On Squirrels

A few of you wrote about the naturalness of Davidson’s squirrels, prompting the archivist, Jan Blodgett, to send me this post on the history of campus squirrels – it turns out that they were imported to add to the atmosphere of campus! Her post reminded me of an article written by a friend of mine for a Popular Science blog, about a different article published in the Journal of American History on the history of urban squirrels.

The Popular Science overview article is here.

The original Journal of American History article is here.

Enjoy these, and your weekend.

Nouveau Nature

Of the primary source materials related to Davidson’s natural landscape, I thought the most interesting were the black and white photographs showing Davidson in varying states of deforestation. It is difficult to look at the carefully manicured lawn in front of Chambers and imagine it strewn with felled trees and crisscrossed by corduroy roads.

For a while, most of Davidson consisted of empty fields. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that additional buildings were added to the empty land and trees were added to the cross country trails. The way the campus is designed leads one to believe that the campus was molded around nature, that the buildings were built just so in order to be locked in by graceful oaks. Rather, any of the nature on campus is here to replace what was lost when the school first cleared the land. The arboretum on campus is to nature as a museum is to culture.

When did Davidson cease to become truly natural and wild? I think that when the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio railroad was completed in 1860, development began rapidly. Before then, Davidson was out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness.

The Wilderness: Untamed and Forever Beautiful

“Wilderness,” to me, describes a vast amount of land and resources essentially lacking any human involvement and intervention. In his Walking (1862), Henry David Thoreau supports this simple definition by writing, “Life consists of wilderness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him” (39). Part One of The Great New Wilderness Debate, however, builds on my definition and expands upon it. “Wilderness” constitutes the many expansive aspects of nature, beautiful because it is untouched and not owned by mankind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson paints nature in a beautiful and serene light in his Nature (1836). He writes, “Nature never wears a mean appearance” (28). Emerson admits that we attribute this kind of poetical frame of mind when we think of nature and wilderness. There also exists this sense of innocence and “perpetual youth” associated with the woods and nature that few adults can see because they only maintain a superficial sight (29). Emerson continues to explain that not one man owns the wild. No one can own the landscape. According to Emerson, the wilderness belongs to God, we are but “part or particle of God” (29). Thoreau, on the other hand, writes that the wilderness should be utilized for public use, and cites the Indians and their ability to share nature amongst them to survive. After reading Emerson’s and Thoreau’s views on nature, I have come to the conclusion that wilderness belongs to no one and to everyone simultaneously, to be enjoyed by all.

In Our National Parks (1901), John Muir interestingly comments on nature’s ability to be forever beautiful. He writes that as long as nature’s landscapes remain wild, they can never be ugly. Muir underscores wilderness’ necessity to this world. His essay ultimately supports the maintenance of national parks, yet also emphasizes that a wilderness will always exist because man cannot change it enough to make it nonexistent. “[The mountains and canons] these must always be wild, for man can change them and mar them hardly more than can the butterflies that hover above them,” writes Muir (57). He also describes nature as a safe haven for man. Beautiful forests contain little dangers as compared to city homes.

Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir all agree that man should escape to the wilderness and appreciate its accessible and incomparable beauty. The other essays mention man’s detrimental treatment of nature, but these three authors focus mainly on nature’s charm and overall goodness. My definition of “natural” from last week has certainly evolved this week: “For something to be deemed truly ‘natural,’ its present and previous state must rely on its lack of human interference and intrusion.” This week, I add that the wilderness and nature are intertwined, that they are also fundamentally beautiful in every aspect because they are wild and that they are therefore essential to human existence and human solitude. Man and the wild must maintain a balance between manipulation and survival. The wild’s expansiveness appeals to the human heart’s desire to be free and untamed. We must walk through the wild woods and reflect upon our place in the colossal universe. The wilderness constitutes a much larger part of this world as compared to human beings, and will therefore continue to exist after we are gone. The “wilderness” will forever be alive.

