Wilderness: Through A High Schooler’s Eyes

By Kayah Gaydish, North Carolina Conservation Coordinator

While working in conservation, you tend to meet a lot of wonderful people. Getting to work with people who are passionate about nature is one of the perks of the work, and here is one example.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by an enthusiastic high school senior wanting to talk about his idea for his senior year project on Wilderness Areas and how they are managed.

After spending a day in the woods with Simon, I could tell that he had chosen the subject for his project because he was genuinely passionate about wild places, and he clearly enjoyed being out, far out in the wilderness. His passion and excitement were really refreshing. Simon joined me on the trail and he brought several of his classmates. He was a hard and happy worker, and came with a clear understanding of the Wilderness Act. I really enjoyed his company and wish he could come every time!

Below you can read Simon’s response to being asked why he chose wilderness for the subject of his senior year project.  And please enjoy this short video that he created to go along with his project.

From Simon, High School Senior:

A massive amount of freedom surrounds the selection of a topic when it comes to the graduation project every high school senior in North Carolina goes through. The premise is that a student will select a challenging topic that will help, as Thoreau put it, cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh. Picking a growth experience like that can be a bit of a mind-racking experience. I knew I wanted to do something that would broaden my understanding of wild country and how it was (and is) protected in its current form.

Eventually, after a summer of reading up on Muir, Leopold, and Robert Marshall, I decided my project should cover the 6 Wilderness Areas that sit at their respective highlands, in Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests. Starting early September, I set out alone on more than one occasion to document and experience these reserves. Some I knew, most I didn’t, and all were experiences of a lifetime. In the way of lessons, a few were hard-earned.

Creek basins almost always have an impassable thicket of Rhododendron.

Thunderstorms move in faster than you think.

If a single day has 4000 feet of elevation gain and loss, you’re in for a very long haul.

Finally, after sitting down bruised, cut, cold, wet, hot, sweaty, hungry – you can only think of going back.

On other hikes, when I wasn’t alone for a night or two, I would find conversation more sincere and meaningful than I would have thought, even from people I had known for years. After I completed the final trip of the project, to Ellicott Rock Wilderness, I took inspiration from what is still seen when my eyes are closed, and those flashes of moments eventually collected into this video. It was once said, “Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit”. I hope that sentiment rings true in our hearts when this video is played and other special moments recalled.

-Simon, some kid with a dream and a rambling conscience