An Artificial Wilderness

An Artificial Wilderness

The world is becoming wholly synthetic.

We have manufactured artificial replacements for every experience of life, so that we might be more comfortable in the partaking of them, and so that another more industrious individual might profit from us as we partake in them.

Take, for example, the thousands of Americans daily driving a collective millions of miles, sitting in traffic, to get to the gym so that they might pay another individual, in order to sit astride an artificial bicycle in a climate-controlled room where a man with infinitesimal trousers will tell them when they are approaching an imaginary hill so that they might pedal faster. Unfortunately, if these poor souls would simply purchase a real bicycle, and ride it about the countryside, they will not only receive their calisthenics, but also feel the well-earned wind on their face as a reward for cresting the incline of a real-live hill, as well as the instant gratification of ever-changing scenery and new things to experience. All free of charge.

Certainly you notice the irony of the situation. And I believe, so do thousands of Americans.

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
— Christopher McCandless

They know there is a disparity between their synthetic lives and the real world experiences they were designed to replace, yet they continue to hand their money over to gymnasiums and other establishments, all the while yearning for something more real — a tangible and visceral experience. For the sake of Pete, save yourself by going out and standing in nature for any period of time! You yearn for what is real — go out and be in it! I will gladly accept the wages you are forking over monthly to planet fitness, and I’ll teach you to chop wood in the outdoors. This will be a much more worthy use of your time and money.

How many men wake early to drive past teams of construction workers on their way to the gym to lift weights, wondering all the while what it would be like to build muscle by natural means like building something tangible in the physical world?

The point is, every man was once required to be a renaissance man, acquiring skills in a variety of disciplines, such as farming, carpentry, building, animal husbandry, theology, and teaching. But the modern man has relinquished the lion’s share of his responsibilities to others. Preferring to pay someone else to complete our tasks for us, so that we only have to be skillful in one specialized area, allowing us to be slothful in the others.

Consider another personal anecdote:

Adjacent to my building in uptown Charlotte is a small park. Not a significant matter, you might think, but consider the fact that at one time, Charlotte was a forest. And over time, through years of industry and development, that forest became a bustling metropolis. (As a side note; this is all well and good with me, I enjoy my job at the moment, and though the years to come may see me doing work of a more tangible nature, at the current time, I'm happy to continue earning a paycheck so that I can support my outdoor hobbies.)

This city has replaced the appalachian forest, and where there were once trees and rocks and hills, streams and rivers, there are now steel structures, traffic lights, sidewalks, and Starbucks. I understand that in order to have progress in the modern world in which we live, there must be buildings with cubicles and desks and telephones and internet cables, but the interesting thing, to me, is that man has tried to recreate nature in the midst of the urban sprawl. In the middle of this park in the midst of uptown Charlotte, there is a water feature that resembles a small waterfall that could be found in the woods, just an hour away. In the middle of this industrial wasteland, an oasis of synthetic nature has been created.

It's almost pathetic to see these tiny saplings standing where there were once century-old oaks, and a perfectly manicured lawn of bermuda grass where before there was a wide field of wild grass and flowers. I don't view this simply as a conservational dilemma. There is something to said about preserving nature, but I am not the one to say it. As far as I am concerned, the bigger issue at stake here is preserving the wild nature inside of every man. I believe there is a fire inside every banker, accountant, stock trader, executive, and graphic designer that yearns for the wild of the outdoors, and these recreations are the futile attempt of city planning departments to satiate the desire of thousands as they walk the sidewalks into their buildings of glass and steel every day. We are trying to recreate the wilderness we once knew from memories that have been dimmed from years of neglect.

Most men die at 27, we just bury them at 72.
— Mark Twain

There is a wild that slumbers deep within every man's soul. This wild has no name, no face, no sound, but this wild has been neglected, forced back into the corners, told to behave, until it has been stripped of all the fight it has left. Every man yearns to know his true nature, to test the limits of his resolve, but many men have no idea how to go about this. They don't know what it means to test their limits, because they've been told that whatever it is that lurks in the dark recesses of their soul must be dangerous, because it can't be controlled. We've killed our men, and embalmed them in a cubicle.

I propose a radical notion:

What if the healthiest thing a man can do, for himself, for those around him, is to indulge the wild inside him?
I don't mean that he should give himself over to his sin nature, that is another thing entirely. In fact, the most detrimental thing we can believe is that the wild longings of a man's soul equate to his sinful desires. These are diametrically opposed to one another. What I'm saying is that to feed the wild of a man's heart would actually make him less likely to indulge in destructive behaviors. I propose that the destructive tendencies of men: the ways they lash out at those around them through anger, alcoholism, violence, and worst of all, apathy; these are all byproducts of an unfilled heart.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.
— John Muir

Many men believe that these destructive tendencies define what it means to be a man, but I believe that these are simply synthetic replacements for what it really means to be strong. In this age of man, we are all trying to feed the wild in our souls, but we're attempting to quench that hunger through the things our society tells us are strong. These things couldn't be more weak and unfulfilling.

I submit that the average man, the man who finds himself leading a life of quiet desperation in a cubicle, working a 9-5 for a manager they don't respect, the man who goes home to a listless dinner in front of the sports channel, only to go to bed and do it all again the next day; I submit that this man knows there is more to life, and that if he would reconnect with the wild in his heart, however that manifests itself, it would be a salve to his soul.

For me, this means fly fishing, motorcycle repair, woodworking, and simply walking in the woods, disconnected from electronics and the rest of the world for a little while. It's amazing how simple it can be to feed the wild in your heart, but it is equally amazing how crucial this is to the modern man. This is as necessary as daily bread. And though these pastimes will never fulfill a man completely, that can only be achieved through their Creator, we'll at least get a lot closer to what we were designed for.