Economics and the Wild

A definition of THE American Wilderness is hard to compose. The definition depends on the individual asked and from where this individual lived. A person who lives out West might harbor softer and more passionate feelings for the ‘wilderness’ than say someone from a major city like New York or Chicago (who might sense the wilderness is a rugged environment). Most certainly THE American Wilderness’s definition has changed over time and continues to change with new interpretations. Should ‘wilderness’ even be a term still commonly used?

The term ‘wilderness’ developed from Eurocentric thought. Even though Europeans arrived to the New World in the sixteenth century and crafted the land for their use, almost four hundred years later, natives spoke of how the white man’s language and thought forced an opinion about the open and unconquered lands. Chief Luther Standing Bear states, “Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it ‘wild’ for us” (201). Sadly, Europeans and their ancestors grouped natives and animals as wild savages and used the term ‘wilderness’ to collectively identify both.

Sometimes it is easier to define something by what it is not rather than by what it actually is. The American Wilderness is not a savage place. As Chelsea Creta said in her post on January 19, “Some students chose the cross-country trail as the most natural place on campus, for it appears untouched, wild, and uncultivated.” The wilderness is not a place of any specific wild or rambunctious behavior. The American Wilderness is a completely constructed and unnatural representation of a supposed natural place (much like Davidson’s campus). Tourists from all over visit national forests and parks. Many venture to these places to see ‘natural’ wildlife and fauna. Like Davidson’s campus, many of these places are constructed to appear natural. Yes, they are more ‘natural’ than Davidson’s campus, but humans have still intervened with the surroundings. America’s version of the wilderness is anything but natural.

The American Wilderness is used to strengthen the capitalist system.  As Roderick Nash reminds us, “The economics of land-based tours work out better for native people, but it is still foreign-owned airline companies, hotel chains, and travel agents who chiefly benefit”  (211). This concept can be applied locally and internationally. Thus, the American Wilderness is a commodity. While thoughts and actions have shifted to a more nature-preserving attitude, these actions are done to better the capitalist system. Carl Talbot states, “Thus nature was organized so as to meet the spatial, economic, and psychological needs of capitalism” (326).

The phrase itself connotes a feeling much like “The American Dream.” This is something that one cannot actually pin down. Searching “American Wilderness” using Google Images provides one with an extremely glorified version of the term (mostly in the form of landscapes). Both “The American Dream” and “The American Wilderness” are abstractions grounded in economics.

Creating “Wilderness”

In his essay “The Wilderness Narrative and the Cultural Logic of Capitalism,” Carl Talbot quotes Robert Nash as having stated that “wilderness is a matter of perception – part of the geography of the mind” (330). Along with Talbot’s passage about the Wilderness Narrative, I also selected Chief Luther Standing Bear’s “Indian Wisdom” and David Harmon’s “Cultural Diversity, Human Subsistence and the National Park Ideal” in order to develop my definition of American wilderness. After reading these essays, I would align myself with Nash and argue that the “American wilderness” is a culturally constructed perception that emerged during the early ages of European settlement in the Americas – and continues through the present day – that nature is untamed and therefore must be controlled by or otherwise separated from humans.

In “Indian Wisdom” Chief Luther Standing Bear argued that prior to the arrival of white European settlers in North America, there was no such concept of “wilderness.” To the Native Americans, all things in nature were tamed, and humans were merely surrounded by the wonders of the “Great Mystery” (201). It was the white men, he said, who first distanced themselves from nature by trying to control it and thus first developed the idea of the “wilderness” (205). In effect, Chief Luther demonstrated that American “wilderness” first emerged as a result of being molded by the culture of white men. This theme continues to the modern day as reflected in Talbot’s essay. Talbot stated that “nature was organized so as to meet the spatial, economic, and psychological needs of capitalism” (326). By pairing the idea of wilderness with the growth of white and capitalist cultures in, these writers depict how “American wilderness” is a continually renewed cultural construct throughout American history.

