Skip to main content

Into the Wild

The call of the wild beckons in many ways

The call of the wild beckons many people in many ways.

Some savor the solitude and the feeling of life pared down to its bare necessities. Others revel in the beauty of natural places and work to protect expanses of pristine land, such as the Three Ridges and Priest areas in Virginia. Their work can be seen in an omnibus wilderness bill presented to Congress this year.

Here are the stories of UVA alumni who have heeded that call and now share their love of wild places.

The Road Less Traveled

David Carr grew up on a dairy farm in Albemarle County, wading in creeks and canoeing on the local rivers. “I lived outdoors, so I felt deeply familiar with the land here,” says Carr (Law ’83). As he grew into adulthood, he experienced the county’s rapid development. “The character of the area was changing before my eyes. In the ’70s, pollution seriously threatened the Rivanna Reservoir that supplied water to Charlottesville and much of Albemarle,” says Carr. “I began to realize that the places that I loved might not survive if someone didn’t protect them.”

David Carr on the Moormans River, Albemarle County, Virginia Luca DiCecco

Carr considered a degree in planning but felt that law school would best equip him for his calling: environmental protection. “The law has always been the first and the last line of defense for natural resources and beautiful places,” says Carr. “If we aren’t successful through general advocacy and persuasive powers, we can resort to the courts.”

Carr became the first staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) soon after it was founded by Rick Middleton (Col ’68) in 1986. Since then, his work has been instrumental in safeguarding public land. “From the beginning, we wanted to protect the back country from road building, logging and other development,” says Carr. “Most people don’t realize that national forests are open to development. They aren’t national parks.”

Sometimes creating new environmental legislation is a demanding and agonizingly slow process. In 1997, the SELC sought public and congressional support to protect roadless areas in national forests. They wanted an administrative rule that would put a moratorium on road building in designated areas nationwide. The Clinton administration agreed to the rule, but in January 2001 the Bush administration put it on hold. “I am looking forward to the next administration to see these areas permanently protected,” says Carr.

Yet Carr remains determined and has enjoyed significant victories in the past 23 years. “There are 5 million acres of national forest land in southern Appalachia, and through our advocacy we’ve given stronger protection to 2 million acres of it,” he says.

The SELC now includes nearly 40 attorneys (15 of whom attended UVA) that advocate in six states on issues as diverse as public land and climate change. “We address a plethora of problems— clean air and water, energy use, and transportation to name a few—because they are all fundamentally connected to preserving the environment that sustains us all,” says Carr. “Our urban lives are utterly dependent on nature; any separation between the two is illusory. We rely on the wilderness for the very air we breathe.”

Camping Out

Deep-six the video games and the TV. “Yes, six weeks unplugged is tough for kids, but they return having learned self-reliance and communal responsibility,” says Sharon Hubbard Buckman (Col ’83), associate director of Darrow Camp in eastern Maine.

Since 1957, locals and youngsters from Boston and New York have summered at Darrow, making like voyageurs of the early fur trade as they exchanged city lights and stresses for undimmed starshine and soul-stirring white-water canoeing. The vessels are classics—wood-canvas of the kind favored by 18th-century lumbermen—and there’s a hint of eco-exotica in the accompanying gear: tumplines, wannigan boxes, canvas duffle bags. Founded by Quaker educators, Darrow keeps it real. Nothing high-tech. No ropes courses, either.

Sharon Hubbard Buckman and son Jack Peggy Harrison

“Our counselors don’t manufacture artificial challenges,” Buckman says. Indeed, a typical portage is adventure aplenty. The coed campers, ages 11 to 18, paddle into the Great North Woods to scope out beaver or moose while stopping to swim and fish. Their resourcefulness is tested by wilderness route-finding and the tricky negotiating of sometimes roiling waters as they learn to “plan their days in accordance with natural rhythms,” Buckman says.

Buckman herself first heard the music of those rhythms as a girl tramping through Virginia’s Rock Castle Gorge, not far from her current home in Rocky Mount. There, she continues her 20-year practice as a licensed professional counselor until Darrow convenes every June. “I grew up loving the woods, and I still feel it—that deep connection to the living history of the planet,” she says.

Keeping faith with that history, she says, not only keeps her hiking the rolling hills of the western Blue Ridge Mountains but also draws her back to Darrow. For one thing, her 8-year-old son Jack, already a nascent outdoorsman, can’t wait for his own New England foray. “He’s the kind of boy who says, ‘I don’t need toys to have fun,’” she says. “And I think that’s pretty cool.”

Buckman encourages that same Emersonian spirit in the kids she’s come to love at Darrow. “The wilderness opens a world to them,” Buckman says, “beyond Dunkin’ Donuts or video games or immediate gratification.” It’s a world, she believes, where they can begin to find themselves.

“As a kid, I used to hate summer camp,” she says, chuckling. “But it was church camp, and it was boring. A true wilderness experience is absolutely anything but.”

Guiding Light

As an adventure guide in Alaska, Alice Bailey has seen caribou, grizzly bears, moose and wolves. She has traveled rivers in some of the most remote wilderness on the continent.

But like many in the wilderness guide business, she must find other work in the winter. “Being a river guide is seasonal because the rivers are frozen most of the year,” says Bailey (Col ’04). Some guides go to the lower 48 states to find winter work, but Bailey prefers to remain in Alaska and works a variety of off-season jobs.

Alice Bailey by the Kongakut River in Alaska Stephen P. Bailey

By staying, she experiences the state in every season. She can ski, hike, kayak or go dog-mushing with friends. Her cabin, 15 miles from Fairbanks, has hiking trails within 100 yards of her door.

