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Appreciating Wild Spaces

Written by Glenna Holstein
    Thursday, 30 October 2014
Appreciating Wild Spaces

I am writing this article on my way back to Milwaukee after an incredible trip to Alaska. Willie Karidis, with lighthearted expertise, gave the Urban Ecology Center eco-travel group a wonderful experience of wilderness. We witnessed Denali, the tallest mountain on the continent, rise out of brilliant reds and yellows of Alaska autumn. We marveled at moose and wandered among wolf tracks. We splashed through icy rivers and padded across spongy tundra. It was a trip filled with awe for vast expanses of beauty that stretched as far as we could see and amazement at remarkable minutia close enough to touch. Willie called it “Subarctic splendor.”

But this article is not about the Alaskan wilderness.

At least, not exactly.

This trip was just the kind of experience that first made me want to work in the environmental field. Growing up I craved “pristine” wilderness experiences. As I child, I remember trying to find the exact spot along the Milwaukee River where I couldn’t see any buildings above the trees and then pretend I was not in a city.

In the last few years, something has shifted in the way I appreciate “wilderness.” I noticed it very distinctly on our most recent staff retreat at Camp Silverbrook in West Bend. On my first retreat, 6 years ago, I remember thinking, “You know, this would be just perfect if I couldn’t hear the highway.” But this time, I noticed that the highway sounds didn’t bother me as much. In a way I appreciated them; they were a reminder of how easy it is to get to a beautiful outdoor place.

Similarly, I’ve come to appreciate places like Three Bridges Park for their accessibility and the way they are connected to the urban landscape, rather than their “away-ness.” It’s pretty incredible to stand on the 33rd Ct. Bridge and hear on one side the sounds of a manufacturing facility while on the other side hear the persistent chattering of a kingfisher as it swoops to catch a fish in the river.

Because we live in a society that tends to cultivate feelings of stress, self-importance and an illusion of independence, places where we can feel calm and small and connected are tremendously important. So, these small snatches of green space, where we do most of our work, feel just as sacred as Denali to me. And even if it’s not “subarctic,” I think you can (and should!) find splendor there.

Glenna Holstein

Glenna Holstein

Glenna grew up a mile up the river from the Riverside Park, so the Urban Ecology Center has always been important to her. Her studies and work have taken her all over the hemisphere, but her home has always been right here in Milwaukee. As Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, she is delighted to be part of the team that is working to connect a new community to the nature in their neighborhood. Her favorite things to do include hiking, exploring, cooking, singing, building forts, and trying to convince children that cockleburs are really baby porcupines!

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