Additionally, Talbot and Harmon aid in illustrating how nature is incompatible with mainstream American culture. Harmon used words like “protected,” “ownership,” and “management” to describe modern national parks. These words connote meanings directly in contrast to a word like “nature,” which emphasizes a lack of manipulation by humans. Talbot also asserted that for many the “wilderness is a leisure resource” and has been commodified for the modern world (325, 328). We can take this to mean that because “nature” is not a piece of mainstream American culture, it needs to be cordoned off into an occasionally visited segment of society. Nature in its purest form is too inconvenient for Americans. Moreover, while places like national parks are often considered the most natural pieces of our culture, even they fail to be truly natural. This idea ties back into our discussion last week about how even the places which we feel resemble nature in Davidson have actually been the most manipulated by humans.

After reading Manish’s post I agree with his claims about Turner’s method to achieving an understanding of the environment. I think we can see some similar sentiments in Chief Luther Standing Bear’s essay. Both highlight the distance that man has put between himself and the environment. In order to regain an understanding of the wilderness, man needs to once again immerse himself in nature. This in turn goes back to Chief Luther Standing Bear and how he recalled the Lakota living among nature, rather than dominating it. It is fascinating to see how two men like Turner and Chief Luther Standing Bear – writing in very different times and with very different perspectives – ultimately reached similar conclusions about how Americans need to understand “nature” and “wilderness.”

Part I: The Received Wilderness Idea

Henry David Thoreau’s conception of wilderness relies on divorcing physical space from civil society. “In Wildness,” says Thoreau, “is the preservation of the World” (37). This capital-W world Thoreau describes is the world of rocks, trees and mountains, and it is more real than the world of churches, schools, and town halls. He is thankful that he can walk miles without passing houses, crossing roads, or noticing where humans have influenced the natural world. This uninhabited and untouched land is Thoreau’s small-scale concept of wilderness.

In his 1925 essay called “Wilderness as a Form of Land Use,” Aldo Leopold defines wilderness while critiquing American land use practices. Wilderness, for Leopold, is “a wild, roadless area where those who are so inclined may enjoy primitive modes of travel and subsistence, such as exploration trips by pack-train or canoe” (76). Since he seeks to explain wilderness areas in terms of land use, Leopold does expand this definition to encompass wilderness more broadly. Rather, his definition demonstrates how Americans treat even wilderness as a resource. He grapples with the conflict between how conquering wilderness formed Americans, but widespread taming of large tracts of wilderness also threatens “the things that made us American” (78).

Mark Woods seeks to explain the legal understanding of wilderness preservation and the paradoxes inherent in making “a tract of de facto wilderness qualify to become de jure wilderness” in the American practice of wilderness preservation (134). Woods employs the definition of wilderness from the Wilderness Act of 1964. Through the definition, he notes the conflict between the instrumental and intrinsic values of wilderness to humans. Though he does not resolve the paradoxes, he does explain that American wilderness policy’s definition of land use involves the necessary components that wilderness be natural and be a place where humans can find solitude.

Assembling a definition of wilderness from these three sources leads me to conclude that wilderness is a place that is free from roads, able to be explored by humans but not welcoming to their settlement, and available to satisfy the ineffable desire for humans to experience the natural world. On January 19, Brandon mentioned a short definition of wilderness as “what existed before human interaction or manipulation.” Brandon gave a time frame for describing wilderness, and I think this is important. Is a place a wilderness only if humans have never gotten to it? Can a place be redeemed from its human intervention and become a wilderness? A definition of wilderness must include a time frame, but I am still puzzling over how we ought to conceive of wilderness chronologically (and where we ought to position ourselves).

Nature’s Destructive Power

For our first day of class, we went to the rare book room of the library and got to look at some old maps and pictures of Davidson’s campus, showing everything from topography and vegetation to building layouts. It really gives a sense of how the campus has evolved and grown over time (personally, the change I most appreciate is not having to live in the same building where classes are held). However, the thing that I noticed most in the maps and pictures was how the old Chambers building burned in 1921, and how the lot where it once stood remained untouched for many years after.

