wildhood welcome

Share what you have gathered wildly.

CHCB 467
Missoula, MT 59802

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



Welcome the wild.

Paul Shepard (1996) On Wildness

Mark Douglas


"Wildness... has for me an objective reality, or at least a degree of independence from arbitrary definitions. Wildness occurs in many places" (p. 195). Wildness involves "eagles and moose and their environments" along with "house sparrows, cockroaches, and probably human beings--any species whose sexual assortment and genealogy are not controlled by human design" (p. 195).

In Notes of an Urban Naturalist, Eugene Kinkead traces the origins of coyote to its indigenous roots in North America. "The coyote is the only one of the eight living species of Canis, the genus, or biological grouping, of dogs, that is completely North American" (Kinked, 1978, p. 52). Kinkead details the history of coyotes, their role as nemesis to sheep herders, and their wily resilience which has kept them home in the changing North American environments. Further evidence of coyote's maintaining their wild ways in increasingly developed regions is on display in the PBS film, Meet the Coywolf.

Beyond that, Shepard reminds us of the horror brought through the loss of the wild. When good intentioned conservationists intervene in the genetic variability of an ecosystem the results are "plants and animals that seem to be there" (Shepard, 1996, p. 195) but are in fact vacant behind a surrogate veneer. His eloquent analogy is that habituation is to wildlife as your grandfather's benign visage is to his fleeting sense of self. As humans, "as a species we have in us the call of the wild" (p. 195). Shepard continues

It is a call corrupted not only by domestication but by the conventions of nature aesthetics. The corporate world would destroy wildness in a trade for wilderness. Its intent is to restrict the play of free and selfish genes, to establish a dichotomy of places, to banish wild forms to enclaves where they may be encountered by audiences, while the business of domesticating the planet proceeds. ...My wildness according to this agenda is to be experienced on a reservation called a wilderness, where I can externalize it and look at it.(Shepard, 1996, p. 195)

Shepard follows up with a discussion of human perception. He's keen to compare the hyper visual and image based modern way of the world to what may be held as an "acoustical event world" Ong (1969). Shepard considers human perceptual habits along a continuum of wild style. "Perceptual habit is style in the sense that Margaret Mead once used the term, to mean a pattern of movement and sensitivity, the lively net of predisposition emerging from our early grounding, finally affecting every aspect of one's expressive life" (Shepard, 1996). This human wild style, perhaps the human enactment of wildhood, is "a way of expecting and experiencing, encountering inhabitance by a vast congregation of Others unlike us, yet, like our deepest selves, wild" (p. 200).


Harman, Metaphor and the Charm of Rob Lowe

Mark Douglas

“The charm of objects is their innocent absorption in being just what they are, which in each case is something that we ourselves can never be.” Charm is “that which exposes sincerity to our fascinated attention” (Harman, 2005, p. 137). Sincerity arises “in the sense that I really am doing right now whatever it is that I am doing—delivered over to that activity rather than to any of the possible others that might be imagined” (p. 135). Sincere things “are thoroughly absorbed at each moment in being precisely those characters that they are” (p. 135). Metaphor “manages to put the very sincerity of a thing at issue, by somehow interfering with the usual relation between a thing and its qualities--and this is precisely what charm means” (p. 141). “When metaphor works, it is always charming: we cannot help noting the sheer sincerity of existence of the cypress-flame and wolf-human” (pp. 137-138). 

A current example of this shows up in the satellite television commercials featuring actor, Rob Lowe. In six spots, Rob Lowe appears as himself and as a hybridized version of himself. We cannot help but notice the sincerity of the crazy hairy, far less attractive, meathead, painfully awkward, scrawny arms, and super creepy Rob Lowes. These Rob Lowe hybrids are charming to the degree that “our fascinated attention” (Harman, 2005, p. 137) is drawn to the way the hybrids “are thoroughly absorbed at each moment in being precisely those characters that they are” (p. 135). Remember, the point of this section and these subsections is to lay theoretical groundwork for metaphor so that a strong methodology can be constructed and performed. Next I’ll share how allure is related to metaphor.

