Into the Wilds of the North Bay

This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, I’m wilder about the wilds than I have been for ages.

I grew up feral on the East Coast, hiked, camped and backpacked in mountains and swam the waters of Long Island Sound. When I arrived in the North Bay, I discovered wilds that are often bigger and more rambunctious than the wilds I loved as a boy. I trekked across Sonoma Mountain and in the Mayacamas, the range that divides Sonoma from Napa. I rambled up and down the coast from Point Reyes to Fort Bragg and along creeks and rivers. Those open-air activities put me in touch with my own innate wildness.

Most of the time, I went alone or with my brothers, who love hiking. Then, gradually, I joined friends at outdoor events sponsored by the Sonoma and the Napa Land trusts, and by LandPaths, the nonprofit that connects humans to woods, fields and farms. At Jack London State Historical Park, I walked along trails that Jack and his wife, Charmian, hiked, and I felt connected to the historical past.

Friends at the Sierra Club, the oldest environmental organization in the nation, tell me that the overwhelming majority of people who go into the wilds are white, middle-class and aged 40 to 70. They also tell me that if the wilds are to survive and thrive, the demographics will have to change. Fortunately, there are a couple of outstanding Bay Area groups, including Outdoor Afro, that aim to connect African Americans and all people of color to wilderness.

Rue Mapp, the founder of the group, believes there’s an inalienable right to nature that’s as essential as civil and human rights, and that all people, no matter their skin color, culture and background, ought to feel at home and comfortable in the wilds. I’m with her. I hope to be with you and you and you, too, on a trail, in a park and on the seashore, and to enjoy the wildness outside and inside. As Henry David Thoreau said ages ago, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

Jonah Raskin is an author and longtime contributor to the ‘Bohemian.’ His most recent books are ‘Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War’ and ‘Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.’

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].