When I think of the word “wilderness,” I think of a part of nature that is completely secluded from mankind; a place where a person can go to truly connect with nature and be free with their internal thoughts. It is safe to say that in today’s world, the word “wilderness” is associated with very positive thoughts and descriptions. but, this has not always been the case. This claim is put to the test in William Cronon’s, “The Trouble with Wilderness.” In fact, in this piece of writing, Cronon explains that in early history, the wilderness had many negative associations.
” As late as the eighteenth century, the most common usage of the word “wilderness” in the English language referred to landscapes that generally carried adjectives far different from the ones they attract today. To be a wilderness then was to be “deserted,” “savage,” “desolate,” “barren”—in short, a “waste,” the word’s nearest synonym. Its connotations were anything but positive, and the emotion one was most likely to feel in its presence was “bewilderment” or terror” (Cronon).
This direct quote from “The Trouble with Wilderness,” does a great job of showing exactly how the current thoughts of the wilderness are completely different and almost contradict what the thoughts were many, many years ago. This quote also shows how much wilderness and its history go hand in hand with each other. As history changed throughout the years, so did the thoughts and descriptions of the wilderness.
After reading this article by Cronon, my eyes really opened as to how wilderness first started out as a really negative thought and then changed. I would describe the historical definitions of the wilderness as a constant changing idea. As humans grew and developed into what we are today, so did the thoughts on history. As Cronon described in Biblical times, wilderness was a waste and it was dangerous. People really did not understand what the point of having some sort wilderness was. As the years went on though, many people began to embrace the wilderness and developed different, more positive, thoughts on wilderness. I think the constant association with change and our history and wilderness is what really describes their relationship together.
Overall, Cronon’s piece of writing is a real eye opener to how the wilderness never really started out as anything positive; it had to develop many years through the thought of people to get the reputation that it has today. When Cronon describes the history of wilderness itself , he really creates a strong argument stating that most people now did not have any prior knowledge of what wilderness really was to our past ancestors. I think that this article will catch many people off guard and really open their eyes to the changes of the word “wilderness” throughout the years and help them learn that history and nature can really go hand and hand with each other.
William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90