oranges, purples and blues, the camp chairs around you start to fill up. Conversations shift from Taylor Swift to the swifts that skim the water and from World of Warcraft to actual WOW about the world around. The children’s countenances are noticeably lighter as if great weights have been sloughed off into the sand.

Ed Abbey said that wilderness is a necessity of the human spirit, and Terry Tempest Williams said that if you know wilderness as you know love, you’d be unwilling to let it go. Here on the river with these kids you realize you are witnessing first hand the beginning of a life long love affair, spurred by total immersion in the ebbs and flows of a mighty river ecosystem. In this moment you are thankful to be here with these young ones, and heartbroken that you can’t be here with all of the rest.

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