I recently had the opportunity to work as a wilderness guide on The Wildfjords Trail in North-West Iceland. This 200km walk snakes its way through a fjordland wilderness largely devoid of human interference. It's a magic place, oppressive at times to the point of being hostile; deep-lying snow in steep chutes and swift, radical weather. There's no denying it as a place of contact with what is traditionally considered 'wild.' Yet increasingly, I believe that immersion in the 'wild' has little to do with the physical act of going into wilderness. To my mind, the future depends heavily on changing our perceptions of the wild and ourselves in relation to the wild.
I consider my relationship with nature as a long and unfolding conversation, like learning a language that I can never master. And this conversation is never dull. Like most discourses, it only improves with time and age, to reach a point where a constant connection evolves and grows, with almost daily realisations. I feel like I will never stop learning, like even if I dedicate my life to its study, I will still really know nothing. Whilst I appreciate that all people might not find such wonder in the natural world, I also see signs emerging everywhere here in London that indicate a huge awakening to its importance, not amongst what we traditionally consider as environmentalists, but in wider culture.
Cities often feel to me like the ultimate expression of man's dominion over nature. Everywhere, the desires and demands of humans are placed above everything else. Yet urban streets are points of confrontation amongst which nature is always breathing. The wild is a state of change, it is no more fixed or permanent than our individual lives - it rises and falls and constantly morphs. One of my favourite ideas is of the seed bank beneath city streets, a shadow forest waiting to emerge into the light one day. I like the brinks at which nature has been allowed to regain composure, always with unexpected voracity. It is in these tendrils, shoots and creepers that I see potential not for nature to reclaim a city, but for its inhabitants to remember the truth of what they are.
To me, this realisation is the greatest unveiling of society's myths. It renders the vast majority of our cultural stories meaningless. It is a grounding identity with long, gnarled roots stretching back into a time when our current genes developed, a time when they were appropriate. Surely, the luxury of our comfort should give us the chance to reflect on what we are and where we are going? We have drifted so far from reality, to a point whereby meaningless nonsense is used to express the innate yearning that we all feel, and is believed to the point of fanaticism. Recognition of the wild inside us, its application to the modern era and equally the aspects of it that should be discarded forever, forms a research topic that will span my lifetime. I would be greatly interested in hearing what the wild means to you, inside and out, and whether you feel that your exposure to nature has changed you and in what way.
*The Wildfjords Trail recently made the short list of 20 organisations from a total 90 applicants to unlock significant funding from the European Outdoor Conservation Association. The Wildfjords Restoration Project is a collaborative venture to help restore and protect the ecology of the West Fjords. We have a holistic perspective on ecology to include humanity and its systems, so our activities attempt to generate ecological awareness in people whilst feeding that awareness back into conservation and restoration work. Before 6th October, Wildfjords is running a competition to offer two people places on the trail in return for a vote. To learn more, please see Wildfjords Restoration.