My experience at the 9th World Wilderness Congress started with a red-eye flight that got me to Merida, Mexico just in time to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak about why she left her field work in Tanzania to guide and promote the “Roots and Shoots” program. Part of what inspired her was the curiosity and creativity of children, which is one of the four reasons for hope that she outlined in her speech (Reason for Hope is the title of her new book, BTW). Particularly as an economist who operates from the assumption that people generally act in their shorter-term self-interest as opposed to in the interest of the “earth and the community of life,” the reminder that we can and often do rise above and look to the future was a great shot in the arm.
Mid-week, I was passing a gallery of photos celebrating wilderness visionaries past and heroes present, and found Valentina Arerro and her daughter reading about Howard Zahniser, The Wilderness Society's Executive Secretary and principal author of the 1964 Wilderness Act. After asking if I could take their picture they asked about the Wilderness Act mentioned in the display’s text, and I got to share some more of what I know of Zahniser’s story and what the Act has done for wilderness conservation in the United States. It gives me hope that so many people know, really know, that we and the rest of community of life need “untrammeled” places.
Finally in what were literally my last minutes at Wild9 before dashing for my flights home, I got to hear Pinky Khondlho of Wilderness Foundation, South Africa speak about her Umzi Wethu project. Umzi Wethu provides wilderness experience, training, and placement in wildland management and ecotourism jobs for young people orphaned by AIDS. For anyone who has found healing and hope in wilderness, the sense and beauty of Ms. Khondlho’s project is immediately and powerfully apparent.
In his “wilderness letter” author Wallace Stegner wrote that wilderness is part of the “geography of hope” that reassures us of our sanity as creatures. Wild9 has reassured me that the geography of hope extends way beyond our wilderness areas in the United States.
photo: Valentina Arerro and daughter at Wild9. Photo by Spencer Phillips.