The simplest and most common definition of wilderness is: “an area essentially undisturbed by human activity.”
I have been contemplating this question, as I wander around Madaket, at the extreme west end of Nantucket.
We are the fourth cottage from the end of the island. At the moment, only 4 cottages are occupied. When I walk to the ocean or bay, I typically do not see anyone else out and about.
It is a 45 minute walk out to the western tip of the island, Smith Point. As I walk it, down near the water as the tide rolls out, I see no sign of human activity, other than an occasional Jeep tire track in the sand.
I do not have a dog with me this trip, but I am accompanied on my walk by a small brown seal, who stays with me, just offshore, surfacing to look at me as we progress out the point. Seagulls and terns are everywhere.
The tip of the island is wild. The tide is running out, and the water of Madaket Bay meets the ocean in a ferocious rip. This is where I fish. The tide rolling out carries with it little silverfish, and the Bluefish and Stripers come into the rip to feed.
I start to fish in a solid fog bank. I can see the rip, but not my lure as it hits the water. The houses on Tuckernuck Island are not visible, even though it is only about a quarter mile away.
Is this wilderness?
After fishing for about 40 minutes, without a strike, the fog lifts and the sky is clear above. Tuckernuck reappears, and a school of blues start to feed on the bayside of the rip. They are in a frenzy, jumping out of the water. Fishing is incredible, strike after strike. Each fish taking forever to land. There is nothing like the jolt of a Bluefish striking a lure, while surfcasting. Sheer power.
For most of this time, we have the point to ourselves, which I prefer. This is the Nantucket I love; not the crowds and traffic in town. We plan out time here to avoid the need to go into town. We have gone to the Bake shop for Portuguese Bread, the hardware store, Bill Fisher’s, and Bartlett Farm for fresh veggies and fruit. We were going to go into town for dinner, but will most likely just go to Millie’s here on the West end.
A Massachusetts DNR ranger comes by on a 4×4; the fish are hitting, so I do not stop to talk, and he does not disturb me. He chats with Paula and moves on. A red Jeep Wrangler appears; it’s lone occupant gets out and walks down the Bay to baitfish for Stripers.
Is it wilderness?
On the Point we practice “Leave no Trace.” I use a single, barbless hook, and return any caught fish to the water. We pick up garbage as we walk. We do the same thing in while in the woods and on the trails in the Adirondacks. We try to leave it better than we found it.
I have a hard time seeing Smith Point as wilderness, but I think that is because I live in the Northern Adirondacks. It’s all about my point of view, I guess. I associate wilderness with forests, streams and lakes. If I contemplate the question objectively, then the conclusion is easier– yes, the Point is wilderness.