Wilderness Wisdom

“… all things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man … the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.”

-Chief Seattle, Duwamish

“Wilderness areas are first of all a series of sanctuaries for the primitive arts of wilderness travel, especially canoeing and packing.”

-Aldo Leopold

“For me, and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.”

-Bob Marshall

“Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road.”

-Bob Marshall

“The richest value of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone, nor even in the present but rather in the future.” “The good life on any river may…depend on the perception of its music, and the preservation of some music to perceive.”

-Aldo Leopold

“…perhaps our grandsons, having never seen a wild river, will never miss the chance to set a canoe in singing waters…glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.”

-Aldo Leopold

“Conservation is the foresighted utilization, preservation and/or renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”

-Gifford Pinchot

“For the Lord, our God, is bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys…”

“Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!”

-Deuteronomy 8:7

“The swift metamorphosis and the onward march of civilization, sweeping ever westward and transforming and taming our wilderness, fills us with a strange regret, and we rejoice that parts of that wilderness will yet remain to us unchanged.”

-William S. Brackett

(Upon signing of the Wilderness Act, 1964) “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

-President Lyndon B. Johnson

“Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children?”

“Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is!”

-Black Elk

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

-John Muir

“Friend at home! I charge you to spare, preserve and cherish some portion of your primitive forests; for when these are cut away, I apprehend they will not easily be replaced.”

-Horace Greeley

“I care to live, only to entice people to look at nature’s liveliness.”

-John Muir

“Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose we came from the woods originally.”

-John Muir

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

-John Muir

“In God’s wilderness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware.”

-John Muir

“…the most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive, characteristic of American scenery is its wildness.”

“You know that I have not lagged behind in the work of exploring our grand wilderness, and in calling everybody to come and enjoy the thousand blessings they have to offer.”

-John Muir

“None know how often the hand of God is seen in a wilderness but them that rove it for a man’s life.”

-Thomas Cole

“And how should a man who has lived in towns and schools know anything about the wonders of the woods?”

-James Fennimore Cooper

“Into the woods we return to reason and faith.”

“Whoso walketh in solitude,
And inhabiteth the wood,
Choosing light, wave, rock, and bird,
Before the money-loving herd,
Into that forester shall pass,
From these companions, power and grace.”

“…in the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in the streets or villages…in the woods we return to reason and faith.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“How great are the advantages of solitude! How sublime is the silence of nature’s ever-active energies! There is something in the very name of wilderness which charms the ear, and soothes the spirit of man. There is religion in it.”

“When ever the light of civilization faces upon you with a blighting power…go to the wilderness…Dull business routine, the fierce passions of the marketplace, the perils of envious cities became but a memory…The wilderness will take hold of you. It will give you good red blood; it will turn you from a weakling into a man…You will soon behold all with a peaceful soul.”

-Estwick Evans

“I would not have…every part of a man cultivated, any more than I would have every acre of earth.”

“ Our lives…need the relief of where the pine flourishes and the jay still screams.”

“All good things are wild and free.”

“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

-Henry David Thoreau

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. . . . Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

– Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

“Hope is nature’s veil for hiding truth’s nakedness.”

– Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896)

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions;
it is easy in solitude to live after your own;
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Without enough wilderness America will change. Democracy, with its myriad personalities and increasing sophistication, must be fibred and vitalized by the regular contact with outdoor growths — animals, trees, sun warmth, and free skies — or it will dwindle and pale.”

–Walt Whitman

The Heron

The tree leans,
Its branches caress the stream
To collect the water as ice
Crystallizing in the sun
Waiting to chime in the wind
To call back the heron
Who’s only trace is at water’s edge
Prints ending
With the brush of a wing on the snow

–Leslie Holly

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

–John Muir

“Society speaks and all men listen, mountains speak and wise men listen.”

–John Muir

Mountain Air

Up to the Mountains to breathe the fresh air
Feeling the breeze blow through my hair
Smelling the crispness and enjoying it so
Watching the pines swing to and fro
Feeling the leaves crunch under my feet
Oh how the mountains make life so sweet

Loving the sights my eyes behold
Having a feeling deep in the soul
This is where I belong on top of this hill
The feeling of life becomes oh so real
Awakening my senses and opening wide
A true inner feeling of being alive!

–©Author Unknown

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.”

