Yesterday I celebrated Memorial Day by sitting in a five-hour traffic jam on I-93 between Manchester and Concord, NH. I was coming back from a graduation at a high school in Wolfeboro, as far as I could tell everyone else was driving to Lake Winnipesauke to eat soft ice cream at a drive-in, take the kids to a water park, or maybe just enjoy being inside their car instead of sitting in their backyard.
The more our society becomes urbanized and suburbanized, the more we all want to find a way to get back to the rustic delights of the out-of-doors and nature, even if we can only do it when everyone else is trying to do it too. But as I was sitting on the highway, I kept thinking of what Jane Goodall once said, “I don’t give two hoots about civilization. I want to wander in the wild.” But how do you wander in the wild when you can’t find any wildness anywhere around?
I’ll tell you how to do it. Download this national map from the U.S. Census and you’ll discover that wilderness may be closer than you know. Because we have always defined wilderness as any place with less than 2 permanent residents per square mile, and this map shows that there are still plenty of such areas within easy driving distance of just about everyone in the Lower 48. Here’s a couple of examples from wilderness zones thgat I know:
New York: Franklin County – The population density is 31 per square mile, but that’s only because you’re in the Lake Saranac region where tourism abounds. But drive along State Route 30, look for Travers Road about three miles south of the town of Malone and drive east about 500 feet. The road crosses a small creek – park your car there and walk alongside the stream. As soon as you can no longer see the road you’re all alone. As you walk along the bank of the stream, the larger prints are moose.
Virginia: Highland County – Take I-81 through Shenandoah, get off in Winchester and go west on U.S. Highway 50, go left on Route 614 and now you’re in what is called Shawnee Land. Which is a big trailer park with a street actually called Geronimo Lane. But if you drive past that mess and then make a right turn on Route 612, follow the power lines for about half a mile and you’re completely in a wilderness zone.
Georgia: Echols County – In the olden days before they built all those interstates, one of the main routes down to Florida was U.S. Highway 441. You can still take it all the way through the middle of Georgia (it runs between Miami and Tennessee) but figure you want to stop just before you hit the Florida line, just out of Fargo, and walk along the banks of the ol’ Suwanee. Some places you’ll find a few folks, many places you won’t.
So here are three spots that are within a day’s drive of the 112 million people who live on the East Coast. And I could easily extend this list to every part of the Lower 48. The point is that wilderness still exists all around us and a wilderness adventure doesn’t have to be a big deal. The only thing you need to take with you is a little water if it’s a warm day and some sunscreen even if you’re going into the woods.
And the one thing you don’t need to take along in order to enjoy your walk is a gun. Because a gun is heavy, it’s a pain in the neck, and you don’t need to protect yourself or anyone else from the animals or the people you might meet along the way. And that would be just as true if you were walking down a city street except the only animals you’d probably see in New York or Boston are a few dogs or a stray cat.
Take a walk this weekend and think about what Jane Goodall said.