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"Where there is culture, you can't have true nature."
August 11, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Is human history every bit as important and worth saving as natural history? William Cronon explained that the 1964 Wilderness Act and National Park Service policy separates "nature" and "culture" as two very distinct things. This attitude means that, in lots of places, the Park Service has actually torn down historic buildings and removed traces of past human habitation in order to make National Parks more "natural." The Apostle Islands, the northernmost part of Wisconsin, appears to be totally wild. But less than 100 years ago, it was thriving stone quarry that supplied building materials to NY, Chicago and other major metropolitan cities.
posted by Kokopuff (91 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes.

We all seem prone to this delusion that humans and human artifacts are somehow not "natural," but that's our fantasy of human exceptionalism speaking. We are of nature, and should believe this to be true, but religion is a hell of a drug.
posted by sonascope at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


Bill Bryson talks a little bit about this mentality in The Lost Continent and A Walk In The Woods, Americans place " nature" in one bucket and " civilization" in the other and they can never touch ever, so you can't have any man made buildings in a national park but unchecked paved over waste outside it.

I just think Americans can't be trusted with any piece of land without thinking it'd look better under glass and sold hot dogs with some dancing animatronic bears.
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm OK with losing a little bit of (especially very, very recent) human historical artifacts if it means we fill the planet a tiny bit more slowly. We can't keep everything.
posted by DU at 8:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Several times I've visited Lon Cheney's cabin, near Big Pine, CA, in the Eastern Sierras. It's a rustic stone building built in maybe 1930 by Lon for his family to hike to. It is miles from any roads or 'civilization' (other than a few bridges and contemporary switchbacks). The park service, so the local scuttlebutt goes, wants to demolish the cabin, but since it is so remote there is no way to get any heavy equipment up there, and they are reluctant to just go up and start dynamiting. It's a cool place, and I'm torn about its future.

Self link picture here.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.
posted by tommasz at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a tightrope walk.

On the one hand, the park-loving, cash-poor part of me is thinking, "dude! Take some of those buildings and turn them into youth hostels or hotels or something!" (Seriously, we need a TON more youth hostels in this country. The number of IYH-affiliated hostels in the U.S. has PLUMMETED in the past ten years.)

On the other hand, increased visitation may be its own problem, and open such places up to a lot more of the kinds of visitors who just plain don't get that it's not smart to have your kids pose for pictures with the wild bears or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Human history is important, but do we really need hundred year old quarries and stuff?
posted by delmoi at 8:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just dealt with this a couple of years ago. In one of my favorite hiking spots (the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest of NH) there was a 180 foot suspension bridge crossing the Pemigewasset River and connecting two hiking trails. This bridge connected two halves of the wilderness that can't easily be connected any other way as the river is not really cross-able under most conditions. It was far enough in that it didn't really attract tourists or anything. Most of the people who used it were the type who knew better than to toss beer cans off it.

The bridge needed some repairs and under the Wilderness Act this meant removal rather than repair. So now there's no way across the river unless you hike six miles out to the highway and back on another trail.

I understand why they did it, and I understand that it's not my god-given right to be able to cross this river and leave footprints on the other side, but it was such a beautiful bridge. You'd get out to the middle, about 30 feet above the river, and the bridge would bounce with every step. I loved it. It was far enough in and out of the way that I'd only been on it a few times but I always looked forward to it. I'd even sometimes make a side trip from another trail just to get to it.

The funny thing is, because it was in a wilderness area where no motorized vehicles are allowed, they had to use pack animals to remove it from the area and get it the six miles back to the road.

It's a shame. Wilderness is nice and all but I believe that area was more enjoyable, and more beautiful, with the bridge there. Sure was a lot more attractive than all the picnic tables and port-a-johns along the "scenic areas" of the highway.

I miss that bridge.
posted by bondcliff at 8:59 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


See, I understand the desire to have some sort of merger between the two, and absolutely humans are part of nature... But it all exists on a continuum of sorts.

First let me speak to the Apostle Islands. I live nearby and have spent time on and around a few of the islands. To suggest that they are "totally wild" is a bit of a stretch at best. The islands are generally booked solid during the summer months, and thee is no restriction of motor-craft use near and around the islands. Heck there are six different lighthouses on the islands. yes, there are no longer quarrying operations on the islands and those structures have been removed. But... so what? We don't need to save every goddamned building ever built. I am a supporter of historic preservation, I think it is important but we don't need to preserve all manner of industrial relics after the fact. It should not be up to the state to always step in after a for profit operation has ceased and say.. oh now we'll fork over money to keep it like it was. It is perfectly fine to let things go, and move on after awhile.

And.. you know? There are a LOT of mergers between "nature" and nature-with-humans. Go to any State park in Minnesota, and I suspect across the nation and that is what you have. Go to many city parks, and that is what you have. hell, you even have that to some extent in places such as Yellowstone.

It is OK to have places where this is not the norm as well. I am pretty happy the NFS was fairly aggressive about structure removal in the Boundary Waters. I enjoy human history, I enjoy culture, but sometimes I am tired of interacting with it, sometimes I am tired of looking at people all day and I want some place to go where there is at least the semblance that humans are not the fucking most important thing around. Where you have to actually think about something other then "how people conquered the wilderness" or "This important industry provided jobs for a few hundred people 90 years ago" or "this is the house that local bigwig/crank lived in back in 1919 when she made chocolate crank handles for biplanes".

Enough. We can and do have human/nature mergers. But just as we have cities, we also need non-human centric wilderness.

I swear to infini. It's ok to let things go every once in awhile
posted by edgeways at 9:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


It is a fascinating topic in terms of historic revisionism, especially when you consider the often tenuous history between American Indian tribes and the NPS.

On the other hand, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has set up an fascinating program, called the Countryside Initiative, that works to preserve the local rural landscape by specifically leasing small farms and vineyards to farmers within the park (which existed prior to the park's founding), rather than displacing them. It seems like a marvelous solution, at least in that case, and I wonder in what ways that sort of model could work elsewhere.
posted by susanvance at 9:06 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess I find it interesting that the NPS "preserves" wilderness by carefully altering it to me a cultivated standard of what wildness constitutes. It's a very Baudrillardian thing, creating a wild space with a planned intrusive action. They end up producing a simulation of wilderness, with the double irony that simulating wilderness is about as distinct from actual wilderness, within the belief system that wilderness and the built environment are not the same thing, so it ends up being a bit of a theme park.

