WILDERNESS AND DEMOCRACY GO HAND IN HAND
Walk with a child in one of the remaining wildlands scattered across America and you will enjoy a journey of discovery. Children are at home in the dirt among the trees. They explore. They play. They want to climb. They want to dig. It all comes naturally to them.
The comfort of childplay in nature is no surprise really. It is, afterall, where we humans became humans. Of the tens of thousands of years that humans have walked the earth it is only very recently that concrete, grocery stores, air conditioning, cars, television, and computers have come to dominate our daily lives. People got their start in the savannas among the grass and trees. Earth was our home. It's our roots. It is from that life that we have grown. Without it we would not be who we are. Without wilderness we would not be true to who we are.
The Bible tells us that the greatness and beauty of created things give us a corresponding idea of their Creator. Take a walk into the wilderness and you'll learn that to hike is to pray. A camp for the night is worship in the church that God built.
Time in the wilderness is a lesson in humility. Its a reminder that, despite all those cars, computers, and TVs we are the created, not the creator. We are vulnerable and dependent. We eat and are eaten. We support and are supported.
A careful look around will show you how the rock supports the dirt, how the dirt supports the trees, how the trees support the birds, how the sun and water sustain life, and how each element of life needs the other. Like a child needs a parent humans are part of and need God's creation. There is a lesson in the way God made the world.
America was not born in concrete and steel. It grew up amidst the wonders and horrors of the wilderness. From the perspective of the interdependence of all the elements of God's creation it is no surprise that we are the worlds first democracy. Democracy is not a lone ranger activity. It requires mutual support, cooperation, teamwork, conflict, winning and losing -- the whole is greater than the parts. If people are an image of God then democracy is an image of creation.
Thomas Jefferson was a student of nature. It is interesting to read the Declaration of Independence from that perspective:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one People ... to assume ... the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them ... all Men are created equal ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
To Jefferson, democracy was the natural course of things.
There isn't much wilderness left in America. In Illinois only about 40,000 acres in the Shawnee Hills with a third of that left unpreserved. The sparsely settled desert of Utah's redrock canyonlands is more fortunate. It contains some of the largest and most magnificent tracts of wild lands left in the United States -- some 9 million acres in all and almost none of it legally protected. Others of intermediate size are also scattered across the country.
There is only one way to protect these remnants of God's unspoiled creation and that is through democracy. These lands do not have a voice or a vote. They depend upon each of us.
God has left his wilderness in our hands. Ten years ago the people of Illinois called upon their elected officials to preserve 27,000 acres of Illinois wild lands. They and the U.S. Congress responded. Today thousands of Illinoisans have asked our elected officials to support wilderness designation in Utah and they have responded -- Sen. Durbin is the chief sponsor of the proposal and Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Phelps are cosponsors -- but Congress has yet to complete the job. Soon there will be an effort to designate the remaining wildlands in Illinois Shawnee forest.
Democracy and wilderness must walk hand-in-hand. I hope you will lend yours to the effort.
Charleston (IL) Times-Courier, Earth Week of 2000