Guides of wilderness rites of passage programs can’t just take people into beautiful, pristine forests, deserts, and mountains whenever and wherever they want to. They have to deal with permits, applications, and regulations from such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Bureau of Land Management, the owners or caretakers of those places. Some people regard these federal or corporate agencies as enemies and the requirements as nuisances. But as this story shows, a spirit of cooperation offers surprises and gifts.
A friend of mine recently arrived in the wilderness area of California* where she has been guiding programs for many years. Shortly afterwards, three Forest Service firefighters drove up in truck. They checked to be sure she was the person who had filled out the permit they carried and informed her that two forest fires were burning on opposite sides of her base camp. They told her that the fires did not pose any immediate danger and assured her that, if conditions changed, they would personally come to make sure that she and her participants were safely evacuated.
Then they revealed something else. They said that they had been working diligently to protect that particular area because many generations of a species of endangered raptor had been nesting there.
This encounter offers several insights:
  1. 1.   Government officials who work in wilderness areas probably love those places as much as those of us who seek out wilderness for its contemplative or spiritual nourishment.
  2. 2.   When we work with these agencies not with an attitude of disdain but one of cooperation, it tends to be reciprocated.
  3. 3.   Firefighters working in wilderness areas are not focused simply on protecting a piece of property, they are also dedicated to the animals and birds who live there…
  4. 4.   and to other people who love those places and take care of them in their own way.
* The Forest Service has requested that my friend not reveal the exact location.
— Trebbe Johnson

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • Forest Fire Design: Vector Stock


  • IMG 5758

How Is It Possible to Love a Hurt Place?

Shortly after meeting in Cazenovia, New York in 2009 to design our new organization, Radical Joy for Hard Times founding member Noah Crowe experimented with the practice we’d devised to find and make beauty in [...]

  • Mind The Heart Copy

How to Fill a Hole

What do you do with a big hole? Do you negotiate around it? Do you figure it’s beyond repair and try to ignore it? Or do you take the RadJoy approach and fill the hole [...]

  • Joanne At Shell

Reimagining the Unimaginable

Author and educator Joanna Macy has taught that there are three positive ways of dealing with a difficult situation: 1.     Fight to save what matters 2.     Work to create new, positive alternatives 3.     Change consciousness Sometimes, if we’re [...]

More Revealed



Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.