Gary Snyder

The Wild Whale

Photos by Molly M Linn

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”

The necessity to bridge the gap between civilization and the wild has never been more prevalent to me, until Jun 12, 2016. My grandmother, mother, and I took a trip to Ireland a couple years ago. We had a rental car and two weeks to explore the most beautiful country I’ve had the pleasure of going to. About halfway through our trip, we were exploring The Burren on the western coast of Ireland and we pulled over and started to walk around and hike up a hill that was adjacent to the curvy road we were traveling along. The landscape was so untouched and wild.

This type of wild was nothing like what The Oxford English Dictionary claims it to be. Gary Snyder’s essay “The Etiquette of Freedom,” in his 1990 collection The Practice of the Wild. He said it perfectly when he said: “Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what – from a human standpoint – it is not.”  His definition of land resonates well: “a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of nonhuman forces. Pristine.”

This area of Ireland felt pristine. Although we were traveling on a manmade path, the human presence was not there. The soft yellow flowers danced naturally with the long white ones on the hills. The grass was tamed only by the rock surface that cascaded over the hill. As we descended the hill on the other side, we slowly crept upon the ocean. A vast, mysterious, wild entity. The two seemed to mesh together so well, but the closer we got to the rocks and chaos of the waves, I noticed one rock that seems all too large and white to be natural to the environment.

A horrible odor radiated and an unsettling feeling presented itself inside my stomach. I knew something was off and I felt like the vibe of the wild atmosphere had changed. It was raw and scary instead of the pristine peacefulness it had just been.

“An ethical life is one that is mindful, mannerly, and has style. Of all moral failing and flaws of character, the worst is stinginess of thought.” That stinginess is what killed the whale. The absent morals of the fisherman are what has forced mankind to relate more to the dictionary definition. This fisherman is “unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, and loose.” His behavior was “violent, destructive and cruel.” He went out poaching, scored his prey and then left it for dead. This beautiful, free being was murdered. Its freedom taken away, its life in the wild ended due to an individual’s poor judgment.

Bearing witness to such a tragedy was a lesson in itself for me. “Human being are audacious.”  Unfortunately, this audacity can go one of two ways. It can either be a bold stance in selfless, strong moral standings that bridge the connection between the human thought and the wilderness, or a selfish destructive action with a narrow-minded conclusion. The fisherman was the latter of the two. Perhaps it was because he didn’t ask himself the core questions Snyder poses.

Who am I? What am I doing here? What’s going on?

I was overwhelmed with what I witnessed that day on the shore of Ireland. I felt frozen because I was unable to process the interruption in the wild. Tears started to pour down my face and I collapsed to the ground. I wasn’t ready to see the gap between the civilized world mankind has mad, and the wild. Synder said that there are things one must have or think of to gain the etiquette of freedom. He said you must be able to “cheerfully tolerate discomfort.” I was filled with discomfort.

That day haunts me, and I think it always will. I think this essay, “The Etiquette of Freedom,” left me with a bit of peace. He made me understand that it takes practice and I had to empty some of the negativity from that day to appreciate the lesson that was presented and still find peace in the wild. I let the death of the poached whale to cloud the flowers and the rolling hills. I let civilization and mankind take me away from the Irish wilderness.

The dichotomy of mankind and the natural, wild world had a clear division that day. I was upset just at the poacher for what he did, not at the morality he forsakes or the way the whale had left the wild and entered this state of anger in my head. I had to purge that gap and see the larger picture that needed correcting and not the individual.

I let “Wild and Free” become a political statement like Snyder talks about, and not a state of being. Who am I? I was a visitor in my own home of the wild. What am I doing here? I am here witnessing freedom and broadening my take on the wild. What’s going on? Sadness. A disruption of the wild due to an animal within it. The whale’s carcass has become one with the rocks. Its soul no longer present, and now just a cationic part of the wilderness. No less sad, no less wild and free, but a part of the wild non-the-less.

“The lessons we learn from the wild become the etiquette of freedom.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *