What is Wilderness and Whither Preservation?

Rambunctious Garden - cover

What is 'Nature' and does 'Pristine Wilderness' still exist on earth? Emma Marris starts with these questions and launches a journey in Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in Post-Wild World. Ms. Marris effectively challenges many of the assumptions that inform our views and policies toward nature. I think Rambunctious Garden can spark a conversation about green places and how we use and protect them.

According to Ms. Marris we tend to define 'nature' very narrowly and miss the wildlife under our noses. There is a strong tendency to discount the value of empty lots and weedy patches of land that can hold much plant and animal life. Thoreau and Muir helped to protect and foster respect for 'wilderness' yet that attitude can unfairly discount the hedgerows and greenbelts. While an urban river may not look like a remote wilderness it can provide habitat to diverse populations of plants and animals.

Marris also disputes the idea that 'Untouched Nature' or 'Pristine Wilderness' exists anywhere on earth. Humans have modified the landscape for millennia by clearing, farming, ranching and hunting. Between the historic and pre-historic changes humans have made to the planet and the pervasive influence of rising atmospheric CO2 levels there is effectively no place on Earth that is unchanged by man.

If we accept Marris' argument that nature is all around us, not just in the far-off wilderness and that humanity has already modified the entire planet that opens up several interesting possibilities. Rambunctious Garden takes on Rewilding, Assisted Migration, Learning to Love Exotic Species and both Novel and Designer Ecosystems.

While I have many questions about rewilding (e.g. introducing lions to the Great Plains), especially considering the difficulties in reintroducing wolves in the Western U.S., it is an exciting idea. Assisted Migration is an interesting strategy for dealing with climate change that may already be widespread as gardeners chose plants that are adapted for warmer days and nights.

I greatly enjoyed Rambunctious Garden and have been re-examining my attitudes about nature and wilderness. I am very intrigued by the possibilities Marris presents in her Assisted Migration and Designer Ecosystem chapters. To paraphrase Stewart Brand 'We are gardeners and HAVE to get good at it'. We have ALREADY changed the 'natural world', but we have done it accidentally and haphazardly. Now is a great time to start 'gardening' in a more thoughtful and deliberate way.

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Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris

The mirage of pristine wilderness

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." - Henry David Thoreau, Walking