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Scarlett Fortin

Professor Brady
Environmental Ethics
September 5, 2015

Wilderness and the American Mind

In this weeks reading of Wilderness and the American Mind, depicts the evolved thought
of what wilderness is to man, through the basis of mythology/folklore, religion, and world
interpretation. In the beginning of chapter one, Old World Roots of Opinion, discusses the early
folk idea that wilderness associates with the supernatural or other beings. Many early Europeans
believed that these supernatural beings were either: gods/goddesses, demons, creatures of
darkness, or mythical creatures that inhabited these wilds. Creatures like the infamous medieval
European, Wild Man, represented the frightening relationship man may have with wilderness if
delved too deeply. Wild Man is an abysmal being, and perfect example of what wilderness
could potentially manifest within man. This mentality inhibited fear, and discouraged from
exploring places such as forests, woodsand associated wildlife aschaotic, unseemly, or
uncivilized.
These mythological/folklore aspects, tie in with the religious views on wilderness. For
example, Christianity, in the old testament interpreted wilderness as something to be dealt with.
Since Adam and Eve fell into temptation, thus banished from the Eden, wilderness was now
something they must overcome. In other words, Wilderness represented the Christian concept of

the situation man faced on earth (Nash 17). However, in the New Testament, civilization in
urban areas represent sin and adultery; Sodom and Gomorrah. Therefore, when the prophet
Moses decided to flee the corruption within the city, it was because the wild produced more
comfort and connection with God; thus, proving that, Christianity also retained the idea that
wild country could be a place of refuge and religious purity (Nash 18).
Although the majority of Christianity interpreted wilderness with negative connotations
East-Asian religions interpreted it in a different light. For instance, monks valued wilderness
as an escape from society. Monks understood wilderness as the place in which they hoped to
ignite the flame that would eventually transform all wilderness into a godly paradise ( Nash 18).
This could also be said for most East-Asian religions such as Buddhism or Jainism, that man is a
part of nature. As for other religions such as Shintoism and Taoism (Shinto the first religion to
form in Japan, and Taoism formed in China), the divine would be found in nature; Shinto and
Taoism fostered love of wilderness rather than hatred (Nash 21). In which, I find, Buddhism and
East-Asian religions incredibly interesting and enlightening. As for the American mind, nature
instilled this unpleasantness or fear that wilderness, Hid savage men, wild beasts, and still
stranger creatures of the imagination (Nash 25), portraying the idea: If society were to reconnect
or succumb to the wilderness, they would abandon their civilized life, and return to the
inexplicable wild.
For far too long, wilderness is thought as something too unpredictable; unhinged.
Although, as seen in the second chapter, pioneers were heroes, because they would build upon

the wilderness to create civilizationto expand upon it. My interpretation follows as: it was
either them or nature, the pioneers v.s. wilderness, law & order v.s. chaos. From this reading, I
view wilderness as both terrifying and enlightening, as of this moment.
However, as I advance with my knowledge of beauty, within the things that are unknown
to me when it comes to nature, or the things I simply just do not know or understand The way
I think, process, feel, and interpret wilderness, is something I will have to expand upon as I
explore more in-depth the ethics and philosophy of what it is to be involved with the
environment.