In many ways, mankind’s history, particularly in the United States, has been a story of a slow but sure mastery over nature. As technology has advanced, humans have conquered many of the obstacles nature presents. We have cities full of buildings, some a hundred stories tall, which protect us from the cold and other elements. To cross North America was once a long, dangerous task—now, one can simply fly across the country in six hours. Unsurprisingly, this has given humans a sense of superiority over nature, a belief that nature no longer poses us a threat. However, disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis strike often enough for most people to retain a healthy respect for the power of nature.

Davidson seems to have gotten its own lesson in nature’s wrath when the old Chambers building, the focal point of its campus, burned down. In a letter to his mother, one student present for the fire writes that he “never saw such a magnificent, awe-inspiring, heart-rending sigh in all my life and never hope to again,” also noting that people could see the glow from the fire from as far away as Winston-Salem. The student also describes that the building looked “ghastly,” with only its walls and pillars still standing. That leads me to the next thing I found interesting—the school’s choice to, after leveling the ruins, leave the empty lot, which became known as the “Ghost of Old Chambers” where the building once stood. One could look at the decision to leave the Ghost as a simple memorial to the old building. However, one could also view the Ghost as constant reminder to Davidson students and faculty that, no matter how much we advance, we are still vulnerable to the powers of nature. Looking at a picture of the Ghost on the school’s online archive, one must admit that it functions as an ominous reminder not to become overconfident in our dealings with nature.


Link to page with letter: http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/fire-old-chambers-primary-sources

Link to photographs: http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/fire-old-chambers-photographs


Defining Wilderness

Part One: The Received Wilderness Idea

The wilderness, as defined by Robert Marshall in his 1930 essay entitled “The Problem of the Wilderness,” is an area without permanent inhabitants, impossible to cross by mechanical means, and so vast that a person attempting to cross it must sleep out.  In short, the wilderness is an escape from civilization.  The wilderness offers man a setting in which he may appease his appetite for adventure, a desire that Marshall believes is very strong in the majority of mankind.  It extends an opportunity for independence and exploration that does not exist in the midst of civilization.  The wilderness allows humans to test both their physical limits and their self-sufficiency, while also offering time for personal and insightful thought.  In the wilderness, every one of the senses is occupied.  Unlike a work of art or a composition of music, the wilderness appeals to all the senses at once.  The dynamic experience offered by the wilderness is completely encompassing.  When out in the wilderness, sufficiently distanced from human civilization, one cannot help but be enveloped by its beauty and enormity.

Because of this encompassing aspect of nature, according to John Muir in his 1901 essay labeled “Our National Parks,” the wilderness serves as a fountain of life for many people.  The wilderness is a necessity, without which many individuals would not be able to survive the monotony of everyday life.  Muir asserts that a trip to the wilderness results in an “awakening from…the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury (48).”  Venturing into the wilderness is like going home; it is a return to one’s roots.  Unfortunately, the vast expanse of wilderness that originally existed in North America is quickly diminishing as the land is altered by human civilization.  With each expansion of human civilization, forests are cut, prairies are ploughed, and the wilderness is depleted.  Without attention to and protection of the remaining wilderness, mankind will soon have no repose from the ties of civilization.

The United States government recognized the need to preserve areas of wilderness and Congress responded by passing “The Wilderness Act of 1964.”  In this act, the government defined the wilderness as a place where the earth and the life that inhabits it are not organized according to the desires of man.  Instead, nature remains in its original form.  The wilderness is not a place that man calls home, but a place for him to visit.  The government stipulates that man’s interaction with the wilderness should be largely unnoticeable.  This will allow posterity to enjoy the wilderness as it stands now.  The character of the wilderness must remain its own in order to ensure that it offers solitude and a primitive appeal to visitors now and forever.

