J. R. R. Tolkien once wrote that we create "by the law in which we're made." Our own creative speech is one, or potentially one, with the creative speech of nature that first uttered us. (How could it be otherwise?) This suggests that our relation to every wild thing is intimate indeed. We speak from the same source. We cannot know ourselves cannot acquaint ourselves with the potentials of our own speaking except by learning how those potentials have already found expression in the stunning diversity of nature.
Every created thing images some aspect of ourselves, an aspect we can discover and vivify only through understanding. The destruction of a habitat and its inhabitants truly is a loss of part of ourselves, a kind of amnesia. Wendell Berry is right to ask, "How much can a mind diminish its culture, its community and its geography how much topsoil, how many species can it lose and still be a mind?" As Gary Snyder puts it, "The nature in the mind is being logged and burned off."
When Thoreau told us, "In wildness is the preservation of the world," the wildness he referred to was at least in part our wildness. If humankind fails to embrace with its sympathies and understanding which is to say, within our own being every wild thing, then both we and the world will to that extent be diminished. This is true even if our refusal goes no further than the withdrawal from conversation.
Our failure to reckon adequately with the wild Other is as much a feature of human social relations as of our relations with nature, and as much a feature of our treatment of domesticated landscapes as of wilderness areas. In its Otherness, the factory-farmed hog is no less a challenge to our sympathies and understanding than the salmon, the commonplace chickadee no less than the grizzly bear. We do not excel in the art of conversation. If the grizzly is absent from the distant mountains, perhaps it is partly because we have lost sight of, or even denigrated, the wild spirit in the chickadee outside our doors.
If we really believed in the saving grace of wildness, we would not automatically discount habitats bearing the marks of human engagement. We would not look down upon the farmer whose love is the Other he meets in the soil and whose struggle is to draw out, in wisdom, the richness and productive potential of his farm habitat. Nor, thrilling to the discovery of a cougar track in the high Rockies, would we disparage the cultivated European landscape which, at its best, serves a far greater diversity of wild things than the primeval northern forest.
The point is not to pronounce any landscape good or bad, but to ask after the integrity of the conversation it represents. None of us would want to see the entire world reduced to someone's notion of a garden, but neither would we want to see a world where no humans tended reverently to their surroundings. We should not set the creativity of the true gardener against the creativity at work in our oversight of the Denali wilderness. They are two very different conversations, and both ought to be can be worthy expressions of the wild spirit.