To be wild

This post is a bit of an autoethnographic response to reading about Wild Pedagogies and what it means to be | Wild | Self-willed | Re-wilded | and how that can both reinforce and be a counter to the highly colonial and damaging idea of Wilderness.

Wilderness has been soundly denounced as a destructive colonial force, where people who have lived with and apart of ecosystems were systematically removed from those places in the name of conservation. This remains a form of cultural genocide – where the stories and practices that are a part of so-called Wilderness are exterminated in order to preserve an idea that only certain people deserve access to such places. In Australia everybody pays the cost of this because the absence of Caring for Country by Traditional Owners has increased the risk of catastrophic bushfires and poor river health across the continent.

So, when it comes to a question of Re-wildling, people and cultures need to be a part of that. As Marietta Radomska writes:

Biological conservation cannot be equated with the return to “untouched” nature, as nature has always been interacting with humans in the first place.

Radomska (2017) The Anthropocene, practices of storytelling, and multispecies justice

As nature has always been interacting with humans, so too has it been interacting with stories. People tell stories to find love, joy and connection. They tell stories to explore ideas and see things from a different point of view. Wild pedagogies that focus on the ideas of adventure, risk-taking and bodily limits are doing both the human and the more-than-human enormous harm by suggesting that that is what it means to be wild.

As Radomska suggests, the role of people and cultures are important in biological conservation. I think this idea also involves an expansion of what it means to be wild in conservation and biology circles. In this regard, I speak from the personal experience of being a disabled woman and environmental scientist – something that many people consider to be an oxymoron. In fact, I personally only started to feel wild when I stopped being an environmental scientist after enduring years of ableism.

Every time I felt like I needed to be ~wild~ I always thought that it was doing something that would challenge me to push my own limits. To go out into a bush or ‘remote’ area for days or weeks at a time and go on an adventure. Now that I don’t connect with outdoorsy people any more, I feel a lot more confident to go out of urban and sub-urban areas alone for weeks at a time.

My mind always goes back to when I went to see an acquaintance who was working for the Department of Conservation in a hut on the South Island of Aotearoa. We walked in to see him, a walk that all the signs said was easy. It was supposed to be a big, wild adventure, but a basic one. One that “anyone” could do. So I did what I had been doing for the two years of my eviro science degree at that point – I swallowed my pain and pushed through it.

On that walk, I dislocated my kneecap walking down from the pass of a mountain. We made it to camp, which as it turns out was only 200 m from a road. The rangers didn’t believe I was hurt and thought I was tough. They told me to do strengthening exercises and pilates. They sent me on an 11 km “easy” trail back out.

A few days later, I dislocated my kneecap again, and proceeded to kayak Milford sound.

Two days after that, one of the rangers broke my hand and I laughed it off.

Six months later – he would sexually assault me, and I wouldn’t notice.

All of this is a base animal response to pain – dissociation. I wasn’t a wild animal, I was a brutalised one, where I was so full of pain and adrenaline that my mind had stopped receiving signals that my body was distressed.

When I did the ~wild~ thing, I became a total ghost of my strong, adaptive and fierce disabled self.

Now, I am more wild – I don’t do that any more.

This is all to say that Rewilding people and places will necessarily look different for everyone. It cannot and ought not resemble ideas of wild from the past, because those ideas are rooted in white supremacy, misogyny and eugenics. In order to create wild places, and tell wild stories we need to remember the root of the meaning of wild:

Wild | Self-willed

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