Supplementary Reading Review of Wilderness and the American Mind

Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind walks a reader through a chronological timeline of the evolving perception of wilderness that has resonated within America since its discovery. From the outset, Nash indicates an obvious but difficult question to answer; what is wilderness? He explains how “land managers and politicians” have struggled to formulate a definitive answer to this question, which introduces a central question of his work, one which remains in mystery at the conclusion of the book.[1] Though Nash never reaches a definitive answer as to what the wilderness truly is, it cannot be ignored how important nature is within our lives and those of people before us. One could believe that because Nash never clearly articulates one answer to this question, that the idea of wilderness is a personal discovery, something that is different for every person. Even though Nash leaves this discovery up to us, he still does a magnificent job of portraying how the different ideas of wilderness and nature have been perceived inside American society, while also indicating the importance of the debates that surrounded these ideas.

Of the numerous chapters of Nash’s piece, one that comes off as one of the strongest is his work on the Old World perceptions of nature that later Europeans brought with them to the New World, that being America. Drawing on numerous secondary sources about Greek and Roman perceptions of nature, Nash initially argues that the old world perception of nature was man vs. the wild. As Nash describes, it was man’s job to overcome nature, as “safety, happiness and progress all seemed dependent on rising out of a wilderness situation.”[2] For the ancients (Greeks and Romans), the wilderness was believed to be filled with demons and lesser gods who were there to thwart human efforts in conquering the wilderness, which Nash’s writing frames as the greatest evil towards man.[3] In fact, this idea did not change too much over the centuries, as Nash indicates how Christians also partook in this negative view towards nature. In the Old Testament, the wilderness is described as a sort of barren wasteland, a place for the devil and punishments from God towards humanity. Moving away from religion, physically wilderness represented a direct threat to human survival, as the trials it presented pioneers could strip any man of his life.[4] From these connotations, Judeo Christian Europeans, who were some of the first to arrive in the New World, perceived the wilderness as something purely evil that must be subjected to their will.[5] Faced with the vast wilderness of the Americas, the colonists’ “courage failed” as their fears were multiplied because of the unknown dangers that resided in these woods.[6]

As Wilderness and the American Mind continues along the timeline of American society, Nash indicates how the perception of the wilderness shifted as American culture began to blossom. Introduced in Chapter 3, Nash describes how individuals began to perceive nature under a romantic connotation, desiring to indulge in the primate lifestyle of the untamed wilderness that had previously been scorned because of the potential dangers that resided outside of civilization.[7] It went so far as to have the romantic ideals of nature become its own literary genre by the 1840s, making the appreciation of wilderness a necessary characteristic of all gentlemen within American society.[8] Using accounts from Abigail Adams, as well as references to Thomas Jefferson’s view on nature, Nash displays how the American wilderness was something Americans started to take pride in during the 18th and 19th centuries. Specifically with Abigail’s claims, Nash indicates how Americans’ respected the beauty in the American wilderness, something they believed Europe had lost to its further industrialized society.[9] This beauty became the centerpiece of many poems, literary works, and paintings about the New World, defining the American landscape as something entirely different than Europe.[10] Using information from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, Nash diligently describes the shift in American perspective on the wilderness. Instead of being a roadblock to success or something evil, Nash described how Cooper’s work positioned Americans as understanding the pure beauty that resided within nature, as well as the potential for “exciting adventure.”[11]

As Americans pushed further and further west, altering nature into civilization as their ancestors had done before them, Nash notes how people began to realize the beauty of the wilderness was disappearing as civilization took center stage. As a result of this, numerous Americans like John Muir and Aldo Leopold, both American preservationists, made great efforts to preserve the wilderness. Nash depicts how the first instance of American preservation began with President Grant signing an act in 1872 that zoned off 2 million acres of Wyoming to create Yellowstone National Park.[12] In order to secure this act, Nash describes how preservationists had to convince the legislature not of the beauty of the land, but of the lack of use this region had for natural resources. For in American society, the wilderness was no longer perceived as an evil entity, but something filled with vast resources to exploit. Only as a secondary effort did advocates of preservation reference the “remarkable curiosities” or “rare wonders” that were prevalent within Yellowstone as reason not to cultivate this land.[13] Following the creation of Yellowstone, as well as many more national/state parks like it, many politicians and others began to question the need for untouchable territory. Nash introduces this theme in a number of ways, one of which is direct quotes from politicians of the day. Using Kansas Senator John J. Ingalls’ comments from 1883, Nash displays how many politicians were against the zoning off of wilderness for preservation, as he believed it should be sold off “as other public lands are sold.”[14]