Mind you, to me, it's all wilderness, but I'm in a minority, believing that.

I have to wonder why, if they're not interested in preserving the human artifacts, they don't just do something more in line with their vision of what constitutes wilderness and just leave the buildings to return to nature. We've got this ridiculous idea that we're distinct from nature and our leavings are "pollution," so we just ignore the fact that all our stuff gets churned back into the system like everything else.

There's a giant old factory complex in Baltimore that I visited as a trespasser on a number of occasions, and it's in that half-time between being human and stolid and proudly a product of the twentieth century and becoming a reef of sorts. The last time I explored the place, I returned and wrote about what's there, and how it made me feel, and for me, it's a joyous, surprising place. Birds are everywhere, and something green will come spiralling out of every crack, no matter how insignificant. Roots will break the poured stone and oxidation will turn the steel into layers of ruddy flakes, cascading down from the roof trusses until they sag and collapse. In less than my lifespan, the place has begun a majestic disintegration that would end where the forest lies, digging into the soft broken asphalt of the roof, if left to its lovely corruption.

I find the same sorts of places around my cabin in West Virginia, factories gone to seed, and now they're just rock formations in familiar forms, filled with tulip poplars and singing birds perched on the slumping ruin of an old forklift. I'm sad, in a way, to see something someone worked hard to create fading, but a tree rotting in the forest is much the same. We live, we grow, we build, we age, and then we're back in the loop, feeding the next thing down the line. This is natural.

We lose something, creating the false boundary between the natural and us, and we could manage that distinction with a lot more subtlety than just erasing the human history of a place in favor of a fantasy version of what we believe to be natural.
posted by sonascope at 9:21 AM on August 11, 2011 [28 favorites]


sonascope, I love your stories. Let me know the next time you're in Baltimore and I'll buy you a beer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:48 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When you're there hold him down and make him finish Skaggsville
posted by The Whelk at 9:53 AM on August 11, 2011


Is human history every bit as important and worth saving as natural history?

No.

We have to live here. Despoiled areas may never regrow. You can always make a duplicate of whatever historical building you like.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I vote no also. We have to be hardasses when it comes to preserving natural parks. That means preventing new building and it means demolishing old whenever possible. I'm probably a crank though, I'd vote to demolish Tavern on the Green, for example.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:04 AM on August 11, 2011


I'm going with "no."

We're too damn self-important.
posted by oddman at 10:08 AM on August 11, 2011


No. With upwards of 7 billion of us on one little world? Almost everything manmade has to go, and the sooner the better.
posted by jfuller at 10:11 AM on August 11, 2011


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

No worse than what the Italians did to it. (Not to mention the Goths, Huns and Lombards.)
posted by spaltavian at 10:11 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

Not to mention Carthage!
posted by The World Famous at 10:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't we all want to preserve the first 10 wal-mart parking lots?
posted by hal_c_on at 10:25 AM on August 11, 2011


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

well armed complete with dancing animatronic bears.
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes.

"Wilderness" is a human invention. When Columbus put down his germy foot on the edge of North America, the continent was extensively inhabited by Indian peoples who had been shaping the environment for maybe tens of thousands of years. Using fire, hunting, and agriculture they put their mark on every corner of the continent. The grassy breaks throughout the eastern forests, the mountain balds, and to some extent even the Great Plains were human creations.

Then smallpox and war and displacement swept most of the Indians away, and 19th century Americans, hopped-up on Romanticism and Manifest Destiny, marveled at the "virgin land" and "nature's gardens" that they found moving west. They invented the notion of West as Wilderness. And it got down so deep into our cultural DNA that it is nearly impossible to think clearly about the matter.

As the great historian Francis Jennings wrote "the American land was more like a widow than a virgin. Europeans did not find a wilderness here; rather, however involuntarily, they made one.... The so-called settlement of America was a resettlement, a reoccupation of a land made waste by the diseases and demoralization introduced by newcomers."

So the human history in our parks is inseparable from the places themselves. When National Park and Forest Service employees set the woods on fire in a controlled burn they are restoring human landscapes first created by Indians. Preserving a rock quarry or Lon Cheney's cabin or Bondcliff's bridge is not much different.
posted by LarryC at 10:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


"I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

-Theodore Roosevelt.
posted by clavdivs at 10:29 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

well armed complete with dancing animatronic bears.
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM


....You....are correct, believe it or not.

There is an outpost of the toy store FAO Schwarz at Caesar's Palace Casino in Vegas, and when I last was there, the FAO Schwarz window display consisted of an animatronic scale model of "Rome," with banqueters, gladiators, and the like. And this display was "peopled" by...Steiff teddy bears.

So, yes, that American vision of Rome did include animatronic bears. Although they were chariot racing rather than dancing (although there may have been a slave-dancer Steiff ber, I didn't notice).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


from article: “In a 2003 article in Orion magazine, William Cronon explained that the 1964 Wilderness Act and National Park Service policy separates "nature" and "culture" as two very distinct things. Where there is culture, you can't have true nature. This attitude means that, in lots of places, the Park Service has actually torn down historic buildings and removed traces of past human habitation in order to make National Parks more "natural." Cedar Bark Cottage was long gone by the time the Apostle Islands became a National Lakeshore in 1970, but the Park Service there tore down many other buildings, like cabins and fishing camps, as part of turning the Islands into a Park.”

Bullshit. The 1964 Wilderness Act doesn't even mention "culture" at all. [PDF] Neither, in fact, does the 2003 article that the linked text appears to be quoting.

There isn't really much of a debate here. The Wilderness Act is actually quite clear about the importance of balancing our own impact with our valuation for our past. Moreover, the Wilderness Act says nothing at all about destroying or even neglecting old buildings, monuments, or other signs of human activity. I can name dozens of old buildings that have been carefully cared for and preserved by the Park Service.

