Jim Burch

Jim Burch smilingWhen I was in high school, I was lucky enough to play the role of Henry David Thoreau in a local production of 'The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail'. During my research for the part, I purchased the book 'In Wildness is the Preservation of the World', with quotations from Henry David Thoreau and photographs by Eliot Porter. That book, and the experience of attempting to understand and portray Henry David Thoreau, helped bring my life into focus.

My grandparents had deep ties to the land. One grandfather was raised on a farm in Kansas and, even though he chose to leave the farm for a career with the railroad, remained close to his farming roots.

My other grandfather was the son of a brick-mason in St. Louis, and opted to leave the city for open skies. He was awarded a homestead tract in the sand hills of Nebraska, worked on a ranch in Montana, and later filled us with tales of his adventures.

When I was growing up, the stories of grandpa's experiences mingled in my mind with all the westerns I watched on TV and fueled my imagination. As we would drive our Rambler across the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to visit relatives, one of my favorite pastimes was to gaze out the side window and imagine I was riding on horseback across the landscape. As we'd pass a culvert or a fence, my horse and I would jump the obstacle and continue on our path: never breaking stride, always smoothly gliding over the landscape with the wind at our face.

In high school, reading Henry David Thoreau and looking at the beautiful photos by Eliot Porter took me back to my daydreams of the wide open prairies. So, I'd go for long walks in the local woods, longing to leave civilization behind, but knowing that I needed civilization to survive.

While in college, as I would stare endlessly at a map of the USA and imagine where the next phase of my life would lead, I was always drawn to the vast area along the continental divide in Montana and Wyoming that said 'wilderness'.

As I matured, moved west, and was provided the opportunity to camp and visit areas I'd only dreamed of seeing, I realized even more the importance of wildness and quiet to my soul. The peace of sitting in a virgin stand of redwoods on one birthday helped me survive a long year of challenging work. The pleasure of a morning walk at the base of the Tetons on another birthday inspired me toward a year of excellent achievement in my work.

I've never been inspired by looking at a freeway, or watching the oil rigs we used to call 'giant grasshoppers' bob up and down.

My support of The Wilderness Society allows me to help preserve some of what my generation inherited from those that came before us, in the hope that many subsequent generations will cherish the peace, serenity, and fulfillment that can only be experienced in wild places.