NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home
The Leader

Go wild,
just a little bit

By Tom Reed

Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18, No. 2


I am standing on infirm ground. Literally. It crumbles at my feet and falls off into “eternity.” Eternity is measured in feet, about twenty. Probably not enough to kill me, but if I fall off of here, it’s going to hurt. I am working through the crumbling slump of a cliff band that hangs precariously above another, somewhere in wild Nevada.

There’s a shotgun in my hands, but it doesn’t have to be a gun. It could be a rope, or a piece of protection, or a camera, or a notebook and pen. Or nothing. I am not here because of the tool that I carry, nor am I here, really, for the activity, for the recreation. I am here, in this wild place, on this wild mesa above a wide sea-like expanse of big open country because I need to be. I just happen to be chukar partridge hunting. But that doesn’t matter, at least at this moment. Now I am concentrating on steps, but even in my efforts to not break anything that will hurt financially or physically I can’t help but notice that this cliff was once a bed of mud that hardened in the sun, turned to rock, cracked, splintered, eroded, slipped, fell, crumbled. Large and small chunks of shale are everywhere and they tinkle like icy elm boughs in a winter storm and scatter from my step like chukar partridge from the gun. Some pieces of thin flat rock carry the painted skeletons of plants eons dead. There is a wildness to the rock and there is a wildness to everything around me. I need wildness, something natural. I’m not alone. This is why we plant trees in the shadows of our skyscrapers.

Yet there are those among us who have never felt the largess of largeness, the gift to your soul of days, weeks, months, spent outside in the big empty country we call wilderness. That amazes and saddens me. I want them to know it and maybe then they will understand. To me, being in a wild place, spending time outdoors, or spending time thinking about being outdoors is as natural as breathing. I have known nothing else, for as long as I’ve walked this third rock from the sun. Wildness, wilderness, open country, that thing we call “the great outdoors” — these are essential to my soul and I know how fortunate I have been in my life to experience as much of it as I have. My life has changed in recent years. Priorities have shifted a bit and I have found myself suddenly on the far edge of country that cleans me out. My days of spending thirty days in the wilderness as a NOLS instructor are behind me. These days, my wilderness experiences aren’t feasts, they are snacks. But I need those snacks nevertheless.

We who love wild places have tried — some quite successfully, others less so — to put into words what the outdoors means to us. Maybe we shouldn’t try. Maybe we should just be. Just go. Go into the deep wild. Aldo Leopold called it the “tall uncut.” He was a poet, a philosopher, a visionary, a musician. I think he got his music from the wild country. The wild wide is my muse as well. Others, too, need that deepening peace that washes over one’s soul in a wild piece of country. I wish there were more of us, for those who have felt that penetrating solace cannot help but want to share it, and to protect it. Perhaps protect it for a child, or a grandchild, but one thing cannot be denied and that is the fact that wildness and the outdoors experience is a very personal thing. Anyone who has ever stopped mid-stride in a hot hike up a hill and gaped at the view can attest to this. The view and how it hits you is yours and yours alone.

Whatever it means to you and whatever it is, from a wind-tossed cliff somewhere in Nevada, to a three-acre patch of native prairie in Iowa, to a towering live oak in downtown San Antonio, wild and natural things are essential to the human condition. Or, perhaps more succinctly, without wild and natural things, we have no escape from the rat race. All of us can think of a place that is now covered in houses where we once enjoyed the view. Save a little of it. For your own selfish reasons, for your children’s children, or for the race itself. And go.

Get out. Stop long enough. Whether you nibble or feast. Enjoy it. And read some Leopold:

“In all the category of outdoor vocations and outdoor sports there is not one, save only the tilling of the soil, that bends and molds the human character like wilderness travel. Shall this fundamental instrument for building citizens be allowed to disappear from America, simply because we lack the vision to see its value? Would we rather have the few paltry dollars that could be extracted from our remaining wild places than the human values they can render in their wild condition?”
-Aldo Leopold, 1925

Former NOLS publications manager and instructor Tom Reed lives and writes from his home outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is currently at work on a book of Wyoming bear stories, due out next fall from Riverbend Publishing. You can email him at


NOLS Top of Page
NOLS Home About Us Courses Wilderness Medicine Institute NOLS Professional Training Alumni Store Donate Account NOLS Home Parents Press Room School Resources Photos NOLS.TV Events WRMC The NOLS Blog Introduction About Leadership History Mission & Values Profiles Partnerships Frequent Questions Find a Course Skills School Locations School Locations Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit Find a Course Skills School Locations Course Types Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit NOLS Pro Home 1-3 Day Courses 7-30 Day Courses Risk Management Staff Clients Design Your Course Contact NOLS Pro NOLS Pro 1-3 Days 7-30 Days Risk Management Clients Contact Us NOLS Pro Design Your Course NOLS Pro Staff Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Case Studies Overview Administrative Training Staff Training Consulting Conference: WRMC How to Apply Apply Online Download an Application Admission Policies WMI Home About WMI Courses Schedule FAQ Photos & Movies Curriculum Updates Employment Sponsors WMI Home About WMI Admissions Courses Schedule Host a Course Resources Gallery Alumni Home Trips and Events The Leader Alumni Chapters Employment Staying in Touch Volunteer Photos & Videos Home NOLS Photos NOLS.TV The NOLS Podcast NOLS on Flickr Leave No Trace Overview Leave No Trace Principles Leave No Trace Master Educator Courses Host a Course Contact Map of Events Dream Expedition Leadership Week Press Room Images for the Press Archives