A Sense of Place

Posted By: Katherine

June 11, 2013

Do you belong to a place?

Does the air you breathe root you to the earth? Do the trees whisper familiar thoughts and the landscape, seen from a bird’s eye view as you descend to your home airport, ground you in a way nowhere else can?

And why do you travel? It seems us humans need to leave our homes in order to appreciate them.

Twelve thousand years ago, before agriculture, all humans were hunter-gatherers. Relatively speaking, we have not been a sedentary species for very long. The urge to wander the land is in everyone’s blood. Our nomadic ancestors rest in our genes – our bones ache to explore. Perhaps fear holds you back?

Aldo Leopold, influential conservationist from the 1930’s, wrote the following in A Sand County Almanac:

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, longlife, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time.  Measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world.

What a funny species we are, attempting to domesticate our animal: we train ourselves to sleep in isolated buildings, walk only on pavement, spend hours driving cars, and live in cities where green space is an afterthought. Wallace Stegner, while addressing the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1960, wrote the “Wilderness Letter” advocating for the preservation of wild places. Four years later, congress passed The Wilderness Act.

We are a wild species, as Darwin pointed out. Nobody ever tamed or domesticated or scientifically bred us. But for at least three millennia we have been engaged in a cumulative and ambitious race to modify and gain control of our environment, and in the process we have come close to domesticating ourselves. Not many people are likely, any more, to look upon what we call “progress” as an unmixed blessing. Just as surely as it has brought us increased comfort and more material goods, it has brought us spiritual losses, and it threatens now to become the Frankenstein that will destroy us.

Our souls may need the wildness of the natural world, and yet, we also crave home. Our more recent relatives tilled the earth for generations – this too runs through our veins – to belong to a place, a home where we can work, sweat, love and play. Is the need for wildness and home truly a contradiction? Perhaps it is for these primal needs that the modern human travels, and the reason we return home.

Our guests at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge often comment that the staff creates “a home away from home” atmosphere. The sense of community that evolves over three or four short days astounds our visitors. It is the comfortable amenities– the safety – of a warm bed, friendly hosts, and filling meals that allows the modern person to step out of their comfort zone and into the wilderness of the park.

Hiking through wilderness without trails, exposed to the wind and rain, Denali tugs at something deep in all of us. It may challenge your sense of safety, it may question your significance, but it will certainly quench your ancient, primal thirst to wander – or awaken it.


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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.