Using the example of the Hetch Hetchy debates that began in the late 1800s and grew ever important in the early 1900s, Nash displays the chronic and unending debates regarding preservations vs. use of resources. In early 1900s, San Francisco experienced numerous disasters, such as an earthquake, that made their continual need for fresh water even more of an urgent issue. Within a few hundred miles away was the Hetch Hetchy Valley, which if damned could provide an excellent source of water for the region, but was protected under the creation of Yosemite National Park as a wilderness preserve.[15] President Roosevelt, a fervent preservationist, was faced with a difficult decision which placed his desire to preserve the wilderness against his position to do what is best for the American people. Using various letters and comments from John Muir, who was against the use of the land for a dam, as well as Gifford Pinchot’s comments in favor of it, Nash does a wonderful job of displaying the difficulty that existed within this type of debate.[16] On one side of the issue was the old world mentality of man conquering nature for his personal gain. Yet, on the other, was the newer position of preserving the wilderness, specifically for the inherent beauty that was native to American land. Though the President decided on opening the land for use as a water supply, this did not stop people like John Muir from continuing to comment on the wrongness of the decision, specifically stating that “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and play in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike” in reference to the need for preserved wilderness.[17] These types of debates of preservation vs. resources were not isolated to earlier times, as Nash indicates they continued well on into the 20th century, remaining a relevant political issue. They remain in the spotlight as more people continue to see the destruction of the wilderness around them, while other individuals only perceive the monetary value that could be gained from these “wild” lands.

In terms of the wilderness of these national parks, one thing Nash does not note in his work, which is commented on in Section II of The Great New Wilderness Debate is the artificiality of these reserves. In an essay by Carl Talbot “The Wilderness Narrative and the Cultural Logic of Capitalism,” this issue is brought to center stage. Talbot indicates how national parks are not “preserved wilderness” but something more artificial, as they do not allow for the natural interaction of humanity and its ecosystem. Instead, this piece of land is something that has been withdrawn from the natural order of the world, essentially quarantined by human hands, seemingly making it just as unnatural as the creation of cities.[18] This type of thought is something that Nash seemingly ignores in his work, which in the light of one of the major questions of his book (what is wilderness) seems to greatly diminish an otherwise thorough piece on the evolution of wilderness perspectives. Wilderness preserves and national parks are a great thing to have if your perception of the wilderness is untamed and void of human interaction, but in light of Talbot’s comments, it appears as though there are people who do not buy into this position. Knowing this, Nash neglects to provide a complete analysis of how natural national parks are, diminishing their effectiveness as something that is “wild.”

In comparison to Nash’s piece, The Great New Wilderness Debate also provides a more thorough analysis of international conservation of the wilderness. Within Chapter 16 of his piece, Nash goes into discussion about international conservation, specifically commenting on Africa as an example. From the start of this chapter, this section of the book seems out of place in light of the rest of the piece. The title of his piece is Wilderness and the American Mind, so why is he going into international preservation, when Africa is not an American land? It appears as though Nash wanted to give a globally encompassed study of perceptions of wilderness, which based on his title is outside the frame of his work. Quite differently in The Great New Wilderness Debate, which does not focus on American conservation, numerous international preservation efforts are described to provide a global perspective on the efforts. Topics ranging from the differences between American preservation efforts and Indian directives, to how the Kidepo National Park in Uganda actually hindered people more than helped are all discussed within the various essays of this piece.[19] Though Nash tries to provide a thorough understanding of wilderness preservation by bringing in international discussions, his efforts seem out of place based and forced, specifically when compared to the much more detailed discussions presented in The Great New Wilderness Debate.