It's annoying to me that people feel the need to be deceptive about important documents, particularly when those documents were carefully written to be as clear and concise as possible.
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

-Theodore Roosevelt.


"Now watch me shoot that rhinoceros."
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bears were popular with the crowd in romes history concerning circus animals. mock sea battles with ingenious engineering, for example, bridges and waterways, rotating platform arenas. Even devices to control heat and light. (step son liked to uncover the tents and have the people get all heated, wine sales i suspect...or was that nephew)

on topic, rome too had lavish rebuliding/ conservation schemes, they was called expansion.
posted by clavdivs at 10:40 AM on August 11, 2011


yes, they thated that.
posted by clavdivs at 10:41 AM on August 11, 2011


One of my favorite places when I was growing up: The Cobb Estate. One of the things I loved most about it was that combination of ruins and wilderness. When I was a teenager I wrote a (melodramatic fantasy) novella inspired by Echo Mountain House and the walk to get there.
posted by epersonae at 10:43 AM on August 11, 2011


The BBC recently aired a relevant documentary miniseries about this very topic. The basic premise is that our current system of setting aside expanses of 'wilderness' where humans may not live is derived from 19th century romanticism and the flawed (and arguably racist) idea that nature is not 'pure' unless humans are absent. The ecosystems it focuses on (Serengeti, Yellowstone, and the Amazon rainforest) not only have had humans for thousands of years, but those indigenous populations were a vitally integrated part of the ecosystem.

I can't recommend this documentary enough, it's one of the best I've seen in a few years.

posted by p3on at 10:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


woops, forgot the close the i-tag after 'vitally'
posted by p3on at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2011


on topic, rome too had lavish rebuliding/ conservation schemes, they was called expansion.

So, I realize that was a typo, and I do not think any less of you for it. I make more than my share of typos here.

But when I read that, I read the first part:

"On topic, Rome too had lavish rebuilding/conservation schemes"

as spoken by Ulysses Everett T. McGill

and the second part:

"They was called expansion!"

as spoken by Delmar. And then I mentally added "Gopher, Everett?"
posted by The World Famous at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


p3on: “The BBC recently aired a relevant documentary miniseries about this very topic.”

A documentary about National Parks based on Yellowstone? Yeah, I think I'll pass. That's sort of like making a documentary about the variety of cuisine available in American by focusing solely on McDonald's.
posted by koeselitz at 10:52 AM on August 11, 2011


sonascope: “I guess I find it interesting that the NPS "preserves" wilderness by carefully altering it to me a cultivated standard of what wildness constitutes. It's a very Baudrillardian thing, creating a wild space with a planned intrusive action. They end up producing a simulation of wilderness, with the double irony that simulating wilderness is about as distinct from actual wilderness, within the belief system that wilderness and the built environment are not the same thing, so it ends up being a bit of a theme park. Mind you, to me, it's all wilderness, but I'm in a minority, believing that.”

You're right. We shouldn't have stopped at killing almost all the buffalo, and almost all the beaver, and almost all the antelope. The world would have been a much happier place if these things were completely and totally extinct.

What's funny about these pronouncements about how "we're nature too!" and "wilderness is a construct" is that they're ridiculously ignorant of the historical context of the foundation of the National Parks in this country. "Wilderness" is not a concept that was simply invented by romantic Victorians. It's a concept that was invented by people who were sick of the slaughter that we Europeans perpetrated. It's odd to me that people can so wholly forget that.
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


From Merriam-Webster online:

Origin of WILDERNESS

Middle English, from wildern wild, from Old English wilddēoren of wild beasts
First Known Use: 13th century
posted by longsleeves at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2011


You're right. We shouldn't have stopped at killing almost all the buffalo, and almost all the beaver, and almost all the antelope. The world would have been a much happier place if these things were completely and totally extinct.

You've put words in my mouth that aren't remotely related to what I said, which I don't appreciate. You can try to associate me with some sort of foolish straw man all you like, but the words aren't there to support your claim.

See, I haven't forgotten about the slaughter and our excesses, but then I'm speaking primarily about the subject of the article, which is whether we need to wipe the slate clean in places like the Apostle Islands. I also don't advocate that we live destructively, either, because wild animals that do so outstrip their ecosystem and die.

The thing is, wild animals do this terrible thing we're supposed to be lamenting, too. A land bridge opens up a new territory, predators move in, species go extinct, often followed by the predators. We didn't invent that system, as much as we like to flatter ourselves over it when we're self-flagellating. We were the new invasive species and we went wild. Now we don't. We protect endangered species, not flawlessly, mind you, but we do more than any other species in that regard.

I just don't get the self-hatred that's so rampant among mefi folks, sometimes.
posted by sonascope at 11:18 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The Apostle Islands, the northernmost part of Wisconsin, appears to be totally wild. But less than 100 years ago, it was thriving stone quarry that supplied building materials to NY, Chicago and other major metropolitan cities."

Am I honestly supposed to be sad that biodiversity has increased there, at the price of the obscuring a couple of stone quarries less than a hundred years old? Who cares?

"We were the new invasive species and we went wild. Now we don't."

...you can't think of a single example of us using resources faster than they can regrow? Really?

"We protect endangered species, not flawlessly, mind you, but we do more than any other species in that regard."

We are the cause of the largest extinction event in tens of millions of years, and we're trying to get a few animals onto an ark. Forgive me if I decide not to celebrate that.
posted by IjonTichy at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Then smallpox and war and displacement swept most of the Indians away, and 19th century Americans,
> hopped-up on Romanticism and Manifest Destiny, marveled at the "virgin land" and "nature's gardens"
> that they found moving west. They invented the notion of West as Wilderness. And it got down so deep
> into our cultural DNA that it is nearly impossible to think clearly about the matter.

Get rid of the people and give the land a little time and it becomes virgin wilderness again in very truth, no romantic invention required. No, you don't have to wipe the slate, time will take care of all that. Viz. Babylon. Viz. also Chernobyl.
posted by jfuller at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011


Wilderness areas don't exist to preserve "natural history": they exist to preserve living species and ecosystems — against destruction, not against forgetting.

