Essential Wilderness

I can’t help but wonder – did we get it right? Was it essential that double supreme with thin and crispy crust made it to that fellas house on time? And was it a health risk that I take students out into the wilderness? 

In a year where things very quickly became categorized into non-essential and essential – be it services, workers or reasons to leave home, I found it challenging to regularly find myself in the non-essential category. As I tried to disentangle my self-worth and identity from the ways in which I had previously contributed to the world, this title added an extra layer of heaviness. 

As an Outdoor Education teacher, I had held some confidence that being a knowledge sharer/keeper for the future generations would carry some worth moving forwards, but here I lay dormant while the pizza delivery man gleamed in appreciation of ‘pizza’ being filed above the essential service line. Weeks of my work got cancelled because I lived 15mins south of the Qld border, while my neighbour left each day to cross to install NBN…Internet connection had replaced real-life authentic connection in the priority list, and I felt disorientated! 

Yes I know, it was a strange year, and in no way would I have wanted the responsibility to decide how we responded and what should and could be allowed, particularly when the consequences without all the restrictions, could have resulted in more widespread suffering. But I can’t help but wonder – did we get it right? Was it essential that boats, new cars and caravans were trucked up and down the east coast between depos? Was it essential that double supreme with thin and crispy crust made it to that fellas house on time? And why wasn’t it essential that I take students out into the wilderness? 

Talk of indoor density capacities and air recirculation requirements were unnecessary in my line of work – we have endless space for social distancing and consistent access to fresh air. The seats in our canoes are almost exactly 1.5metres apart!

While my title defines me as a teacher, I think of myself more as a link to the wonderful work the wilderness has to offer. I am the border pass to self-discovery, the exemption to a new way of being. We immerse young people into simple nomadic communities, peeling back the layers of social media distractions and internal despair to discover the authentic humans that lie beneath. While I am the one helping your child put up their tent when it’s bucketing down rain, warming my hands beside them on the bowl of freshly burnt porridge in the morning, we laugh together, we sweat up hills alongside each other, I’ll pull a tick out of their eyelid at 3am….but nature lays all the groundwork. Yet somehow we are both considered unessential? It felt like a kick in the guts, not just mine, but those of the young people (who may tell you they hate this), but I know deep down for many of them, this is when they get to experience their souls shining. We’re putting a black box in tassie to collect knowledge as the world as we know it sinks, yet we can’t even prioritise connecting our young people to the world’s life force; the provider of all nutrients and nourishment for all – nature. 

I’m coming to terms with not being essential, but I can’t stop feeling frustrated that the wilderness is too. How did we lose touch with the most essential of all? When did nature become non-essential? The old proverb says, only once we have cut down the last tree, will we remember, we cannot eat money. What about remembering how we breathe? Who turns CO2 into Oxygen? Who shades us from the sun, who’s transpiration stimulates rain? Where does the wood for the fire to cook our food/ warm our toes/ build our houses come from? It’s one thing to be told of these things, it’s another to experience it viscerally.

Sometimes I wonder what our society would be like if in lockdown, instead of spending 1 hour outside each day, we spent only one hour inside? It’d be pretty hard in these storms of late! But maybe we’d wake up to the ways the world is shifting, calling out for our attention? Maybe we would finally realise that we need to reestablish a respectful relationship with the natural world? That the only way forwards is backwards or sideways, that instead of talking and planning we need to be listening and healing. But what would I know? I’m non-essential.

Yes it probably feels contradictory, me writing this on a blog, but I tried shouting it from the tree tops and no one could hear me over their online music streaming platforms…that and the black cockatoos celebrating the rain.