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Homing in on the wild Northeast

Zack and family in the Northern Rockies.

People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.

– Barbara Kingsolver

 

Friends of the Wild,

As Northeast Wilderness Trust’s brand-new, starry-eyed Communications and Outreach Coordinator, recently arrived from Missoula, Montana, you’re going to be hearing from me from time to time about wildlands and wildlife that need your help. But before we team up together, allow me to introduce myself.

For starters, I have a confession. The last time I lived in New England, I couldn’t wait to get out. Way out.

Fourteen years ago, after barely surviving high school in Boston, MA, I traded one home – the home where I spent the first eighteen years of my life – for a home under the stars. Battling depression, I was armed with a passion for wild places and wild critters but had no clear path forward.

I’d fallen in love with the Wild over the course of my childhood. My earliest memories are all outdoor experiences: collecting shells on remote stretches of Massachusetts beach with my parents; wandering along a hemlock-shaded stream in rural Connecticut behind my grandparents’ home.

Going to the wilderness – whether a 50-acre tract in rural New England or 500,000-acres along the Continental Divide – has always felt like going home.

So at 18, I was lucky when I got a phone call from Skykomish, Washington, population 215, snug in a deep river valley between the peaks of the North Cascades. Would I like to work that first summer out of high school as a Wilderness Ranger for the US Forest Service?

Sign me up.

Since that phone conversation, I haven’t looked back. For fourteen years, wilderness has been my life’s passion and work. Following several seasons as a Wilderness Ranger in Washington and Idaho, I spent most of the last decade working to protect wild places and wildlife across the Northern Rockies and Plains with Montana Wilderness Association.

The West is where I learned to love and fight for the Big Wild – landscapes “big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip,” as Aldo Leopold once suggested. Alongside my wife Kassia, daughter Celeste, and black lab Stella, we have backpacked, canoed, and skied through countless remote corners of the Northwest and Northern Rockies, most often in wild landscapes that lack any significant permanent protection from road building, logging, energy development, or motorized recreation.

Our mission on those adventures was to capture stories and images to inspire the public to defend these largest remaining roadless blocks of American wilderness – the places that came to my rescue as an eighteen-year-old, and which provide safe harbor for species that at one time were on the brink of extinction or extirpation, including grizzlies, wolves, wolverine, and bull trout.

The West’s dramatic landscapes and charismatic megafauna stole my attention with their flashy good looks. But it feels like coming home as my family returns to the granite mountains, cascading streams, and deciduous forests of the Big Wild of the East.

As Adirondack-based wilderness advocate and Northeast Wilderness Trust ambassador John Davis writes in his book, Big, Wild, and Connected: Scouting an Eastern Wildway from the Everglades to Quebec, “The recovering forests of the Adirondacks and northern Appalachians offer hope of renewal.” But they won’t recover to their past glory without our help. At Northeast Wilderness Trust, we’re piecing together wildlands and wildways large enough to someday sustain the wolves and cougars that used to roam our mountains and valleys.

In the face of an increasingly uncertain future, wilderness is our rock. It’s where I return, again and again, for spiritual renewal. For the wildlife that call these wildlands home, it’s a matter of survival.

I look forward to working alongside our staff, board, and – most importantly – you, as we shape a wilder future for the Northeast.

Together, we can Keep It Wild.

Zack

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