Or we could just dedicate this thread an international False Dichotomy Sanctuary. That invasive species of argument seems to be crowding out all others here anyhow.
posted by RogerB at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


sonascope: “See, I haven't forgotten about the slaughter and our excesses, but then I'm speaking primarily about the subject of the article, which is whether we need to wipe the slate clean in places like the Apostle Islands.”

My problem here is that the article is bunkum and bullshit. It's an utterly misinformed view of how the Park Service acts, officially and by policy. It presents a false depiction of the attitudes which govern it.

The policy of the Park Service is that certain expanses of wilderness can only be preserved if they're actually used, and that it's only in conjunction with human use that preservation makes any sense at all. One of the corollaries of this policy is the decent treatment of pieces of human history, such as historic buildings.

What bothers me is that people have this idea that these notions are new and fresh, that nobody else has thought of them, when in fact they're woven into the fabric of the institutions of conservation that already exist. That bothers me because these institutions are important, and are (as always) in danger of being denigrated, cut, defunded, and scrapped. And this general idea that they're based on faulty ideas is one of the reasons these essential institutions are threatened.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


What's best for the planet? If it's going to hurt more to restore the wilderness, then leave it, and let nature take care of it. If it hurts more to have our footprint there, remove the footprint.

Can nature survive without us? Can we survive without nature?
posted by Eideteker at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2011


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

Not to mention Carthage!


Well have none of your salty stories, now!
 
posted by Herodios at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2011


Just imagine what Rome would look like if it were in the US.

Much the same until after WW2, when the population would have largely emptied out into sprawling suburbs. Elevated freeways would have been built through it, and some old streets would have been widened to add left turn lanes. It would have remained largely intact, if crumbling, until the 1960s, when half of it would have been bulldozed, and half again of that would have been rebuilt as brutalist apartment towers. In the 1980s, a RiverWalk would have built along the Tevere, adjoining a pedestrian mall.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:21 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Viz. also Chernobyl.

Wait. How is that an example?
posted by The World Famous at 12:31 PM on August 11, 2011


> Wait. How is that an example?

People are excluded, cheaply made Soviet-era buildings are crumbling, forest succession is occurring unimpeded in the ruins, wildlife has returned.
posted by jfuller at 12:41 PM on August 11, 2011


Some may want to read the 2003 Orion article by Cronon linked to by the BB post, which seems to have been summarized in ways you find offensive or wrong. It's a much more nuanced discussion of the impact of the law on NPS policy.

For my part, I have a hard enough time fighting for historic preservation in the face of libertarian absolutism on property rights: We've had two historic structures demolished in my city for essentially no good reason.

The idea that some are pushing that we should "re-wild" wilderness is actually nonsense. Whatever wildnerness we create is an environment we have selected for, and visitors need to be made aware of that. It's artificial in its own way. There's nothing wrong with choosing for wilderness, but we shouldn't destroy evidence of human habitation and use capriciously.

People who restore old buildings are often faced with the question of when to restore it to. Generally buildings have lives of their own and represent different eras. The main hall may have been built in 1770, but if you restore it to the 1770 appearance you need to demolish the 1825 wing, or the 1872 porte cochere. In the end, often there isn't such a thing as a pristine era to which you can return a building -- you restore each section and interpret the result to visitors.

Certainly no one is arguing for retaining every last vestige of the old mining operations, in this example. But those mining operations are part of the, yes, natural history of the islands. Visitors should be given a sense of how the islands have been used in the past and what choices were made in returning them to this notional wild state. Ideally, some part of the human history could be retained and interpreted as an historic site itself, within the context of the park mission.

When you look at other parks and natural areas, you're often looking at the actual history of our own interpretation of the meaning of "park", "wild", and "natural", among other things. Some of that history is important so that visitors understand how the park concept itself has evolved.
posted by dhartung at 12:43 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


People are excluded, cheaply made Soviet-era buildings are crumbling, forest succession is occurring unimpeded in the ruins, wildlife has returned.

Ah. I guess I just didn't understand that when you said "time will take care of all that," you meant that a super, super unbelievably long time will take care of all that.
posted by The World Famous at 12:44 PM on August 11, 2011


FWIW, there are plenty of historic documents and displays throughout the small towns in Norther Wisconsin that talk about the quarries. So, it is not as if the history is being lost. indeed as I mentioned there are still six lighthouses throughout the islands. Lighthouses that are in fact no longer needed. They are, unlike the quarries, recognized as historic buildings, and are preserved. So... already there is human history being preserved at this site.
posted by edgeways at 12:55 PM on August 11, 2011


The best summers of my kids' childhoods were spend on Madeline Island in the Apostles, in a large, rustic, stone cabin looking across the water to Bayfield. It's one of the most beautiful spots on earth that I've seen, and I'm including the Kalalau Valley, the Milford Track, Yosemite, and the Cliffs of Mohr.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:57 PM on August 11, 2011


> a super, super unbelievably long time

Judging by recent photos (1, 2, 3, 4) within a few generations it'll take an archaeological dig to find most of Chernobyl. (That's either a really really really long time or an eyeblink, depending on whether you're a man or a mountain.)
posted by jfuller at 1:13 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"BULLY!"
time to trot out broken treaties
posted by clavdivs at 1:15 PM on August 11, 2011


"The idea that some are pushing that we should "re-wild" wilderness is actually nonsense. Whatever wildnerness we create is an environment we have selected for, and visitors need to be made aware of that. It's artificial in its own way."

What if we did some "re-wilding" in order to provide habitat for endangered species? Is that nonsense? I don't think anyone here, or anywhere else, is arguing that attempting to undo human impact on the environment is somehow restoring the land to the exact state it would have been in had humans never intervened. The goal would be, rather, preservation of whatever biodiversity still exists.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2011


Judging by recent photos (1, 2, 3, 4) within a few generations it'll take an archaeological dig to find most of Chernobyl.