Revised Dissertation Proposal Summary

Mark Douglas


This study will remedy a gap in human dimensions of natural resource research by demonstrating how an existential approach to wilderness provides a description of lived wilderness meanings that emerge in everyday life. I’m proposing a doctoral research project to better understand what wilderness means to people as they live their lives. That is, I aim to generate new understandings of the different ways that wilderness fits into people's lives.

Conservation social science often misunderstands lived meanings in the sense that it has ignored lived meanings as connections to somebody’s way of life. Human dimensions scholars Williams, Patterson, Stewart, Stokowski, and Brooks have all taken important steps toward more fully exploring environmental meaning. However, the shortfall of the human dimensions research tradition sits in its strict emphasis on experiential meaning. In contrast to human dimensions research, the work of existential environmental thinkers Seamon, Casey, James, and Holland have focused on environmental meaning in a different way. Their approach, largely founded in a Heideggerian tradition, can enliven, enrich and expand the meanings-based approaches within the human dimensions. This investigation is oriented toward lived wilderness meanings and it focuses on the way wilderness meanings manifest in the lives of wilderness enthusiasts and practitioners. If wilderness is an existential phenomenon then lived wilderness meanings are disclosed in the ways that day-to-day human existence relates to wilderness.

This study will explore wilderness as part and parcel of lives lived by people wilth familiarity and involvement with wilderness. A better understanding of lived wilderness meanings can enhance conservation social science theory and practice. Introducing the existential approach to human dimensions will give the field new ways to shed light on the meanings of ordinary environmental phenomena. These insights will help address a need reported by the Council on Environmental Quality (2011, p. 21) and expressed by a citizen speaking up at an America’s Great Outdoors listening session. “We need a philosophical change of what the great outdoors is. We don’t need to go out west or to some faraway place. It can be a little stream, out your door, even if it’s in the city. It exists where we exist.” Given that call, and given that wilderness constitutes a part of the great outdoors, I propose work that collects, analyzes, identifies, and interprets the ways that ordinary life connects with wilderness. I propose to study wilderness where man is not a visitor who does not remain, that is, where we exist.

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.

Joy to the World

Mark Douglas

I've been working through Bob Marshall's interpretation of wilderness beauty given in his 1930 essay, "The Problem of the Wilderness". Wilderness beauty for him involves the qualities of timelessness, intangibility, ambience, dynamism, unanimity, and exquisiteness. It seems that these track closely to Morton's chocolate map of ecological awareness. Most interestingly, I believe the tesseract animation illustrates how joy and longing are the most prescient players.

Morton details the double invagination process related to being there ecologically. His example is what it's like to get involved with a James Turrell artwork.  Here's how I've got it from part three of his Wellek Lectures (2014). 

I find myself thrown out of my habitual sense of where I stop and where I start, just as much as the curving walls and soft yet luminous colors meld the difference between over here and over there. A double invagination. First the reified art object is opened and its givenness allowed to permeate everywhere, then this opening is itself opened and we find ourselves weirdly, on the inside of an entity, an uncanny entity that we can't grasp, yet which is palpable, luminous, exactly this shade of pink. The joy is not abstract or uniform, but so intimate that you can't see it. And you can't tell if its inside or outside. It's not an emotion that I'm having. I'm in a passion. A passion is not in me. (Morton, 2014, citing William Blake)

I think the image below captures what is happening. The way I see it, four planes move from left to write in the tesseract. Each plane is constrained by four joints at the corners. If you watch the animation you will see three of these planes seemingly coming from left to right while the fourth plane is wrapping itself back around for another whirl. 

Here's how it goes. First, the reified art object is opened and its givenness permeates. Second, this opening is itself opened. Third, the next plane emerging is the realization, dawning, or self-acceptance that we ourselves (one of the player panes) are inside the opening of an opening. Fourth, joy illuminates and permeates the scene and it becomes indiscernible as to whether the joy is inside or outside our being there. Watch as the joy plane's moment washes over being there with the disclosure of truth setting itself to work in the work of art.

Next I'll take the time to identify the vertices of each plane in the animation so that the flow ecognosis is more easily apprehended. For now, I turn your attention back below to an illustration of what Heidegger called the worlding of the world and what Morton calls ecognosis.