25 Things I Will Not Say About Wilderness

  I will not say that wilderness is a tonic, balm, or medicine for the troubled soul; that most everyone has a troubled soul in need of moss’s healing touch and birdsong’s rejuvenating cheeriness; that this common soul-ache is just a little human-sized sliver of despair situated within the broader soul of the natural world; that I have walked for weeks among meadows and outcrops and waterfalls, blisters on my toes, a grin spreading from ear to ear and beyond.
  I will not say that trees speak; that their leafy words have offered me solace in moments of pain and their branchy words pointed me in the right direction when I was lost; that at the Grand Canyon, telling a friend how much I appreciated pinyon pines, the realization hit me that a nearby pinyon pine was listening; that I once curled myself beneath an ancient bristlecone, closed my eyes, opened them again, and was granted by the tree a waking dream in which I saw something akin to the face of the divine, a face that looked like bark.
  I will not say that lying on your back at dusk beside a tarn where frogs chorus to the rising moon is a definite “must”; that if you choose to recline in such a locale, the moon will carry your thoughts into the sky until those thoughts are no longer yours; that the frogs, unperturbed, will go on chorusing their froggy chorus; that eventually the moon will set, carrying the former you with it into darkness.
  I will not say that time is a polished pebble easily lifted, considered, and dropped into the stream by the edge of the trail to sit for all eternity under clear flowing water; that this stream is itself a pebble some older being previously lifted, considered, and dropped; that pebbles and streams, when taken together, are, as the saying goes, like “turtles all the way down”; that if one’s not careful preparing dinner at the campsite, a pebble can find its way into the soup whose broth is water from the stream.
  I will not say that the Stanislaus National Forest, on the Sierra Nevada’s western slope, is in fact owned only by itself and beholden only to itself; that the more we try to claim places rather than hum with places, whether the Everglades or an anonymous patch of dirt and weeds in Kansas, the more we lose a thing gladly and freely given; that the loss of a thing gladly and freely given forebodes a parallel loss in the collective body of humanity; that the more we lose gladness and freeness the more we reach and grasp and claim and, well, suck.
  I will not say that Peter Matthiessen was right when he wrote, “The longing that starts one on the path is a kind of homesickness”; that eleventh-century Chinese landscape painter Kuo Hsi was correct when he said, “The din of the dusty world and the locked-in-ness of human habitations are what human nature habitually abhors”; that desert rambler Ellen Meloy nailed the nail squarely on its head when she forged her voice into a hammer and professed, “There are people who have no engaged conversation with the land whatsoever, no sense of its beauty or extremes”; that the aforementioned succeeded in coming anywhere close to the eloquence that is rain on palms, a coyote’s eyes looking up from the kill, the calcium in a snail’s shell, dry wind across stiff brown grass, et cetera.
  Wrapping up, I will not say that I trust human phrases, inky scratches, the tongue’s ribbony cursive scribbles, or anything remotely of their ilk to accurately express the many truths that I know with certainty in my mute heart, in my inarticulate bones, to be utterly, awesomely, incontrovertibly, truthfully true.



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Leath Tonino is the author of The Animal One Thousand Miles Long, a collection of essays about adventures in the Northeast. A second collection, The West Will Swallow You, will be released this fall.


  1. These 25 things Leath Tonino will not say about wilderness were enough said to spur my subscription renewal.
    Thank you for the beautiful and delightful reminder.

  2. One thing I will not say about wilderness is that it exists. Bill Mason (artist and filmmaker) once said that when the first European explorers came to North America they called it the largest untouched wilderness they had ever seen. As Bill said, that has to be the best compliment anyone has ever given to the Native people, who had been living here for millenia. No Native language has a word for wilderness. There is simply ‘home’.

    Another thing I will not say about wilderness is that it will help you to write. Although it may help you to find yourself. Like this: https://www.wolfnowl.com/stories/mikes-stories/the-river/


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