October 26, 2022 | By:

The Right to Roam

Note to the title: The right to roam is also known as “everyman’s right” (or ”every woman’s right”), “allemannsretten” in Norway, the right of public access to the wilderness, ‘freedom to roam’… Access to nature is classified in many countries as a basic human right. We can ask: why not extend the right to happiness, the right to follow one’s own destiny, etc., to all kinds of life? How can we claim the right to roam if we don’t recognise the same right for all? How do we think freedom works, if it’s at the expense of another, or of a lot of others? A completely egalitarian worldview, the wonder of autopoiesis, the mud and thunder? These are not beyond anyone’s ken. That’s why we should talk to those who might consider themselves the opposition, and reach people who have yet to start to think about this. The great visionary continental links and lifelines of mountain ridges and forest are somehow still ”wild ideas.” Wild / crazy / worth-a-try! (– crazy like pine or juniper growing right out of the rock – crazed, cracked rock – dazed by the sun). 

Note to the article: Entries #1 – #4 are from my experiences and my thoughts about this, based on where I am (in italics), they are meant to accompany the comments from Kristine. 

Entry #1

A friend told me about two bears that were shot by his neighbor. First, he shot Old Bear who hadn’t eaten that sheep the week before, and used to just keep his distance, no harm to anybody. Realizing his mistake, that it probably hadn’t been that bear, he went out and shot Young Bear. The people there don’t put up fences, which is OK and makes for a good neighborhood, but living right up against the edge of the forest, it must be remembered that Bear was there first.  

(soft rain —  out by the compost — heard something rumbling through — another bear in the cool night air?) 

When we think of big conservation projects, Tompkins Conservation (TC) comes straight to mind. TC in Patagonia is a success story and a shining example to other rewilding projects. 

Kristine Tompkins was kind enough to take the time to answer my emails.

I ask Kristine: how can we get over people’s prejudices towards large carnivores? 

Kristine: In Chile, we bought a large estancia that was eventually donated to the state and made into Patagonia National Park. When we took on that project, there were a lot of rumors that creating a park would deprive the region of jobs—though we have seen the opposite happen in practice. At the start, we invited any ranch employees to stay on to work with us—some of them hunted puma to keep them off the ranch, but their skills in tracking pumas proved invaluable. So now they work on the conservation side, and they’re very happy about it.

Entry #2

In a small cabin bar in winter I overheard a conversation between some guys visiting Beskydy mountains, CZ. They were there to search for animal tracks — wolf tracks. 

I thought, ‘you mean you can track wolves here in the snow?’ 

The first time I stayed in the mountain cabin — which we would come to think of as a kind-of second home — I heard a wolf pack howl. ‘There’re no wolves here! You have to go to Slovakia for that’ is what I heard, but now, 10 years later, we know that wolves are back. Maybe it was an early scouting party, coming to check out the funky humans. 

A Bear trail on Smrk mountain (Spruce) at sunset, and what was left of two deer, and a big bear scat full of seeds — what a find! It sent goosebumps up the left side of my body — senses heightened — kami of the Bear? — the mountain mandala — a very real meaning of ”stepping into another dimension”…

Kristine: In Argentina, our partners at Rewilding Argentina have dedicated a large part of their efforts to helping local communities adopt nature-based tourism. Bringing back the jaguar is helping to create employment in Ibera, where the economy has been completely changed from the extraction of natural resources to taking care of them.

As Sebastian Di Martino (the director of conservation of Rewilding Argentina) says, “When your economy relies on ranching, the jaguar is conflictive. When wildlife-watching becomes important, the jaguar becomes an opportunity.” Of course, there’s much more to it. The process must include communication and education, which can help change public perceptions.

Entry #3

I remember sometimes talking to volunteers who go out monitoring — a bit of fur, a lynx print… — truly fantastic! — this ghost of the mountains is not easy to find…

VR or just R?

Can nature-based tourism really work out the best for the animals and for these wild places in the long run? Or is it just the first touch? To get people’s perceptions to change more radically, I completely agree with Arne Næss, that we need wilderness experience — true direct experience. And what then? Having met the mountain or desert, will we leave it well alone? I don’t really believe that we can (whether or not we should is easier to answer). E.O. Wilson wrote towards the end of Half-Earth that we won’t need to go to see wild nature at all in the future, and just enjoy a VR experience. I don’t believe that either. This is going on the Carl Sagan-esque route — sure, Elon Musk will enjoy some VR on Mars, but love for wilderness is not going to happen in VR. Like Jack Loeffler said to me, it’s about ’’being out in it…’’ Anything that leads to more separation makes no sense in what we are trying to achieve — 

”people only protect what they love’’— Cousteau 

Peter Warshall said: find something you love, like a spring, and dedicate yourself to it, and the whole world opens up.

