As I watched the sunset in Greenland, I realized we all require wilderness, whether that’s a place on a map or a region of the mind. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The year 2014 is now in its final hours.Traditionally, during these last, waning days, we look back on what kind of year we just had, what we accomplished and what we could have done better.

If this type of annual reflection is stereotypical, it seems to me it is and always will be a valuable exercise. There is a certain peace and a comforting closure that comes from enumerating the things we’ve learned over the past 365 days and how we’ve grown from that knowledge in spirit and soul.

So, here’s my list of the top 10 things I learned in 2014 and will carry forward with me as we move into the New Year:


Just when you think there is nothing more we could possibly document about the lives of animals, we find something astounding.

1) There’s still a lot we don’t know about nature. Just when you think we have camera-trapped, radio-collared and GPS-followed every species of wildlife until there is nothing more we could possibly document about their lives, we find that nature still holds astounding surprises.

So, we should be careful to treasure and protect what we have since…

2) Some losses are forever. We are losing plants and animals at a staggering rate. But they are not the only things we’ve lost. Some places, through our lack of guardianship, have disappeared altogether. Therefore…

3) We should be thoughtful when speaking about “the others” with whom we share this world; it’s a future indicator for how they will be treated. Wolves are often described as “vicious” and “ravenous,” and stories such as Peter and the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood perpetuate that myth. Yet, children hear tales about cute and cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear and Little Bear every night.

When speaking about “the others,” we should be kind and choose our words carefully.

However, from 1900 to 1980 in North America, black bears caused 23 human fatalities, yet only two human deaths on the continent have been attributed to wolves in the past 100-plus years. Statistically, our dogs are far more dangerous than wolves: dogs kill about 30 Americans each year. And while we’ve never attempted to eradicate all bears from the country, we have once eradicated and still have campaigns to wipe out Canis lupus. Our choices of words have consequences for animals.

The words we put in animals’ mouths can also have consequences for us, as evidenced by the fact that…

4) Our future forests could be treeless. Recent fires in our forests and in our national parks are a lot different from those of the past. These sprawling, raging infernos have been blamed on two factors: Smokey Bear and climate change.

While Smokey is a good bear who may have said one bad thing…


“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium”—Sigurd F. Olson, “We Need Wilderness” in “National Parks Magazine,” January–March 1946

5) There are some really bad guys out there. Wildlife poaching isn’t the only form of illegal take that there is. Some of the most deadly attacks are made on coastal redwoods.

The good news, though, is that…

6) People can change. In April 2014, Ohio Congressman Pat Tiberi, who is listed among the climate change deniers in Congress, met with the Chasing Ice team to talk about climate change science. It’s a start.

That gives me hope that others will see that…

7) Wilderness has meaning. Whether for you wilderness is a tonic, a place of solace, a blank spot on the map or a region of the mind, it is certain that we all require wilderness.

While such places themselves are important, sometimes…

On your next trip, challenge yourself. Try going someplace cold. ©Eric Rock

8) The journey “there” can be just as significant as the destination. From a long, slow train ride to an overpass for antelope, the means of travel not only can transport us but transform us at the same time.

When you reshape yourself, you then need to rethink your typical style of travel and…

9) Look for ways to challenge yourself. When you let go of your preconceived notions of what a certain experience is going to be like and try a different kind of trip, you just might fire up a passion you never thought you had.

Then, prepare to be awed, because…

10) Nature-travel can truly change your life. Travel has a way of affecting our lives in profound ways that are far more subtle and long-lasting than we often initially realize.

What did you discover in 2014? Let me know in the comments section, below.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats in 2015,