Ah. You're just talking about the the way it looks. Got it.
posted by The World Famous at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, yes. If it quacks like wilderness and waddles like wilderness then I'm totally good with calling it wilderness, even if the Hand Of Man is still detectable with a mass spectrometer or whatever. (Geiger counter, in this case.)
posted by jfuller at 1:51 PM on August 11, 2011


It will still be easy to find Chernobyl in a few generations using a Geiger counter.
posted by benzenedream at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2011


What's funny about these pronouncements about how "we're nature too!" and "wilderness is a construct" is that they're ridiculously ignorant of the historical context of the foundation of the National Parks in this country. "Wilderness" is not a concept that was simply invented by romantic Victorians. It's a concept that was invented by people who were sick of the slaughter that we Europeans perpetrated. It's odd to me that people can so wholly forget that.

Exactly.

I think what's really going on here, though, is that this 'discussion' is part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to soften up the American public's view of wilderness with an ultimate goal of making the economic exploitation of National Park and wilderness areas possible, by mining, logging and housing-- and finally, privatization.
posted by jamjam at 1:57 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


jfuller: “Well, yes. If it quacks like wilderness and waddles like wilderness then I'm totally good with calling it wilderness, even if the Hand Of Man is still detectable with a mass spectrometer or whatever. (Geiger counter, in this case.)”

Well, there's always the trouble that plant life seems to be the only kind of living thing that can really exist within the epicenter at Chernobyl for any prolonged period of time. So, y'know... no quacking or waddling.
posted by koeselitz at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


straight from the wild to the table at Delmonico's:
(Ectopistes migratorius)
posted by clavdivs at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2011


It will still be easy to find Chernobyl in a few generations using a Geiger counter.

Assuming that the radiation levels everywhere else haven't increased to the same point.
posted by XMLicious at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


We've got this ridiculous idea that we're distinct from nature and our leavings are "pollution," so we just ignore the fact that all our stuff gets churned back into the system like everything else.

That's great until you note that a lot of our leavings, especially those of industry, absolutely are pollution. But if you want a bunch of heavy metals in the ground water by all means, just let everything return to nature.

The idea that all human creations are "natural" may be literally true, philiosophically true, whatnot. But the reality is that very few people see it that way. Hydrofracking isn't natural. Strip mining isn't natural. Burning fossil fuels and polluting the environment - not natural. The argument that "humans are natural, therefore nothing we do is outside of 'nature'", is an example of flawed logic and circular reasoning at its finest.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:29 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cronon blew my mind in Grad School when he drove home the reality that "wilderness" is a ridiculous construct of recent American vintage. Humans have inhabited every continent by Antartica for a Very Long Time. Mostly it was the Puritans and Pioneers that wanted us all to believe that everything west of Concord, MA, was unpeopled "wilderness" - for selfish reasons.

The Park Service has to make a lot of tough decisions, and they're bound by the Congressional Acts we've given them. Until we, as a nation, have a less skewed idea of what a park "should" be, they will be hamstrung by outdated laws and ideas.
posted by ldthomps at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that what it comes down to is this:

"Natural" and "wilderness" may be constructs created entire within our own minds. That might be entirely true.

But that is completely aside from the reality that we have a responsibility to engage in good stewardship, and to take care of what we've been given.

We can sit here all day and debate the meanings of particular words, but in the end it really doesn't matter. What matters is the reality of our responsibility.
posted by koeselitz at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The idea that all human creations are "natural" may be literally true, philiosophically true, whatnot. But the reality is that very few people see it that way. Hydrofracking isn't natural. Strip mining isn't natural. Burning fossil fuels and polluting the environment - not natural.

They are entirely natural for a species like us that's bad at valuing long-term benefits over short-term gain. They're just not wise if we want to survive.

We have to frame our efforts at preservation in more than preservation of nature terms--I mean, sadness at the idea of lost wilderness/species reaches some people, but fear of what it will mean to us and our children to live on a polluted planet (or not live, or not live long) reaches others who may not really give a flip about the loss of biodiversity.
posted by emjaybee at 2:45 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cronon blew my mind in Grad School when he drove home the reality that "wilderness" is a ridiculous construct of recent American vintage.

You know what else are human ideas? Justice. Equality. Television. Computers. Stock markets. Etc. "Wilderness" may be a cultural artifact. It may be an idea. That fact doesn't make it wrong or something we should discard.
posted by one_bean at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cronon blew my mind in Grad School when he drove home the reality that "wilderness" is a ridiculous construct of recent American vintage.

It's also not true. There are plenty of human groups throughout recorded history who have designated areas as sacred and inaccessible for normal activities or development.
posted by one_bean at 3:07 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Well, there's always the trouble that plant life seems to be the only kind of living
> thing that can really exist within the epicenter at Chernobyl for any prolonged period
> of time. So, y'know... no quacking or waddling.

It doesn't appear to be quite that bad (unless by "epicenter" you mean the actual reactor buildings; no, not much wildlife there.) The long-term effects on wildlife within the formal exclusion zone are still being wrangled over, with a group led by Anders Møller of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris and Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina being the "they're very bad" opinion leaders, while Robert J. Baker of Texas Tech and a number of Ukranian scientists maintain that wildlife is flourishing in the exclusion zone. Here's a long Wired article told mainly from the Møller/Mousseau POV, and here's Baker's most recent article, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, both from this year. (also, wikipedia's tl;dr summary of the dispute.)
posted by jfuller at 3:27 PM on August 11, 2011


No. Human history and culture are more important than natural history because they are ours. They are our mark on the world, our compressed longings and aspirations. The tinest torn poster is more important than the tallest tree because it is HUMAN.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:56 PM on August 11, 2011


What's best for the planet? If it's going to hurt more to restore the wilderness, then leave it, and let nature take care of it. If it hurts more to have our footprint there, remove the footprint.

I hate this sort of romantic personification of the world. The planet couldn't care of the thin film of organic material on its crust disappeared or not. The vast mass of lifeforms, which are bacteria living underground, couldn't care less if those multicellular organisms on the surface disappeared.

The notion of stewardship, of what's "best", is a completely human one, based on human desires and aesthetics. For all that I'm strongly in favor of environmentalism, I have to be honest and say it's solely out of my human sense of values, not out of any innate quality of nature.
posted by happyroach at 4:02 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


jfuller: “It doesn't appear to be quite that bad... Here's a long Wired article told mainly from the Møller/Mousseau POV, and here's Baker's most recent article, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, both from this year.”

