Wilderness Practice within the Circumference of the Collegiate Home

This page authored by Elizabeth Sikes, Seattle University
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A wilderness practice is one that engages and reconnects the whole person within the context and temporal horizons of a local ecological community. It seeks to erase the dichotomy between civilized and wild through a direct experience of the human being's dependence upon and emergence within an ecology. In this way it also awakens compassion within the practitioner. After reading Gary Snyder's essays on "The Practice of the Wild" and Kurt Hoelting's "The Circumference of the Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life", students plan and execute an expedition into the circumference of the university's home, with the goal of initiating a particular wilderness practice that they have defined.

Learning Goals

The wilderness practice engages alternate forms of awareness that promote a sense of the self as a part within a larger ecological or other systemic context. The experience of oneself as part of a larger whole also awakens compassion.

Context for Use

This is a field exercise and requires at least 4 consecutive hours outside the classroom, in addition to the planning and reflection time the students will need before and afterward. It is appropriate for any college level, and can be used as way of allowing two classes collaborate with one another. The activity works best within a course that deals with the sources of and problems associated with global climate change, or at a minimum deals with the relationship between the human being and the rest of the natural world. The readings are especially appropriate for those in the Pacific Northwest, but could be substituted for other texts that speak to the local bioregion. Students need to understand the concept of a wilderness practice and be able to give concrete examples of it. Equipment needed: shoes!

Description and Teaching Materials

Prior to the outing, students read Snyder's and Hoelting's books. A class period, and/or a writing exercise should be devoted to drawing conclusions based on these readings and earlier class discussions about what exactly a practice of the wild is. Students are then divided into small groups depending on class size. They plan and execute an expedition and a practice (or practices) of the wild that will be initiated according to the parameters given in the prompt below and the concepts of wilderness practice discussed and shown in the readings. One proposal (turned in prior to the outing) and one reflection (turned in afterward), each between 2-3 pages, for the entire group serve as the basis of the grade.

Wilderness Practice in the Circumference of the Collegiate Home

Required Reading.

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild: Essays (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1990)

Kurt Hoelting, The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life (Da Capo Press, 2010)

Outing Requirements.

ยท A 2-3 page Outing Proposal and a 2-3 page Outing Reflection. Only one proposal and one outing for the entire group needs to be handed in. The proposal is due before the outing and the reflection afterward.

The proposal should:

1) state clearly what kind of wilderness practice or practices will be explored;

2) defend this practice (or practices) as practices of the wild, in Gary Snyder's terms;

3) discuss the following points.

a) Where and when do you intend to go and why? What do you hope to get out of this outing? What attracts you to this place and this practice?

b) How you will get there?

c) Who is going?

4) How does this outing and practice relate to Kurt Hoelting's book and how will it be incorporated during the day?

The reflection should:

1) Consider the salient lessons of the day and whether the outing succeeded in embodying the practice.

2) Consider the following questions: Was it effective as proposed? What did or did not meet your expectations as outlined in the proposal? Did anything else occur unexpectedly that contributed or detracted from the expedition? How did group dynamics come into play? How did the places visited differ from your original expectations?

Other Parameters

--The outing must be at least FOUR hours long. Longer expeditions will be graded more favorably.

--The maximum collegiate circumference is 60 miles, but you need not wander that far. You should visit at least TWO destinations, one already seen and one entirely new. More creative or unusual destinations will be graded more favorably. You can also be inspired by Hoelting's travels.

--All travel must be on foot or with public transportation (ferries are okay). ABSOLUTELY NO AUTOMOBILE TRAVEL WILL BE ALLOWED.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The students need to be able to go on the outing as it suits their schedules, but once everyone in each group agrees to the time they set for the outing, each one is obligated to go. It must be emphasized that for full credit they have to attend for the entire time. The repercussions of not fulfilling this obligation should be clearly stated and followed through. The heavy time commitment outside of the scheduled class hours might make it impossible for students who work to participate. Especially if the class is large, this problem will come up. Making the outing optional will most likely have the effect of severely reducing participation, so this is not advised. According to student feedback I've received, students often don't like the idea of working collaboratively and taking time outside of class to do such an activity, but inevitably they enjoy it once they do it and they learn a lot about where they live.


Assessment is based on the details given in the proposal and reflection reports of each group.

References and Resources