This review barely scratches the surface of all the content that Nash provides within his piece on the evolution of the American perspective on wilderness. There is so much more from his piece that could be discussed for hours on end, such as the pioneering differences between the American West and Alaska or Henry David Thoreau’s journeys through the wilderness and his discoveries to just name a few topics. One of my personal favorites that was not discussed within this review were Nash’s comments on how the hippy counter-culture of the 1960s-70s latched onto the preservation of the wilderness as just another way to fight the current system.[20] Due to the exuberant amount of information that Nash presents in his piece, topics like these could not be given the ample respect they are due using a short discussion. Through Nash’s writing, the chronological changes in perspective of the American wilderness are thoroughly presented. Furthermore, though at the conclusion of Nash’s work one of his central questions regarding what the wilderness is remains unanswered, I believe this was intentional, as well as unavoidable. Using The Great New Wilderness Debate as an example, numerous definitions for the wilderness are presented, such as “an area without people” or one in which people live within the land, drawing upon its resources for survival while also maintaining its purity.[21] With such differing perspectives presented from another piece, it appears Nash’s work fits within the framework of the current understanding of what the wilderness is, which is inconclusive and open to personal interpretation.

[1] Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1982), 5

[2] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  9

[3] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  9, 11

[4] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 24

[5] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  15

[6] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 26

[7] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  49

[8] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  60

[9] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  68-69

[10] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  75

[11] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  76

[12] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 108

[13] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  112

[14] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 113

[15] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  161

[16] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  162-164

[17] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind,  165

[18] J. Baird Callicott and Michael P. Nelson, The Great Wilderness Debate, (University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1998) 326

[19] Callicott & Nelson, The Great Wilderness Debate, 223, 241

[20] Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 251

[21] Callicott & Nelson, The Great Wilderness Debate,  295, 319

True Wilderness

Part IV: Beyond the Wilderness Idea

According to Aldo Leopold and Jack Turner there are multiple ways to consider the wilderness. The first is a physical conception of the wild that has specific requirements in order to be considered a true wilderness. Leopold cites two absolute necessities that must be present in order for an environment to qualify. First an environment cannot be ordered. He uses the example of German forests to illustrate this point. Germany has a beautiful landscape with many gorgeous forests and meadows but it is not wild because the landscape has been arranged in a geometrical manner that reflects the organization of the Germans but is unnatural for nature. The transition from forest to farmland is abrupt and linear. Nothing is allowed to grow without being amended to fit the “cubist’s” mind. The landscape should also be allowed to remain vast and uncompromised. The larger a wilderness is the easier it is to remove oneself from the artificial world.  Second for Leopold an environment must possess birds and animals of prey in order for it to be wild. Again the German landscape lacks this quality. Predators add the savagery to an environment that is necessary to be a wilderness. Safety is a concept that must be absent in order for a landscape to be wild. The harsh reality of the wild is that death is a constant worry for all organisms. It is a truly Darwinian existence.

Turner agrees strongly with Leopold’s physical description of nature but in his essay he chooses to analyze the psychological impact that a true wilderness should have on us. A true wilderness is not a place for recreation. It is not a place where we can go to have fun and escape from what we call work. It is not a place that can be visited and understood only through a short exposure to it. The wild is something deeper, more mysterious and more instinctive. It should capture our imaginations but not only in a pleasureable way. There is something frightening about places that are truly wild. They should strike awe in us. It is a place where we are so far removed from society and human intervention that no safety net exists and it is simply the individual looking out for self. It is only when an individual is left to rely solely on himself that a true understanding of the wild can be gained.

The only way according to Turner to get to this point is to live in and by nature so as to create that personal interaction. When this happens the wild can truly inspire the human mind and allows us to create art that can capture some essence of the wilderness. A true understanding of the wilderness also helps provide us with the most pure reason for protecting the environment. The fad of environmentalism is not a proper reason. It should not be a passing concern that is driven through popular consent. Instead a true understanding of the wilderness helps reveal essential aspects of human nature and shows us how we are best suited to live in and by nature and this will help us understand why altering or destroying the wilderness must be avoided.