I've read these, thanks. Baker's position seems dubious to me, but I guess you've assumed it's wholly true. At least that's what your 'there will be no obvious sign in a few years' thesis seems to indicate.
posted by koeselitz at 4:04 PM on August 11, 2011


happyroach: “The notion of stewardship, of what's "best", is a completely human one, based on human desires and aesthetics. For all that I'm strongly in favor of environmentalism, I have to be honest and say it's solely out of my human sense of values, not out of any innate quality of nature.”

This is contradictory, although in a way that's common nowadays.

You really have to choose. If you want to have "values," then you have to believe that there's such a thing as "best," a real, objective thing, independent of any one person's desires or aesthetics. If you don't, then "values" don't make any sense whatsoever as a guide to action. Even "self-interested desire" doesn't make sense, because desire is emptied of meaning.
posted by koeselitz at 4:08 PM on August 11, 2011


k, I was thinking of the buildings. I provided, y'know, links to pics of 'em to indicate that.
posted by jfuller at 4:17 PM on August 11, 2011


Human history is important, but do we really need hundred year old quarries and stuff?

1000 years from now when man creeps back from the desolation wrought by war, pestilence, pollution and famine, they're going to go to Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin.

And they'll find the decrepit remains of an enclosure built by James Frank Kotera. Who liked to be know as "JFK."

And they'll see the heaviest ball of twine in the world.

And that says ... uh, something.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"But that is completely aside from the reality that we have a responsibility to engage in good stewardship, and to take care of what we've been given taken."
posted by Eideteker at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2011


"A documentary about National Parks based on Yellowstone?"

Seriously, what's wrong with Yellowstone? Having had all of my early outdoor experiences in Western Canada, I was expecting Yellowstone to be a thoroughly trampled, tourist-ridden wasteland. Given the huge numbers of people that visit every year, I was amazed by how well-looked after it appears to be. I also felt that the Parks Service people we met were really enthusiastic about being there, and that could be taken as a good sign. Plus nobody fell into the scalding mud, which was good. Any, it left me feeling hopeful that we can "save" some natural values and still allow lots of visitors. (Yes, there are some rough spots.)

"I think what's really going on here, though, is that this 'discussion' is part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to soften up the American public's view of wilderness with an ultimate goal of making the economic exploitation of National Park and wilderness areas possible, by mining, logging and housing-- and finally, privatization.

I fear this too, without much evidence.
posted by sneebler at 5:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


sneebler: “Seriously, what's wrong with Yellowstone? Having had all of my early outdoor experiences in Western Canada, I was expecting Yellowstone to be a thoroughly trampled, tourist-ridden wasteland. Given the huge numbers of people that visit every year, I was amazed by how well-looked after it appears to be. I also felt that the Parks Service people we met were really enthusiastic about being there, and that could be taken as a good sign. Plus nobody fell into the scalding mud, which was good. Any, it left me feeling hopeful that we can "save" some natural values and still allow lots of visitors. (Yes, there are some rough spots.)”

Well, my backhanded dismissal was (like all my backhanded dismissals [sigh]) pretty unfair, yes.

I guess where I'm coming from is this: Yellowstone National Park represents in many ways a kind of stagnation in the National Park Service; a vastly disproportionate amount of resources go to its upkeep, and its importance is constantly trumpeted whenever people talk about the Parks, and yet other Parks that are certainly as important aren't talked about much at all.

There's pretty good evidence of this in the fact that Yellowstone burned two decades ago, burned massively, with over a third of the Park blackened. Why did it burn? This was many years after we'd realized the importance of controlled burns, and other Parks had had controlled burns and were carefully watched and kept up in anticipation of fires. But Yellowstone wasn't – because Yellowstone was considered too important to subject to the risk of controlled burns, and because so many bureaucrats who don't really know how forests work nixed the idea.

I agree that Yellowstone is a fantastic resource, and I've enjoyed it a good deal myself. There's still a vast chunk of it that's very wild, and the tourists don't trample all over everything there. But – I still don't think Yellowstone National Park is a place to see good examples of how the Park Service functions on the whole. The conditions there are more extreme, the bureaucracy is more concentrated, the political importance of the place is more emphasized, and while it's a great feat and a monument to wildlife preservation, I think the work that the Park Service does is more in evidence at dozens of smaller sites.
posted by koeselitz at 6:01 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And – well, it seems like it's a bit unfair for a documentary about how "national parks are artificial" to use Yellowstone as an example. You and I know that there are corners and nooks and crannies of Yellowstone that are beautiful and untouched; but how easy would it be to use footage of various parts of the Park to make it seem like it's just a man-made wilderness? But, again, I haven't seen it. Also, p3on: I'm sorry for being so dismissive. I'll check it out, promise. I know I'll find it interesting, anyway.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:06 PM on August 11, 2011


You really have to choose. If you want to have "values," then you have to believe that there's such a thing as "best," a real, objective thing, independent of any one person's desires or aesthetics. If you don't, then "values" don't make any sense whatsoever as a guide to action.

You're missing the point. I do have values, I do believe they are the best values to have. However, I believe in them because I choose them, not because they were handed down on high, or are universal principals. I especially didn't gain my values from believing in superstitious nonsense.

I take responsibility got the ownership of my values, and any actions I commit for those values. Believing that values are external and objective leads to people justifying acts I consider reprehensible, all in the name of said values.
posted by happyroach at 6:08 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why don't you ask Lovecraft that.
posted by New England Cultist at 7:16 PM on August 11, 2011



Why don't you ask Lovecraft that.
posted by New England Cultist


Eponysterical.

And yes, I do have my values and I question the valuing of 'nature'. I may exaggerate slightly, but I think these arguments tend to start from premises I disagree with. Perhaps national parks should be preserved as human artificats, the way one would preserve a hedge maze or the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:49 PM on August 11, 2011


And yes, I do have my values and I question the valuing of 'nature'.

Well, that would be following in the footsteps of your namesake, who evidently was suspicious of anything that wasn't Boston.

