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Wildhood is kinship of the wild in all people, places, and things.


Welcome the wild.

On Henberg's (1984) Serious Wilderness Play

Mark Douglas

Wilderness has an illusory element that makes it ideal for playful engagement. Accepting and admitting the illusory element of wilderness requires certain assumptions. Henberg (1984) notes that "today's image of wilderness as playground requires thorough domestication and civilization of nature outside the wilds" (p. 251). Nature outside the wilds has wildness that resists complete domestication and civilization. That point is secondary to the current intent of laying out the playful nature of wilderness immersion.

Straight away we can say with Henberg (1984) that wilderness areas aren't merely playgrounds. Secondly we must posit that historical and current social norms reflect a negative stance on play. This position "assumes, in keeping with our work-oriented industrial culture, that play is somehow inferior--an activity befitting children, but certainly not adults" (p. 252). Given this situation, our task is then to further outline the contours of play to demonstrate it's self-standing merit aside from mere work antonymity. 

Following our deepended understanding of play we'll find that wilderness play has an impersonal dimension in the sense that wilderness play integrates explorer impersonation. "Hence, wilderness play cannot be divorced from history, for we pay homage to predecessors whose explortion paved the way for civilizing a continent, eventually making possible the novel image of wilderness as playground" (p. 253). Not only are we impersonating serious explorers, but also if it happens to be our first time passing down a wilderness path, the pure sense of exploration will also be ours. 

Playful Moods

Play entails a "distinctive attitude or cast of mind" (Henberg, 1984, p. 254). The attitude or cast of mind construct will be interpreted in my terms as Stimmung, attunement or mood. Look to a prior post here to learn more about #Stimmung. The evidence I have for using attunement is seen in Henberg’s characterization of the playing attitude as the spirit. "Whether our informal, nonritualized behavior is playful depends solely on the spirit in which it is done" (p. 254). 

In contrast to playful moods, Henberg casts moods of sobriety. But sobriety too can be playful. Sober play differs from serious sobriety in that some situations do call for serious sobriety. Henberg (1984) uses formal occasions such as the way the Queen of England is expected to comport her behavior with Parliament. A recent example would involve Obama's military salute upon deboarding Air Force One whereby he raised his hand to lift the illusory knights visor while keeping a coffee cup in his hand. That's just too playful for many folks rigidly accustomed to the serious sobriety of military decorum. 

The overarching point here is that there is a continuum of play by which "we move from paidia, childlike exuberance, to ludus, well-organized practices in which the play spirit is sometimes a distant element" (Henberg, 1984, p. 255, citing Callois, 1961, Man, Play, and Games). Ludus counters paidia by including complexity, intrigue, uncertainty, skill, and practice. Henberg gives us an understanding of play as "those activities which share both exuberance and sufficient complexity to be an institution or practice" (p. 255). This is followed by an enumeration of the dimensions of play. It's elating, freely chosen, whole, and illusory. 

There's a continuum as well across the axis of illusion by which play adheres. Playing baseball is illusory and yet the codex of rules keeps it real. There's also play such as the impersonation of figures. Henberg's example is cops and robbers. "A main characteristic of play illusion is its transformation, sometimes its reversal, of the status distinctions and valuations of the ordinary world" (Henberg, 1984, p. 256). 

Wilderness can be a playground. “In general then, a playground is a place with features which, regarded through the eyes of convention, encourage a suitable play illusion” (Henberg, 1984, p. 257).

Four types of wilderness visitor activities: work, non playful recreation, recreational play, and wilderness play. Work is done by those on patrol or in the harvest of data. Non playful recreation is a serious pursuit such as bird watching or geocaching. Recreational play differs from wilderness play in that recreational play is typically “only marginally unrealistic” (Henberg, 1984, p. 258). Henberg has given wilderness experience to be aesthetic appreciation, self-reliance, and remoteness. 

The primary sense of the necessity of security for play is security from the “disruption of the play illusion” (Henberg, 1984, p. 259). Wilderness is most conducive to play in the sense that it serves as the exploratory background that people like Jim Bridger and Meriwether Lewis disclosed to western people. Contemporary wilderness enthusiasts revel in notions of unmapped territory and unexplored worlds. Wilderness play unites visitors through contention with their environment. In another sense, the security of the illusory quality of wilderness is akin to the worlds brought forth and enacted in the experiences described in the touted phenomenological work translated by Van Manen, "On the Secret Place of the Child". In fact it lately occurs to me that wildhood might shine more brilliantly in childhood.

So why preserve wilderness? Why not engineer more splendid environments? The reason wilderness is best first hand instead of via device can be evidenced in the different quality of meanings that arise “in our moments of standing outside the experience—moments of anticipation or reminiscence” (Henberg, 1984, p. 262). Genuine wilderness is also something to be held in marvel as a profound expression of human restraint. Authenticity in terms of non-mechanized conveyance is crucial in maintaining the illusion of wilderness play. 

Next, I’ll seek to find a way of connecting the illusory and transformational way of wild play to the joy and charis of ecognosis.