Dictionaries typically go wild about the meaning of the word "wild." Rather than one, two, or three definitions, dictionaries provide a dozen or more explanations for the word wild. Take dictionary.com. Among its 18 definitions "wild" is said to stand for:
1. living in a state of nature; not tamed or domesticated;
2. growing or produced without cultivation or the care of humans;
3. uncultivated, uninhabited, or waste;
4. uncivilized or barbarous;
10. unrestrained, untrammeled, or unbridled;
13. amazing or incredible;
14. disorderly or disheveled.
Most people seeking a wild experience nowadays head out for remote natural landscapes far from the city and inhabited areas. Therefore, collectively, we have popular movies like Into the Wild, A Walk in the Woods, and Wild, as well as best-selling books like... well, Into the Wild, A Walk in the Woods, and Wild. These are actually pretty entertaining books and movies, truth be told. But hardly any one, it seems, wonders what wild actually means and precisely where... er... the wild things are.
"The nature of wild" will consist of 5 years of travel around the world in search of wild places. It might turn out to be impossible to actually find a place that is truly wild--and no one can know that at this point (and, really, that is the beauty of any quest, isn't it?). But what this project will reveal, hopefully, is a richer understanding of how wildness is done, how it is made, how it takes place. This may sound counter-intuitive; wildness after all isn't something that is "made," according to dictionaries. Well, there are reasons to be skeptical about that.
Understanding the nature of wild will mean striving to comprehend how wild places come to life, how they are recognized, how they are protected, conserved, experienced, travelled, enjoyed, felt, practiced... and so on. All these practices are part and parcel of how some natural spaces exist as "wild." Though we we should all be skeptical that a place that is truly wild (as defined by dictionaries, and as imagined by many people) does exist anywhere in the world, we should not be cynical. We should hope for the best for the present and future of wild places and strive to keep them alive. "In wildness is the preservation of the world," Thoreau once said.
Wildness may be anywhere. This is a great thing, but it is also an obstacle for any research design. If wildness could be anywhere, then it is nowhere in particular. So, where does one go, exactly, to look for it? The easiest thing might just be to let someone else do the deciding. UNESCO has a very influential list of such sites, the World Heritage natural sites. To be included in that list sites must be of "outstanding universal value," as specified by a set of precise criteria.
And so the task was set: over the next 5 years this project will unfold in all the continents where these sites are. It will entail experiencing as many of these places as possible, talking with many people as time permits, and learning about the nature, and culture, of these spaces. And, following the lead of all those who have told powerful wild stories before, the project will take its final shape as a book and a film (and do a lot more along the way, which will be documented in this blog and a few other spots).
Stay tuned to find out more.