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Wild musings from Harris Center

  • Jen Newcombe Harris Center Volunteer Holding Spotted Salamander Photo by Cheryl Martin—

  • Trail Cam shot of bobcat: photo from Eric Aldrich's Hancock Wildlife Cam Photo by Eric Aldrich—

  • Aerial view of Harris Center protected lands from Nubanusit to Spoonwood Photo by Eric Aldrich—

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/9/2020 11:39:03 AM

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I’ve loved that last line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” for a long time, but it only recently hit me that it’s the word “wild” that resonates with me so strongly. Life is indeed precious, but wild? Not wild in the adolescent, party sense of the word, but wild in the Thoreau sense of the word. Thoreau advocated walking at least four hours a day in order to be fully awake to one’s senses, to our own wild nature. This connection to the wild has the capacity to stir and enliven our own inherent animal nature to the core. “The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him.” [from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking.”] I work at the Harris Center for Conservation Education and just finished one of its online Environmental Studies Institute courses. In it, we explored Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature.” Course instructor Matthew Myer Boulton adeptly took us through these readings and subsequent discussions, which made me lament the fact that so many people are confined to urban apartments, especially now with the coronavirus, where there is little chance for a brush with the “wild,” let alone communion with it. Many people may not even realize their loss from this disconnection. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a forest filled with all types of birds and their songs, visited by deer, fox, and even the occasional bear. At night I see the stars and hear the sweet sound of silence.

But even with all that, I do not have an experience of the truly wild. My nine-to-five job is mostly spent in front of a computer, even though I work for a nature center. Such is modern life. Our society is set up in a way that requires the bulk of one’s hours to be spent at work earning a living, and in this modern world, we’ve largely “freed” ourselves from working close to the land in exchange for working in an office.

I fantasize that maybe a new model is possible, where people have enough time in their lives to connect with nature in a deeper way throughout the week — or at all, for starters. And that would lead to a love relationship, where the majority of people would care enough about nature to protect it. This bond would make people value nature and what is wild enough to figure out how to create living and working spaces that wouldn’t obliterate our natural world (and ultimately ourselves) in the process.

The Harris Center is celebrating its 50 th Anniversary this year. Fifty years of bringing school children outside to educate them about the environment and connect them to nature. Decades of protecting land, bringing 24,000 acres under protection to create a SuperSancutary, where animals – especially large ones—have room to roam. Community programs, mostly free, offered throughout each year on a variety of subjects that touch hearts and minds and bring us closer to the natural world. Conservation research that expands a scientific body of knowledge and provides learning opportunities for college interns and citizen scientists of all ages.

This is good work. I think Thoreau would be pleased. Emerson, too, who writes in his “Nature” essay, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” I think it’s miraculous that a relatively small nonprofit organization in the backwoods of New Hampshire has done so much, so consistently – and persistently – for 50 years. It’s only because of hundreds of dedicated and generous people in the community who care, or grew to care, about the living, breathing world around them and made it all possible.

If we care for the wild in the larger world, maybe we won’t lose touch with that essential part of our own selves. Perhaps we can collectively reconnect with that profound sense of what is wild, and in doing so, find our way home again.

We each have one life. Wild, precious, miraculous.




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