Ed Abbey said that “ … we cannot have freedom without wilderness; we cannot have freedom without leagues of open space beyond the cities, where boys and girls, men and women, can live at least part of their lives under no control but their own desires and abilities, free from any and all direct administration by their fellow men.” We are so fortunate to live where we do, nestled deep in the heart of America’s wilderness. Even when we are surrounded by the crowds of the summer concerts, parades and festivals, we are really always only minutes away from true wilderness and the complete freedom it brings.
Be steadfastly dedicated to our land
If you haven’t read Ed Abbey, let’s just say that he’s slightly off color at times and politically incorrect to downright rude the rest of the time. So what could possibly endear one to such an extremist and self-proclaimed desert anarchist? Above all else, Abbey was steadfastly dedicated to the land, our public land, especially the rocky high deserts of the American southwest. Mostly famous from his time as a park ranger in the early days of Arches National Park (before the road was paved), Abbey staunchly proclaimed the land’s right to be wild and free above all else.
Abbey’s writings have always held a special place in my heart. There’s something about his unique combination of love and hate, like the blend of sweet and savory in a chocolate-covered pretzel. His adoration for the land and for anything wild and free is always at the forefront of his stories, paralleled closely by his extreme contempt for anything that desecrates the land’s sacredness. It was this irreverence that drew me to him in my youth, and remembering the dusty old cassette tapes with the title “Freedom and Wilderness” has felt rejuvenating, as I remember Abbey’s distant monochromatic voice recounting his love affair with the American Southwest.
I tried to explain freedom to my kids recently. They had caught a small black caterpillar, dubbed Fuzzy Wuzzy by a vote of their summer camp friends and steadfastly refused to set it free. I tried to reason with them, asking if they would be happy living in a box? They reasoned back, explaining that Fuzzy Wuzzy had everything he needed in the box — cabbage leaves to eat, sticks to crawl on, and water to drink. “What about his friends?” I said. “Don’t you think he’s lonely?” But my son’s eyes welled up and he said that he loved Fuzzy Wuzzy and Fuzzy Wuzzy loved him. It’s so hard to explain, but it’s not enough to have everything we need. We also need to be free; free to make our own choices and to suffer the consequences from those choices! (That’s Abbey’s influence right there.)
I didn’t consciously think about Abbey as I continued to argue for Fuzzy Wuzzy’s release, but I think that his influence was clear. I looked my son in the eye and said, “If you keep him, Fuzzy Wuzzy will die.” After a few more negotiations, we agreed to house him overnight and release the poor caterpillar in the morning. I know that Abbey would be happy to know that the caterpillar, although a little sluggish, crawled away under his own power. I like to think that Fuzzy Wuzzy is now flying free as a beautiful butterfly, flitting from flower to flower as he chooses. Maybe he’s being watched from above, by Abbey, who always dreamed of being reincarnated as a turkey vulture, soaring through the sky and eating lazy meals of leftover carrion.
The freedom that we celebrate today is the result of so many factions coming together. The people who protected our country and the ideals that made it what it is today have given us a great gift, this beautiful country of ours. As we celebrate today, don’t forget the freedom that comes from having wilderness at your fingertips. Enjoy the wilderness and your freedom today and every day. Don’t ever forget the power of wilderness to make you feel alive, wild and free.
Jaymee Squires is the director of graduate programs at Walking Mountains Science Center. Jaymee is celebrating freedom with a little free time with family and friends, and she hopes you are doing the same!