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View Diary: Yellowstone and Time (32 comments)

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  •  Actually, I'm ambivalent on the time-travel. (0+ / 0-)

    I've spent some time over the past decade trying to think through a comparison of American, European, and Asian approaches to national parks and historical preservation districts. I think both the American and European approaches have great strengths. (I have more trouble finding things to admire in Asia at the moment, frankly. I think they need to learn some lessons from Europe and America.) It's certainly true that part of the logic of restricting development, whether in the wild or in settled areas, is to provide a sense of continuity with the past. And in America, where we have relatively little built environment that connects us with the past (and have until recently done a lousy job of preserving what we do have), the preservation of nature becomes to some extent our link to the past. We look at the forested Adirondacks or the buttes of Moab, and it's a touchstone to a part of American tradition, in the same way that the Dutch can connect to Dutch values - communal responsibility, solidarity, care for the landscape - every time they stand in a green polder and look up at the dikes, and the windmills that pumped that polder dry. (And at another level it's a way of situating yourself in the long timescale of nature and evolution.)

    However. I also feel that one thing we have to get increasingly used to is that we do, in practice, dominate nature, and that our apparent escapes from the civilized world are more like Thoreau on Walden Pond these days; the fact is, we're generally within striking distance of a laundromat the whole time. And our relationship to nature, even as we wander in the vastness of the parks (and no, I don't know Yellowstone, so maybe I should shut up, but I've spent a little time in Moab and Zion and a couple others out West, and more in the Adirondacks and other state parks back east) is more the relationship of a caretaker than that of a wandering nature-lover. I've hiked a spectacular mountain in Germany that was civilized from bottom to top, with little Catholic shrines dotting the path and delicious restaurants in the alpine meadows at the top; and yet it was in its own way an extremely natural experience, with an ethos of nature that's maintained more by the hiking attitudes of the folks on the trail than by any illusion of untouched wilderness. In the US, where we have so much more land, we can afford to do better in terms of preserving huge open spaces where you don't see many people...but I wonder whether we could take some lessons in the CARE of nature from people like the Germans and the Japanese, who invented silviculture in the midst of ecological crises hundreds of years ago and saved their forests, and thus have a greater acceptance of the responsibilities inherent in trying to preserve nature in the midst of civilization.

    The last time I camped was on Lake George last summer, canoeing out a few miles to an island campsite. I don't think we were in cell phone range, but the illusion of wilderness was pretty effectively destroyed by all the powerboats, except early in the morning and towards sunset. I guess I would just concentrate first on limiting the things that are noisy, spew gas, and damage the ecology.

    "When I came to this town, my eyes were big blue stars. Now they're big green dollar signs." - Jean Arthur, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

    by brooksfoe on Mon May 08, 2006 at 07:44:52 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Even visiting Zion or Moab (0+ / 0-)

      Or the 'Dacks, you haven't seen big W wilderness yet. The Bob Marshall or the Frank Church-Selway Bitterroot Wilderness areas are some of the biggest we've got in the lower forty eight, and even those pale in comparison to the Arctic Refuge. These are certainly not civilized natural experiences.

      As David Brower once said, "wilderness is a place that can still run itself".

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