–John Muir

“What is man without the beasts?
If all the beasts were gone,
Man would die from a great loneliness of spirit.
For whatever happens to the beasts,
Soon happens to man.
All things are connected.”

–Chief Seattle

Walk Softly

Earth receives
Foot and paw,
Hoof and claw
With equal grace.
It is the way of
The wild,
Not to overstep
The bounds of hospitality.
This is a wild place.
Follow me
And leave no trace,
That wind, rain and snow
Cannot erase.

–©M. L. Johnson, 1996

“I . . . am always glad to touch the living rock again and dip my hand in the high mountain air.”

–John Muir

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

–John Muir

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

–Henry David Thoreau

“Men go back to the mountains, as they go back to sailing ships at sea, because in the mountains and on the sea they must face up, as did men of another age, to the challenge of nature. Modern man lives in a highly synthetic kind of existence. He specializes in this and that. Rarely does he test all his powers or find himself whole. But in the hills and on the water the character of a man comes out.”

–Abram T. Collier

“The mountains can be reached in all seasons. They offer a fighting challenge to heart, soul and mind, both in summer and winter. If throughout time the youth of the nation accept the challenge the mountains offer, they will keep alive in our people the spirit of adventure. That spirit is a measure of the vitality of both nations and men. A people who climb the ridges and sleep under the stars in high mountain meadows, who enter the forest and scale peaks, who explore glaciers and walk ridges buried deep in snow — these people will give their country some of the indomitable spirit of the mountains.”

–William O. Douglass

“Live each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit puts the goal in mind. Many beautiful scenes can be observed from each new vantage point. Climb steadily, slowly, enjoy each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax to the journey.”

–Joe Porcino

“To the dull mind nature is leaden.
To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields, and,
until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

–Irish Blessing

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

–T. S. Elliot

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold…

Proverbs 2:13-14

Many years ago, I climbed the mountains, even though it is forbidden. Things are not as they teach us; the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.

— Quote from Star Trek episode

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place?
Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

— Rene Daumal

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing,
but in rising up every time we fail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
we borrow it from our children.”

–Haida Indian Saying

“When all the dangerous cliffs are fenced off, all the trees that might fall on people are cut down,all of the insects that bite are poisoned… and all of the grizzlies are dead because they are occasionally dangerous, the wilderness will not be made safe. Rather, the safety will have destroyed the wilderness.”

–R. Yorke Edwards (Canadian environmentalist)

“Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presences of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it. They know that when a bear dies, something sacred in every living thing interconnected with that realm… also dies.”

–John Murray

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you like sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

–John Muir

“The greatest wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, from a conversation with John Muir

“Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

–Walt Whitman

“Once in a while you find a place on earth that becomes your very own. A place undefined. Waiting for you to bring your color, your self. A place untouched, unspoiled, undeveloped. Raw, honest, and haunting. No one, nothing is telling you how to feel or who to be. Let the mountains have you for a day…”


“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

–John Muir

“These beautiful days must enrich all my life. They do not exist as mere pictures — maps hung upon the walls of memory . . . but they saturate themselves into every part of my body and live always.”

–John Muir

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry that I couldn’t travel both
And be one traveler I stood
And looked as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other one just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as far as the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step and trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a woods, and I
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.”

–Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

“The earth does not belong to man….
man belongs to the earth.”

–Chief Seattle

“Then here’s a hail to each flaming dawn
And here’s a cheer to the night that’s gone
And may I go a roaming on
— until the day I die”

–On a grave marker in the Adirondacks

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”

–Steve McQueen

“For afterwards a man finds pleasure in his pains, when he has suffered long and wandered long. So I will tell you what you ask and seek to know.”

–Homer, The Odyssey

“Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open roads
Healthy and free, the world before me.
The long brown path before me leading
wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good fortune,
I myself am good fortune.
Henceforth I whimper no more,
Postpone no more, need clothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries,
querulous criticisms.
Strong and content I travel the open road.”

–Walt Whitman, from: Leaves of Grass

“All that glitters is not gold. All who wander are not lost.”

–William Shakespeare

“If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies’ territory, we must accept that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers.”

–Edward Abbey

“It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs, looking up at stars, and we didn’t even feel like talking aloud.”

–Mark Train, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

–Henry David Thoreau

“In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson