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My Country 'Tis of Thee: Take time to remember our wild heritage 

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The early stunning vistas of beautiful America gave rise to some of the best known and most evocative writings, song and poetry of this wide and sweeping land, a land to the earliest of inhabitants and those who came after, of wildness, diamond-blue skies and waves that tumbled onto golden, unsullied beaches.

"America the Beautiful" contains some of those soaring words:

"O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties,

Above the fruited plain!"

The Wilderness Act of 1964 recognizes wilderness, "... .. in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, ... ... . as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

In keeping with the spirit of the Wilderness Act of 45 years ago, President Obama has declared September 2009 to be National Wilderness Month, appealing to Americans of all persuasions to celebrate current and future wilderness areas.

"My Country 'Tis of Thee" written by Samuel Francis Smith, further pays tribute to America's wild:

"I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;"

The President, in his proclamation, says "This month, we celebrate... .and renew our commitment to preserving the American wilderness for future generations."

While we cannot bring back the America of so long ago, it's important that we restore, protect and preserve these unique lands already declared as wilderness, and we should continue to seek out lands that have "outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation," as the Wilderness Act continues to state.

And Oregon, while behind some of our neighboring states in total protected wilderness, has some of the most magnificent wilderness areas in the American west, from the wide, sweeping emptiness and lonely, high vistas of the Steens Mountain Wilderness, to the spreading panoply of the Hart Mountain Refuge, serene under an impossibly wide sky, to the close knit mountains of Spring Basin Wilderness and the wild, savage beauty of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness; you can enjoy a wilderness experience, for as Woody Guthrie sung:

"This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California,
To the New York island,
From the Redwood Forest,
To the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me."

We and future generations can experience it all - should we choose - for these lands are your lands, belonging to all Americans. John Muir, born in Dunbar, Scotland, 21st April 1838, and emigrating to the United States in 1849, recognized this and was largely responsible for inspiring the American people and alerting them to the possible loss of wilderness areas. America owes to John Muir the establishment in 1890 of Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park.

He said "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

Help celebrate National Wilderness Month this month of September; visit one of your Wilderness areas, or volunteer to help restore, protect and preserve one of these lands. When you do this, you'll let the light of Wilderness into your soul; your mind and body will be exhilarated at a time well spent, for no matter how the weather or mundane the task, your effort and your visit will be a restoration of your personal well-being, and this legacy you create will help to secure that of generations to come.

David Eddleston is the president of the volunteer group Friends of Oregon Badlands Wilderness, an active member of Oregon Natural Desert Association. Like John Muir, he also immigrated to the United States from Scotland.


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