Myself, I value nature (or a reasonable facsimile) strongly, for practical, ethical and aesthetic reasons. But again, I don't pretend that these reasons are based on some universal principal.
posted by happyroach at 9:48 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


And yes, I do have my values and I question the valuing of 'nature'. I may exaggerate slightly, but I think these arguments tend to start from premises I disagree with.

I have an honest question here: Do you understand that all this the-hell-with-nature stuff you keep saying over and over again strikes many people as sort of crazy? Or at least sort of species-level suicidal? Do you get that, in the model most of us are working with, a world with posters in it, and organisms complex enough to care that there are things like posters, is entirely predicated on a world with trees in it?

I mean, I guess if you're just kind of low-level trolling for angered-up hippies, I get it. It's pretty effective. Certainly makes me twitch. But if I choose to take it at face value, it's just flat-out nuts.
posted by brennen at 10:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are questions where I know the answers before I ask them.
posted by brennen at 10:58 PM on August 11, 2011


The tinest torn poster is more important than the tallest tree because it is HUMAN.

But before it was "HUMAN" it was TREE.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:01 PM on August 11, 2011



I have an honest question here: Do you understand that all this the-hell-with-nature stuff you keep saying over and over again strikes many people as sort of crazy? Or at least sort of species-level suicidal? Do you get that, in the model most of us are working with, a world with posters in it, and organisms complex enough to care that there are things like posters, is entirely predicated on a world with trees in it?

I mean, I guess if you're just kind of low-level trolling for angered-up hippies, I get it. It's pretty effective. Certainly makes me twitch. But if I choose to take it at face value, it's just flat-out nuts.


It's a combination of truth and exaggeration. On a logical level I know it's utterly bonkers, but on a visceral level all the nature-lovers make me very angry. The only thing I put faith in to extend or improve my life is technology and mankind.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:11 PM on August 11, 2011


On a logical level I know it's utterly bonkers, but on a visceral level all the nature-lovers make me very angry. The only thing I put faith in to extend or improve my life is technology and mankind.

I assume you are aware that mankind must be supported by an optimal environment in order to, well, exist, right?

I'm assuming that the answer is yes, because you say that you know on a "logical level" that the way you feel is "bonkers." I invite you to consider, then, that your visceral response to "nature-lovers" may not be anything that has to do with nature itself, but with a personality quirk germane to those individuals.

My hunch is that it is only a certain type of extremist "nature-lover" who raises your hackles, and that it is their extremism itself which you are responding to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:15 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not sure if I should jump into this thread or not, especially since I'm coming after a long shift at work, but I’ll give it a shot. I think for starters it would be useful to look at all the people who use the words ‘pristine’ ‘virgin’ ‘untouched’ etc. to describe areas of natural beauty. This is fundamentally flawed, as others have pointed out in this thread. Areas like Yellowstone, no matter how remote they may seem, have been populated by humans for a very long time, and their presence is a recorded fact. Also true is that the creation of parks such as Yellowstone often depended on the removal of those Indian populations from their home or hunting grounds. To call such areas ‘untouched’ is a very biased view of history. Ansel Adam’s iconic photographs of the area were also in themselves a composed fiction, of sorts, in that he had to avoid the native Indian populations that were a very common feature in the areas that he was photographing. His images, and many others like them, help to preserve the idea that white Europeans were the first to discover these tracts of land.
These terms – natural, cultural, wilderness, manmade are very difficult to define, and while it is true that many populations of people have long held sacred ideas about place, or privileged their own view of history over those inhabitants who might have come before them, it’s also true that the particular American idea of wilderness is quite unique and specific to the nation’s history and geography. The creation of national parks, for example, coincided with the rise of the Romantic movement and the development of an aesthetic that embraced natural, unpopulated scenes as beautiful, and which also encouraged the isolated contemplation of such majestic beauty. This was a shift away from the sort of Romantic in the backyard who admired the careful planning of the garden and the visible hand of its planner. . .
I travelled in India once to the site of the source of the Ganges, among other places, and I was continually surprised by the amount of litter, the random chai vendors in out of the way locations, and the general noisiness and rambunctiousness of those that came to visit. Those more quiet types, who had come along to the spot, were more interested in the act of pilgrimage that took them there, and the hardships of the journey itself. They did not seem bothered by the Indian tourists who had come on their donkeys with large families in tow. I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve constructed this idea of wilderness which is based on aesthetics – our appreciation of wilderness is often attached to looking and our arguments about what we want to ‘see’ in our landscape. Combined with this is our sort of desire to feel what our ancestors might have felt as they appeared over the hill and looked down into the valley below. Never mind if they were hot, starved, and profoundly unable to enjoy the view at first, and whether it contained other people or not – we still have this sort of Lewis and Clark feel for ourselves in wilderness areas. But as Cronon, and many other contemporary environmental writers agree, this notion is fabricated or at least very biased fiction.
I highly recommended Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust for an engaging study of romanticism and the developed of the American aesthetic of wilderness. She also points out in her book Landscape for Politics that ‘virgin’ wilderness is itself a strange way to define the wild, as though it were a woman and civilization was a rapist, which arguably has connections to our sense of wilderness as an object that is either too beautiful to allowed to be ravished, or ordinary enough that it can be despoiled. While I think that there is a powerful feeling in being somewhere that ‘feels’ wild, it’s also important to recognize that what we are feeling is in part a cultured tendency that isn’t so clearly a primordial feeling.
As far as which is more important, nature or culture, I do think that we ought to recognize the history of humans in a place, but those choices have to be made carefully and contextually. I think that we tend to rationalize pollution or destruction of some areas because we reassure ourselves that least we have some wilderness someplace. Ideally, we’d be able to build better connections with the natural and social histories of our neighborhoods, recognizing as well the possibility of some “spoiled” areas to be restored (and by this I mean to an environment that would enable living conditions for a large biodiversity of species) and the limitations of our view of wilderness.
posted by ajarbaday at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh boy, I hadn't checked on this thread in awhile. Not surprised to see LiB has made it here, with his special brand of phobia.

on a visceral level all the nature hating techno-romancers make me very angry,

The tinest torn poster is more important than the tallest tree because it is HUMAN.

yeah, dude that is bullshit, one is ephemeral and headed to the landfill the other is alive, and provides oxygen even to you. HUMAN is not an automatic good. (nor an automatic bad) Hell, ants are more important to the world in general than humans are. From my own perspective humans have mutated into something very akin to cancer, we are certainly not sustainable as is.
posted by edgeways at 8:37 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Areas like Yellowstone, no matter how remote they may seem, have been populated by humans for a very long time, and their presence is a recorded fact.