But 8 billion people running around in the mountains and forests doesn’t sound like such a good deal for the mountains and forests, unless they really are ”…Without End” as in Gary Snyder’s ”Mountains and Rivers…”, or in a kind of Avatamsaka sutra holographic multiverse (”buddhaverse”) of infinities where everything fits inside of everything, and all the mountains and rivers and forests fit inside of every atom. But this (what Mahayana buddhists would call) ”realistic worldview,” with infinite possibilities and lots of sci-fi things going on, and the regular, conventional worldview can come right together on this point, because by going out and taking care of your neighborhood — advocating for a river, cleaning up the forest, joining the global guerrilla de-pavers, or just by going out and learning what’s there, through your local pine tree or local place you are connected to all places. It’s as if, with a certain transparency, through one part you can reach all the other parts. 

This is also a way of realizing de-centralisation. 

(neigh from neah- “near” &
bur / (ga)būraz from bheue- “to be, exist, grow”, &
hood, from -had “the position & condition or quality of being”, from haidus — literally “bright appearance,” from (s)kai- “bright, shining” & ketu “brightness”: CO-GROW BRIGHTNESS)

Entry #4

I got to talk with Børge Ousland one time (you might have seen him in National Geographic), but he looked quite different from those grizzled polar photos with ice hanging from his beard — clean shaven, wearing a fine blue shirt. I asked him about adventuring, and he told me: as with everything, ‘’the most important thing is to start.’’

The rights of trees, the rights of rivers, Rights of Nature, the right to roam, etc. are just plain common sense, but what’s important is the way we build our world around these ideas. ”I have rights,” ”River has rights,” ”Nature has rights” is OK to say, but if we still come at it from a standalone point of view, where ”we,” and ”River,” and ”Nature” are somehow independent (which is really bizzare to write, but is how we think sometimes) it won’t really work. If we can expand our identification of ourselves with others, and with forests, animals and everything, instead of expanding in physical space, we might just bring some honesty into how we live.

Here I get to thinking about wildlife corridors in the city, and rivers / sky ways — an open relationship with the wild world which does not stop at the city limits. (Finding that hawks’ nest right by a construction site for new houses… seeing a deer rolled over by a car right in front of me, get up and run off… that pine marten chewing on the car cables… being licked by a puma through the cage…)

I asked Kristine: how does it feel to meet these animals? (Big cats and the others in Chile)

Kristine: I get very emotional when I see the tangible results of all this work. I tell you, seeing giant otter pups or watching jaguars released into a million-acre wilderness, where their offspring may live free for generations, it’s pure joy. These are the moments we live for.

—Rowan Kilduff, Jun. ’22 


”Who’s afraid of FREEDOM?” Tempera & acrylic on paper, stencil text and cut-out from a sketch. poster concept Apr. 18. inspired by Tangerine’s graffiti ‘who’s afraid of Ai Wei Wei’ and attitudes to wildlife connectivity / corridors and wilderness as well as about our own wild free nature and alternatives to ‘mainstream’ thinking, if such a thing really exists. R.K. 

(Thanks to Carolyn at TC who sent me a lot of links and info, for the kind invitation to come down and see TC’s work in action, and for putting me in contact with Kristine.)

About Kristine Tompkins:

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins is the president and co-founder of Tompkins Conservation, an American conservationist, and former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. (Note: read about how Patagonia has now become a non-profit organization.)

Having protected approximately 14.8 million acres of parklands in Chile and Argentina through Tompkins Conservation and its partners, Kristine and her late husband Douglas Tompkins are considered some of the most successful national park-oriented philanthropists in history. Through Tompkins Conservation and its partners, she has helped to create or expand 15 national parks, including two marine national parks, in Chile and Argentina, and works to bring back species that have gone locally extinct, such as the jaguar, red-and-green macaw, and giant river otters in Northeast Argentina, and Darwin’s rheas and extremely endangered huemul deer in Chile. As president of Tompkins Conservation, she works closely with strategic partners Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile. 

Kristine also serves in various positions of global leadership in conservation, including as Chair of National Geographic Society’s Last Wild Places campaign.

She was the first conservationist to be awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. In 2018 she was named the United Nations’ Global Patron for Protected Areas. Her 2020 TED Talk, “Let’s Make the World Wild Again,” has over two million views. 

Some links of interest about Tompkins Conservation:

Suggested videos:


About Peter Warshall:

Peter Warshall (1940–2013) was an ecologist, activist, and essayist. He advocated for sky islands, taught at Naropa, and worked as a consultant for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Ethiopia; for USAID and other organizations in ten other African nations; he worked with the Tohono O’odham and Apache people of Arizona. Warshall was the Sustainability and Anthropology Editor of one of the later editions of the Whole Earth Catalog series and served as an editor of its spin-off magazine, Whole Earth Review


About Norwegian explorer, Børge Ousland:


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