I am writing this post on the brink of a "Super Blood Moon" -- the only such lunar celestial event in the half-century between 1982 and 2033. As an historian teaching a class on the "History of he American Wilderness" I see a lesson coming in tonight's sky about wilderness and civilization.
One of the fundamental concepts in my course comes from Roderick Nash's influential book, Wilderness and the American Mind. Nash argues that, in view of the difficulty of establishing a universal definition of what is and what is not wilderness, we should agree that there exists a "spectrum of conditions or environments ranging from the purely wild on the one end to the purely civilized on the other— from the primeval to the paved."
"A Spectrum of Wilderness Conditions"
I have written about varieties of wilderness in several posts on this blog: there is wilderness to be found in New York's Central Park and in a Japanese garden in Tokyo. Of course, those places have many manmade features, but they also include the wild -- forces, flora, and fauna that we do not control.
Arguably, our civilization exists as a kind of bubble within the larger forces of nature. God humbles Job with this question:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone--
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
The quintessential feeling of wilderness is a feeling of something great and wondrous beyond our control.
We tend to be most aware of the natural world when we are far away from human distraction, but even in civilization, we are surrounded by a natural world at extremes of size: down deep among the microbes that inhabit our bodies and far out into the solar system and universe.
A solar eclipse provides an invitation to look and be aware of forces far beyond human control. Perhaps a once-in-fifty-years super blood moon eclipse will bring with it a sense of wonder.
I will know soon.
Addendum: Soon Afterwards:
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If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy these other articles about Parks and Mother Nature:
• New York's Central Park: A Wilderness?
• The Japanese Garden at the Hotel New Otani -- an Exercise in "Parkology"