Define 'populated.' Due to its elevation, Yellowstone was far colder than the surrounding plains, making it difficult to be inhabited by winter, and in general was only visited for brief periods during the year or when specific resources (e.g. bighorn sheep horns) were needed. By your definition, Yellowstone is now more 'populated' than it ever has been.

Ansel Adam’s iconic photographs of the area were also in themselves a composed fiction, of sorts, in that he had to avoid the native Indian populations that were a very common feature in the areas that he was photographing.

I think you'll have to explain this a little more clearly. Which of the National Parks that Adams photographed still had American Indian populations living in them by the late 1920s? Or are you talking about the pueblos that he photographed? Some kind of citation here would be much appreciated.

I think that we tend to rationalize pollution or destruction of some areas because we reassure ourselves that least we have some wilderness someplace.

This does not fit with your example of the Ganges. If not valuing wilderness will somehow lead to less pollution, how come that river is in such bad shape? Are you sincerely arguing that the pollution doesn't matter there?

These terms – natural, cultural, wilderness, manmade are very difficult to define, and while it is true that many populations of people have long held sacred ideas about place, or privileged their own view of history over those inhabitants who might have come before them, it’s also true that the particular American idea of wilderness is quite unique and specific to the nation’s history and geography.

Yes, and the idea as you're discussing it is over a century old at this point. The valuation of areas "untouched" by humans as natural laboratories for ecologists (as on example) has completely replaced the idea of wilderness as "virgin" land for many. Or for the conservation of biodiversity. There are plenty of other reasons to keep the cultural institution of areas with less of a human footprint than those 'invented' by a group of Romantics from the 19th century. It would be great to see some contemporary environmental writers grapple with those ideas instead of toss them all out as illegitimate because they evolved from 19th century ideas or, worse, ignore them, as though every other cultural idea or institution was created whole hog from the head of its creator. Yes, preserving natural areas as separate from humans is heavily influenced by culture. That cultural movement has come a long way in the past century. Trust me, we've all read Roderick Nash, too. Move forward. Rather than asking "Is this idea valid because it is culturally derived?" start asking "Is this culturally derived idea valid?"
posted by one_bean at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


One_bean, here is an article which discusses Ansel Adam's work in Yosemite Valley during the 1920's which references his exclusion of human presence from his works, and here is a website which has multiple citations discussing the Native Americans that lived in the area prior to and during European arrival and the development of the Yosemite park. Also, here's a link to an interview with the essayist and critic on her collaborative book, Yosemite in Time. Relevant pull quote from that piece which gets at some of the issues that i noted in my earlier post:

"Yosemite was not a virgin wilderness, as a kind of environmental iconography has it," Solnit says. "It was somebody else's homeland. And once you acknowledge that, you can stop having that Madonna-and-whore relationship to landscape and nature and the environment . and go on to look at these other ways of touching the place and being in the place and realize that there really isn't a separation."

My inclusion of the anecdote from my visit to the Ganges was not intended to demonstrate that pollution doesn't matter, but rather that our perception of our geography and our framing and experience of it is different from other cultures, an example of the formation of a unique American idea of wilderness. I would hardly suggest that we not have National Parks, but rather that better understand how our cultural perceptions have shaped our conservation movement, an in particular how an appreciation that is based on an idea of an unpopulated, "virgin" wilderness overshadows the true history of many regions and the forcible removal of many Native Americans from parks and conservation areas, not to mention the removal of contemporary local populations and modern buildings in an effort to "beautify' our landscape. For example, and I will provide a cite if needed, there's a park in the Appalachians where several long-term residents were more or less forcibly removed and their houses deconstructed with very little compensation to the residents. in other cases, historical buildings which fit the "look" of a park have been moved long distances to serve as an example of quaint and scenic culture.

I think a better question would be - how does our culture and background influence our ideas about place and geography, how do those affect national and local policies, and what voices or experiences are diminished in the search for a cohesive narrative of wilderness / civilization. The development of these ideas and the history of their ties with Romantic thought and other conceptions are an excellent way to begin to reveal the shortcomings of our current dichotomies, which are not altogether useful, especially as a way to promote local interests or to acknowledge divergent views of history. For that matter, the fight for big places, while very important - again, I would hardly want to give up many of the wonderful experiences i've had in beautiful outdoor areas - also tends to shift discussions away from how we can restore deplenished areas. I could go on about this ad infinitum, but I hope that clears it up a bit
posted by ajarbaday at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2011


The tinest torn poster is more important than the tallest tree because it is HUMAN.

I mean this in all sincerity: What makes HUMAN better?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:59 AM on August 16, 2011


"Yosemite was not a virgin wilderness, as a kind of environmental iconography has it," Solnit says. "It was somebody else's homeland. And once you acknowledge that, you can stop having that Madonna-and-whore relationship to landscape and nature and the environment . and go on to look at these other ways of touching the place and being in the place and realize that there really isn't a separation."

Good point. We are natural, after all. However, it's good to keep in mind that there are some parts of the world that are beautiful, generally untrammeled by human footprints so far, and very, very fragile. We don't need to be forced into a false dichotomy regarding our relationship with wild places. Some bear more traffic and wear without losing their nature than others. Some already bear marks of human habitation that are historic and instructive. We can intelligently manage our care and use of these places using our understanding of our impact and natural history as we know it without resorting to absolutes. I think Yosemite is a good example. Another is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. By limiting the types of vehicles and the amount of traffic, this beautiful area has maintained its character yet still accommodates about a quarter million visitors a year.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:51 AM on August 16, 2011


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