Wilderness and Wildness

Bronwen Dickey, daughter of James Dickey (author of Deliverance), describes her father's view of wilderness and rivers.

I've shed blood in the Chattooga River, the result of incompetent kayaking. Wildness doesn't tolerate fools.

Link: Chattooga Conservancy, The Last Wild River.

My father didn't talk much about wilderness, it was "wildness" he was interested in. Wilderness, to him, was just an idea, a romantic falsification of nature rather than the untamed, untamable thing itself. Wildness was a place where man risked everything; it wasn't a theme park or a toy you played around with or a place you ventured into for thrills. It could kill you. The characters in Deliverance were prepared only for wilderness, and they found wildness. Wildness bites back.

"I think a river is the most beautiful thing in nature," my father wrote in one of his journals, right before the novel was published in 1970. "Any river is more beautiful than anything else I know." He was drawn to writers who felt similarly inspired by water, like Melville and Conrad. Heraclitus's philosophy of universal flux and his famous dictum, "you cannot step into the same river twice," particularly moved him. But there were few things that terrified my father as much as man's ever-growing intrusion into the natural world. "We're never going to be able to get out of the 'man world,'" he said in a documentary back in the '70s, "if we don't have any place to go to from the man world. That's why we need these rivers and streams and creeks and woods and mountains. You need to be in contact with nature as it was made by something else than men." As much as Deliverance was a story of survival, or, as so many define it, a story of "man against nature," it was a story about the commercial destruction of a rugged, primordial landscape and a part of the South that was slipping away, even back then.

Note: Here's a link to some scenes from the movie Deliverance, if you haven't seen it.

Photos of the Chattooga River: