Your Soul Needs the Wild

by Peter Illyn

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

Cascade Mountains in Oregon.

Life on the dry side of the Cascades. (image courtesy Restoring Eden)

This week I went on a short writing/camping retreat on the dry side of the Cascade Mountains, into the high desert of Oregon. It may surprise some that two-thirds of Oregon is actually an arid sagebrush ecosystem, filled with flat-top bluffs, long-eared jack rabbits, and prong-horned antelope. It had been raining for a solid two weeks on my side (the wet side) of the Cascades, so it was glorious here—hot summer days with clear and cold nights. As the full moon rose over the butte, the yelps of coyotes began to mingle with the sage-infused breeze. It was perfect.

I was heading to speak at an environmental conference being held at the Young Life Camp—once the headquarters of the bizarre Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh cult (who in 1984 sprayed food poison on a salad bar in the town of The Dallas in a failed plot to keep local voters home from the polls).  Now it is the world’s largest Christian youth camp. They are partnering in a land swap that will create a new federally protected wilderness area that abuts their land. (NOTE: The 1964 Wilderness Act was written by an evangelical conservationist—Howard Zahniser, who was the executive director of the Wilderness Society from 1946 until his death in 1964, just before the Wilderness Act was signed into law.)

Heading to the Young Life camp, I took a short detour and went out into the bush to collect obsidian—in this case relatively rare

Mahogany obsidian.

Mahogany obsidian. (image courtesy Restoring Eden)

mahogany obsidian (see picture). The local rock hounds claim archaeologists can trace this exact obsidian and spear-points and arrowheads all the way back into the Ohio River Valley, meaning it was a valuable, tradable commodity thousands of years before I ever arrived to gather mine. It is history just scattered all over the ground.

All of this brings me to the main point of this essay—that nature has, does, and will speak to our souls. As I stare off into the stars or listen to the coyotes, I am reminded that this is God’s creation—I do not own it, I cannot control it—I can only tend and keep it. My soul needs the wild because it reminds me that I am not the center of God’s universe.

Peter Illyn, the founder and executive director of Restoring Eden, is also a record-holding llama-packer and an evangelical minister. This article originally appeared at

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