Aborigines in Australia have a word, da dirri, which I think means a sort of deep contemplation, perhaps even a form of meditation. I find myself in dadirri whenever I am no-pim-ming, which is Ojibwa for “in the woods.”
Late this spring I developed atrial fibrilation — an irregular heartbeat, and of course it came out of nowhere, with no warning signs on previous ecgs or any cholesterol problems. Not exactly a terminal condition. More a matter of just something more to manage, but now I’m on another heart med and rat poison to thin my blood. The cardiologist may be able to shock the heart back into normal rhythym, but we shall see. I walked every day from November 1 to May 1 in all our crappy weathers and the only symptom of A-fib was feeling a little tired at the end of each trek. I’m still walking, sometimes twice a day and will continue to do so.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day with 185 sixth graders from Portage North Middle School — my job to help them understand fish habitat (food, oxygen, cover, etc) and to be able then to convert that into art. It was fun and tiring, but the kids were terrific and proud that they had taken a pile of DNR-supplied king salmon eggs last fall and raised over 50 percent to minnowhood for release.
Somehow the A-fib and the kids got me thinking about wilderness. The logic of A to B to C in this logistic course is not at all clear in my own mind, only that A and B somehow got me to thinking about C. Probably my mom’s recent passing is in the formula here too.
Wilderness is a remarkably difficult term to define and varies perhaps from culture to culture and even among individials in those cultures. There is debate among philosphers about whether wilderness exists, some philosophers posit it’s a theoretical human construct rather than a real place or condition, and therefore is undefinable.
Someone asks the question: if you are deposted naked into a place do you feel threatened, fearful of survival? If the answer is yes, then this is wilderness. But if it seems no big deal to you, is it still a wilderness?
I’ve yet to fish this spring. Instead I’ve spent all of my time preparing to fish in the Porkies and to visit Magner Mater, which means assembling USGS quad maps, marking trails, identifying likely areas to explore, likely habitat and elevations, etc., trying to develop hatch charts from extant materials, checking out the 35 mm and digital cameras, hiking gear, fly lines, fly supplies, putting aside supplies, all of the stuff you need to do before you take the first step out of the truck. The fact that I have even maps certainly holds the potential for diminishing the area as wilderness — which for me probably translates to unknown as much as anything else. But in realityi having a map doesn’t diminish anything, because as we all know, the reality of where our boots land will be much different than what we think we see on a map. For Longlegs and me the Porkies will be a time of exploration, a time to let imaginations loose for brook trout and for future books, for poems that flow out of the waters, and paintings that assert themselves.
The word wilderness stems from the Old English and translates roughly to “where the wild beasts live” — meaning a place humans don’t control, and which can confuse, challenge, petrify or terrify. In the Middle Ages wilderness was a place where the devil dwelt in the form of dragons and monsters.
In Roman times the contrast was between urbs and rus, towns and country.
And from the Bible, wilderness seems to be something created for man to find a way to conquer, overcome, civilize and crush for his own use. [Uh..and we see where that’s gotten us…?]
For some nowadays wilderness is sometimes defined as a yuppy or millenial sandbox a place accessible only to those with money.
You can define it your own way.
I like the Ojibwa word, no-pim-ming, “in the woods” to cover what interests me. I’ll feel comfortable in the Porkies, will be able to explore to my heart’s content and there will be brook trout waiting to be found, both inside the park and just outside its boundaries.
The real question for me is this: does recreating such places and experiences there in word and picture encourage more boots on the ground in such places and if so, is that then a good thing or a bad thing?
No answer to this question and I don’t plan to dwell on it because in a month or so I be no-pim-ming.
I have an almost perfect mindset for such places: No expectations. No matter the weather or conditions, every moment and every day will be an adventure and as this A-fib thing has reminded me, there ain’t gonna be an endless sequence of such adventures.