Why the Wild?: Student perspectives on what the wild means to them

“It’s resetting,” said Britton “K” Wood. “It’s Earth as intended.”

He is speaking of the wilderness, of course—specifically the Mojave Desert. A desert child from the southernmost edge of Saint George, Utah, Wood has an affinity towards the stark desert region that blankets over four states and harbors some of the nation’s most remarkable landscapes, from the craggy, martian terrain of Black Canyon to the hidden oases in Joshua Tree National Park.

“There are all these beautiful mountains and plateaus and mesas,” he continued. “It makes for really pretty surroundings.”

Placed along the seams of three distinct and iconic geological regions—the Mojave, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau—Saint George is a uniquely situated portal into the many worlds of the American southwest from triumphant mountain ranges and canyons to the hauntingly endless abounds of Death Valley.

“The sunsets out there are unparalleled,” Wood said. “I’ve been to quite a few places all over the country and nothing beats some of the sunsets I’ve seen there.” 

Here, along with a plethora of wildlands across the nation, Wood finds comfort in the natural beauty as well as the much-needed sense of spiritual and emotional renewal that can come from getting away.

“It really shifts your perspective to what really matters,” he said. “It reminds you that there is so much more than yourself.”

Much like Carl Sagan referencing Earth in an image taken 4 billion miles away, Wood recognizes that he is a mere speck of dust on the “pale blue dot” he calls home.

Rafael Arredondo, an exploratory studies major from Alameda, California shares this sentiment with Wood, his friend who often accompanies him on weekend hikes. 

As he traveled through the Virgin River Gorge for the first time on his way to Southern Utah University, he remembered thinking to himself just how much bigger the world was than him–in scale and spirit.

“You mean so much to the people around you and to yourself,” explained Arredondo, “but when you zoom out it’s a really humbling experience. I think the wild allows people to understand that all that surrounds them is equally as valuable as themselves.”

Wood and Arredondo believe it is important to keep a close relationship with the wild to maintain this perspective, especially as the world embraces the digital age further every day.

“I think the digital age has brought this onset of stress where everyone is worried about everything and what everyone thinks about them,” Arredondo said. “Being in the wilderness and grounding yourself seems more important than ever before.”

As everyday pressures mount, Wood and Arredondo believe it could do everyone some good to take the time to experience all that the wild offers. Appreciating—and simultaneously respecting—nature can provide a host of miraculous benefits.

The jagged titans of the Wasatch, wistful seas of the Pacific, consuming furnace of the Grand Canyon and even an oppressing fog spread throughout towering Redwoods maintain a character greater than any one person. Those experiencing places such as these leave with unique perspectives into what it means to be human here on this earth.

Alameda is a city directly south of Oakland that juts into the San Francisco Bay Area, a region arguably renowned for its “hustle-bustle” attitude and not an abundance of public wilderness, so “it’s really a break from everything when you get to go into a forest or mountain area where it’s all quiet,” Arredondo explained.

Despite their different upbringings, the friends both managed to secure a love for the wild. Whether it be a vibrant forest, red rock canyon or silky, sun-kissed beach, there seem to be qualities inherent to the wild that speaks to anyone: escape, calm, adventure.

“As soon as I get into the trees everything’s off my chest,” Wood said with a deep, relieving breath. “There’s also this sense of excitement. You’re on the adventure now.”

For Wood, resonating with nature came at a young age. His family hiked and camped often and he belongs to the 8% of the Boy Scouts of America that obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. He has also had the opportunity to visit most of the national parks in the contiguous US. He recalls some valuable memories backpacking to strikingly beautiful areas like Ashdown Gorge and has even kayaked in the ocean in Hawaii.

Arredondo would accompany his family on the occasional hiking or camping trip and savored the trip they took every summer to a lake near Sacramento.

However, he really began to treasure the wild with his arrival at SUU and the independence this move introduced to him.

“I have the ability now to go out and hike whenever I want to,” Arredondo said. “I really like how therapeutic it can be.”

A large portion of the outdoors’ appeal to these friends can be attributed to this sense of freedom. Both friends agree that excursions into the wilderness are much richer when done on their own will.

“Moving out and doing school means you really need a break sometimes,” Wood said. “How much I enjoyed being outside while living with my parents is not even comparable to how much I enjoy it now – just being able to get a break from the stress of living on your own.”

This is particularly notable for Wood when summiting a great alpine peak like the 12,000-foot Delano Peak west of Beaver, Utah.

“We use the analogy of climbing mountains a lot but when you actually go climb one it’s a very strange perspective shift,” Wood said. “There’s the feeling of accomplishment like ‘there’s the rest of the world down there, and I’m up here.’”

Beyond the sense of personal accomplishment and freedom, one can let their imagination run wild and think deeper about the less “trivial” things of life when in the wild according to Arredondo.

Appreciating the outdoors cuts deeper than exploiting their charm as well. According to these friends, loving the wild also means protecting it. 

“It’s important to remind yourself to leave no trace and be a good steward,” said Wood, noting that he would like to do some form of environmental science someday. “A big reason I want to do that is because of all the experiences I’ve had in nature.”

The friends try to make the time to get outdoors whenever they can now, whether it be through school-sponsored activities such as Local Events, Activities and Programming or simply going on one of their weekend hikes.

“It’s like ‘ok let’s get our work done during the week,’” said Arredondo. “That way we don’t have to worry about anything on the weekend.”

And when the weekend rolls around, they can take a deep breath as they find themselves out in the wild free, humbled and at peace.


Article by: Jared Clawson


Cover photo by: Jared Clawson

Photos courtesy of Britton Wood