Wilderness as a Source of Freedom

Justin Randall with Blackwell Glacier and Granite Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

By Justin Randall, Troy

To an eleven-year-old boy, growing up in a small town in the mountains of northwest Montana is something akin to long-term summer camp. The amount of freedom a ten-speed, decent sneakers, and a slight inclination for mischief gives you is unsettling. When raised in such a place and fashion, one becomes intimate with the concept of “freedom” at a young age.

Nestled away in the Kootenai National Forest, my friends and I spent our dog days exploring everything. A typical afternoon might see us canyoneering Callahan Creek, where we would be swept through narrow shoots, bumping along the bottom with the stones we dislodged. The next day would see us in the forests surrounding our town, turning pilfered nails and discarded boards into forts of such ramshackle grandeur as to make a boy scout blush. When we got the nerve, the old bridge into the Kootenai doubled as a fine place to learn about gravity.

These were the days before our provincial community was burdened with the convenience of cell phones. When we were shooed out of the house each morning it was up to us to make it back in the evening. No one could come calling and even we hardly knew where the next hour would find us.

More than just the advent of the mobile phone, many things have changed since then. The forests are no longer endless, somewhere along the way my friends and I became too logical to trade bruises for the experience of Callahan Creek, and the fence and no trespassing sign erected in front of the old bridge has turned our childhood pastime into a punishable crime.

Many things changed as the world and I grew up, but I never forgot that feeling of unadulterated freedom I learned as a child. To be left to your own wiles to explore the world around you is one of the most pure, fundamental, and increasingly foreign feelings man can experience.  It soothes my soul to know that in an atmosphere of continuously accelerating change, there is one place I can still go to get this feeling so fundamental to the human experience. This place is unique in our modern world in that it (and almost it alone) is preserved, meaning that not only I have permanent access to the human experience, but that someday my children and theirs may as well.

This place is, of course, American Wilderness.

Though I have grown to appreciate the convenience afforded by a modern day, first world existence, I have come to terms with the largely tamed, leashed and increasingly docile nature of it. However, I rest easy knowing that I can temporarily escape it all to get my fix of freedom I first savored in the dog days of my youth.

This summer we celebrate fifty years of existence for American Wilderness, and I hope you enjoy the next fifty as much as I plan to.

Happy trails, happy hunting, happy fishing, and happy floating!

Here’s to the last best place’s last best places.

“Without wilderness, the world is a cage” ~David Brower

Justin Randall was raised Troy, Montana, and graduated from Troy High School in 2012 as Valedictorian. After seeing a fair section of the rest of the country, he is proud to call Troy his home! He enjoys everything outdoors, a trait forged hiking, fishing and hunting in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness with his grandfather, Al.  Justin also served as a Page in the United States Senate during his Junior year in high school. He is currently volunteering for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

This column appeared first in the Libby, Montana, Western News @ www.thewesternews.com


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