“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
-From the 1964 Wilderness Act
Is there anywhere that has not been touched by man? It is hard to imagine. We like to leave a mark wherever we go. We have placed a flag on the moon, reached the top of Mount Everest, and explored the depths of the ocean. We seem to be on the constant hunt to find secret, hidden places and claim them as our own. It is hard to remember that we are merely visitors on this earth and that the land is not ours.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 sought to keep certain parts of nature out of our grasp and preserve America’s precious land. The exhibit Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places, located in the Museum of Natural History, commemorates this act. Yet the awe-inspiring photos that line the wall do much more; they remind us of the fragility and intrinsic beauty of truly untouched space and of the life that passes outside of our narrow bubble.
The first photo I glance at in the exhibit glows off the wall. The outline of deep, dark black trees is barely discernible against the radiating yellow, orange, and gold brilliance of the sky. Swirls of hazy, grey clouds move in from the top of the photo and gradually transform into golden hues that reflect in the rippling water below. This world seems like paradise, a utopian and unreachable place. The long, dark man paddling in his canoe down the smooth still river suggests that this scene is reachable but the wide expanse of the river reminds me of my modest presence in comparison to the dominating forces of nature. The bright glow of the sky obscures the man’s identity, implying that we are the true visitors. As the artist of this photo states, “Mother nature is the master artist; I am a messenger.”
Continuing down the exhibit, stopping at photos of moments of purity and stillness, it seems incredible to me these places of pure solitude existed amidst the concrete buildings and busy streets of DC. As I wander the room, I come across a captivating bright green sky. Growing up I’ve heard about the Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights, and have since dreamt of one day seeing this elusive light show for myself. This photo makes me stop in my tracks. Flashes of light dance across the green and blue sparkling sky, creating a mystical scene you could only find in a book. An array of greens with a splash of deep purple fill the frame. Amidst this magical sky lies a solitary rock, with a single tree sitting on top, an ordinary sight against the spectacular show above it.
We often seek to create beauty in our lives, planting flourishing gardens in our yards or building artful architecture. We attempt to be our own artists. But, this exhibit has reminded me that nature is an impressive artist herself. Beauty is most mesmerizing when it is at its most pure and original state, untouched by humans. Although the Wilderness Act will continue to preserve our land, we must also seek to keep the natural beauty around us untouched.
Although I will never be able to see the Northern Lights from my dorm room on campus, I can still search for beauty around me that is natural and free from human touch with the hopes that, if I am patient enough, one day I can see the Northern Lights in person.