However, the main attraction—the thing that keeps her in Alaska—is the wilderness. In the Alaskan Arctic, the wilderness “is huge, vast and open,” she says. “There aren’t any trees, so you can see forever. The tundra is like the prairie—distances are deceiving. Sometimes you go for a walk and you think that you’re just going over there. It turns out to be a few miles.”

Adventure travelers share that experience when they join her on trips to Alaska’s Brooks Mountain Range. “The fact that it’s hundreds of miles from anything increases the sense of how isolated you really are.

“I like sharing the experience with our clients. And with the Arctic, I want people to understand what an important place it is. I want people to understand that it’s important to protect it from human destruction. There’s no amount of oil there that’s worth destroying it.”

Bailey has loved the outdoors since her childhood near Rapid City, S.D., where she lived in a house set on the edge of a canyon. “I was always outside,” she recalls.

She moved to Virginia to work as a backpacking instructor in a summer youth program, and broke her ankle climbing. By then, she had applied to UVA.

When she arrived, she was still on crutches, but her love of the outdoors was intact. In 2005, a year after graduating, she traveled to Alaska for a vacation. The next year she came back to work as a guide. “I thought it was just going to be for the summer,” she says. “But I never left.”

Wild Medicine

Joseph Forrester was sleeping 1,500 feet up an ice wall on Argentina’s Aconcagua Mountain when the sound of falling rocks woke his climbing companion. They had chopped a ledge into the ice to rest for the night on the first of a multiple-day ascent. Joel Irby found Forrester unconscious and bleeding profusely from a skull fracture.

“When I came to, I had no idea where I was,” says Forrester (Med ’10). Irby found a hole in Forrester’s back where a rock had broken several bones in his spine. Luckily, both men had been trained in wilderness medicine, and Irby was able to assess Forrester’s injuries and stanch his bleeding with socks.

Joseph Forrester rock climbing in Kenya Jeremy Roop

Together they decided that Irby should climb down alone off the ice wall, hike across a glacier and fly back with rescuers at first light. “I had to wait up on the ledge,” says Forrester. “It was hard to watch him leave.”

As the morning progressed and rescuers did not arrive, Forrester feared the worst. He started to collect his gear and prepare himself for a painful and slow descent. “Then I saw a helicopter come up the valley, and I knew it was going to be all right,” he says.

Forrester’s injuries required an extended stay in an Argentinean hospital and surgery in the United States, but they did not extinguish his passion for the wilderness. Instead, his experience inspired him to study medicine. “Part of my interest in medicine in general, and wilderness medicine in particular, emanates from the difference that those doctors made in my life,” says Forrester. “And Joel, who came up with a plan and executed it.”

Forrester, Lisa Chastant (Med ’10) and faculty adviser Chris Holstege founded the UVA Wilderness Medical Society Student Interest Group, which makes courses in wilderness medicine available to students. “A lay person can take a course to learn how to be a Wilderness First Responder,” says Forrester.

UVA’s group is part of the international Wilderness Medical Society, which was founded by three physicians in 1983. Its mission is to bring up-to-date medical practices to the wilderness and provide training opportunities for medical professionals and laymen alike. Though the society is relatively new to UVA, Forrester believes that it is well-fitted to Charlottesville. “We’re close to so many beautiful natural places, and wilderness medicine makes them safer and more accessible.”

Despite Forrester’s course load at UVA’s medical school, he can’t be kept indoors. In May, he’ll embark on a 4,000-mile solo kayak trip to raise funds for the National Parkinson Foundation.

Acre by Acre

Rangy and fit, Jim Murray looks the part of a man who has led a 40-year crusade for Virginia’s wilderness. And this Brahmin in buffalo plaid knows the inner qualities it takes for success as well: “Patience and toughness, I’d say.”

President of the Virginia Wilderness Committee in 1970 and again from 1999 until last summer, Murray, professor emeritus of biology at UVA, has helped the committee’s 250 members add public land to the National Wilderness Preservation System by passing a bill through Congress every 10 years or so.

Jim Murray Luca DiCecco

Among their victories? The 1975 Eastern Wilderness Areas Act, adding 200,000 acres; the 1984 Virginia Wilderness Act, adding two areas in the George Washington National Forest and eight in the Jefferson National Forest; and the 2000 Virginia Wilderness Act, adding, Murray says, “two splendid  mountains”—Three Ridges and the Priest.

A hiker, hunter, mountain climber and birdwatcher inspired by Sierra Club founder John Muir, Murray is propelled into the wild by “the idea of solitude, of getting away from civilization and being by oneself in the natural world.” He’s felt the hunger since childhood, when, with his father, founder of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, he explored forests around Lexington. And there’s something a bit paradoxical, he knows, about this idyllic vision and the political hurly-burly required to preserve it.

“Mainly, it takes education and negotiation” to secure wilderness, Murray says. “There’s the opposition of ignorance—people’s misperceptions that they won’t be able to hunt in the wilderness or go there at all—and opposition by design, from people who fear they’ll lose timberland or the possibility of gas and oil leases or mineral extraction.”

Crucial, then, are skillful alliances. Bipartisan support helps greatly, and former U.S. Sen. John Warner (Law ’53), a Republican, and 9th District Rep. Rick Boucher (Law ’71), a Democrat, have long been staunch wilderness advocates. Murray’s own closest ally is his wife, Bess. The two met as lab partners at Oxford, and, from his University days as an ecological geneticist researching land snails to his current advocacy, the pair have shared a passion for environmental activism—and a 40-acre Charlottesville homestead graced with a herd of cows and an 1830s home built by Jefferson-era architect Thomas Blackburn.

It’s from that sanctum that they tirelessly continue raising consciousness of the “greening of America.” “Whenever one bill passes,” he says, “we’re ready with another.”