By Jens Jensen
Jens Jensen: Writings Inspired by Nature
Copyright 2012 by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Lands for State Parks, December 1946
Civilized man has always been attracted and inspired by the wilderness, by that part of mother earth not touched by him. The wilderness is a strange world to him and his curiosity and love for the unknown urges him to explore and to seek the hidden secrets expressed in its unfathomed depths. The harmonious peace of the wilderness in contrast with man’s daily life in his own made cities of confusion and disharmony soothes his overworked nerves and fills him with a spiritual outlook on life. But usually an eagerness for this newly discovered way of life on the part of many turns out to be destructive to the wilderness in which it is found, for when man decides to live in the wilderness, that wilderness disappears. Modern man in the mass cannot have the wilderness and live in it too!
One of the greatest problems of today is the instilling of a love for the beauty of native land, a desire to listen to the primitive and to bury our roots deep into native soil. A guiding hand from those that have been blessed with a love for this God made beauty of the earth is needed, to prevent us from destroying the very thing that has been found essential for a more wholesome life.
Much of that part of Wisconsin nearest to its principal centers of population has more and more developed into a summer vacation land. Year by year those areas unfit for agriculture, and which represent the only wilderness left in that part of our State, are fast disappearing under the hand of the vacationist who comes because of these wilderness areas, not realizing that the very wilderness that brought him here is being destroyed by him. When the wilderness is gone, he will follow it, seeking farther away for what he once found a few miles from home. The day is close at hand when the last remnant of primitive America along the shore of Lake Michigan will be a memory, and the thing that attracted the tourist and the vacationist be gone forever unless something is done, and done now, to prevent such a calamity. And the cultivated lands in this part of the State also need these forested areas for protection. The soil is such that without these border lands of wilderness area the cultivated fields will revert to desert waste, thus forcing the farmer to leave for better lands elsewhere. The ax is singing through our woodlands every winter. Soon our wilderness woodlands will be a thing of the past. We have arrived at the crossroads. Which way are we going?
Eastern and southeastern Wisconsin has little left of those lands where one still can see the footprints of pioneer and Indian before him, where native vegetation can be found dating back to the time when ice covered the most of our State; however, giant elm trees that were struggling saplings when Columbus first saw America, are now five to six feet in diameter and towering over the rest of the forest, acres of arctic wild flowers indigenous to these regions, still thrive in a few places on Wisconsin soil.
Of remaining tracts along the Lake Michigan shore, the dunes country south of the Jacksonport, and the Mink River country and adjacent lands, including Europe Lake and the low cliffs along the shores of Lake Michigan where are found evidences of pre-historic times in the fossils imbedded in the rocks and where the far away view over billowing waves reminds one of the breadth of Mid-America, the land of great promise, are the most important wilderness areas to be preserved from destruction. True, the bark of the coyote and the cry of the wildcat is no more in these areas, and where formerly great flocks of wild ducks settled, there now are none; the honk, honk of the Canadian goose is a rarity; the majesty of the swan soaring the sky has not been seen for years; the eagles are rarely seen silhouetted against the blue sky; the deer, the partridge and the pileated woodpecker are fast following. But there are a few last stands of wilderness left where man can find his way back through untold ages. Shall these, too, be sacrificed to indifference and carelessness; shall the youth of our land for untold generations to follow be denied these last remnants of their rightful heritage? Shall we, through greed and wanton destruction, approve the destruction of the last bits of infinite beauty that charmed our forebears and made them courageous and far visioned?
There is a real thrill to sail down the Mink River which is still hedged in by the primitive forest, on the edge of which the great blue heron is seen fishing; to fish in the deep clear water which abounds with pike and bass. One here can feel man’s dominion over this world not made by hands and which inspires a trust in man and urges him on to noble deeds.
In periods when man’s world roars with destruction and uncertainty, and the voices of life and growth and man’s ascendancy is drowned, the wilderness must be there to quiet the storm and lead man back to where he once again can hear life’s purpose. May our love for all creation, for its infinite beauty and true purpose, guide us into a right reverence for this world not of our making so we will see to it that unborn generations will have the right to drink at this fount.