A Subaltern Environmental History

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Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature is a history that strives to take a look at the underbelly of the Conservation movement in American history. His “bottom-up” approach chronicles the evolution of a moral ecology which straddles the fence between official conservation standards and traditional ecological practices. I would say that this reminds me of the populist politics class I took last semester, except the fact these areas being conserved by the government were too sparsely populated for effective populist action. As a result, the conflict was very one sided and Jacoby notes that the history reflects this as an environmental crusade waged by the “pantheon of Conservationist prophets” (1).

Like Wade, I was also reminded of our discussions about the role of capitalism in shaping environments while reading this book. What I found most interesting about Jacoby’s take on this, however, is the unconventional intersection of morality and capitalism. In this class, the focus when discussing capitalism has been primarily the economic and ecological aspects. Unfortunately, the chances of morality and capitalism working together to create a better method of conservation as they remain “separate guiding stars in a dark night sky” (198).

Wilderness as Artifact

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Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation presents a view of the early conservation movement from the generally untold view of economically middle and low-class individuals. As Jacoby writes in his conclusion, “the powerful can attempt to advance their own visions of the past, dismissing those whose recollections they find threatening or inconvenient” (p. 193). Jacoby seeks to counter such attempts by unveiling the little known stories of the individuals affected by the conservation of the Adirondacks, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

The issue of land ownership plays a prominent role throughout the book. In the past, I have often learned about Native Americans who lost their land to the US Government because of their unfamiliarity with white ideas of land ownership. What was interesting to me was the substantial discussion of similar experiences for white settlers in the Adirondacks. Even those families who had called the Adirondacks home for generations were declared squatters because they lacked the proper proof of land ownership. By depicting the shared experiences of whites and Native Americans, Jacoby’s work crossed ethnic and cultural boundaries and instead told a comprehensive story of the effects of the conservation movement on less privileged individuals.

Another aspect of Jacoby’s work that I found very thought provoking was his statement, “wilderness reveals itself to be not some primeval character of nature but rather an artifact of modernity, a concept employed by conservationists to naturalize the transformations taking place in rural America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (p. 198). In my opinion, wilderness is both a primeval character of nature and an artifact of modernity. Wilderness, as I see it, is nature without human intervention. Throughout the semester we have had many discussions about what level of human involvement in the environment can be considered natural. As Ian noted in an earlier post, even something as technologically advanced as a city can be described as the next phase of ecological evolution. There is no such ambiguity when describing the wilderness, as it is nature in its virgin state. Thus, it seems to me, the wilderness has always existed. While wilderness has always been a primeval character of nature, it is also now an artifact of modernity because of the conservation movement. The conservation movement, at its core, is an attempt to preserve wilderness. In order to justify the need for preservation, areas such as the Adirondacks, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon have been portrayed as the last of their kind. In an effort to preserve such places for posterity, the conservation movement has essentially cast wilderness as an artifact that needs to be passed down to later generations. Areas such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are now very similar to museums. They attract tourists because they hearken back to a lost age, when the landscape was not dominated by human creations. In this sense, wilderness has most certainly become an artifact of modernity. This does not mean, however, that it is no longer a primeval character of nature.

War Upon the Land and The Assumption that Man Can Control Nature

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Nineteenth century Americans assumed that they could take control of nature and succeed in achieving their goals. In War Upon the Land, Lisa Brady confronted this American assumption by studying the ways in which the Union military attempted to play around with natural forces in order to defeat the Confederates in the Civil War. What amounted in Union attempts, however, was often pure hubris and failure to control nature. Brady provides the reader with the example of Vicksburg, where Union soldiers intended to tunnel under it, control the Mississippi river, and cause its isolation for Confederate destruction. The Union soldiers did in fact take the stronghold, but by fighting a gruesome battle and not by controlling nature. Their attempt to, what Brady calls, “neutralize nature,” did not succeed in this example. (35)

This assumption that man could control nature is tied to another idea that Brady discusses in her work. In her introduction, Brady clarifies that to “improve” nature, meant essentially to “civilize.” (11) This idea echoes our past discussions in class about the relationship between Americans and the wilderness. It also reminds me of Richard Slotkin’s arguments about white supremacy, the belief that natives symbolized an embodiment of the malevolent force of nature, and that the white man could bring nature under his control. Like our conversations about Native Americans and the wilderness and white Americans’ perception of both, white Northern Americans in the Civil War attributed the institution of slavery to something uncivilized and wild. I found her argument about white Northerners looking down upon southerners as uncivilized folk and using that as justification for fighting such a bloody war to prove interesting. Just like Americans must conquer and civilize the wilderness, the North must conquer and civilize the South by demolishing its abhorrent institution of slavery.

Destroying the South’s backbone of life and commerce, essentially, led to the Confederate loss and, like Emily stated, ensured that the South could not return to its previous state before the war (135). Brady referred to it as destroying the “agroecological foundations” of the South. (23) When supplies had to be left behind, the military was forced to live off the land, further stripping the Confederates of their resources. Nature seemed to be working against the Union military in their attempts to starve and destroy the southern way of life. Mosquitoes carrying diseases wreaked havoc on Union soldiers and rivers flooded impeding Northern movement.  It was as if nature was fighting back against an arrogant species that believed nature was easily and justifiably conquerable. I found Brady’s work to be an interesting and insightful take on the destruction of Sherman and the Shenandoah and Mississippi River campaigns. I thought her work was essentially an argument of how nature shaped human decisions and how those decisions greatly impacted the outcome of the war.

The Flawed Methodology with Mythological History

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Richard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment is a study of the myth of the American frontier, as Slotkin analyzes the myth extensively using 19th century literature, setting the frontier up as a divider between Metropolises and the native wilderness.  The study is convincing enough, but Slotkin runs into the same issue that any historian has when studying a cultural myth: how to prove that the myth had an impact over an entire culture rather than specific sections of society.

This is a problem I encountered while writing my thesis last semester.  I attempted to argue that the collapse of the mythological aspect of baseball with the reveal that the Yankee hero Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and a womanizer, that that helped propel the festering cynicism in the 1960s that began with the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations as well as the Vietnam War.  As I began researching, I immediately regretted my undertaking, as proving the cultural impact that a myth has over society is not easy.  Relative to my study, I tried to argue that because of baseball’s place in American culture, the collapse of the mythology affected the greater American public, yet clearly there were Americans who could care less about baseball, or who could care less about the mythological aspects of the game.  For Slotkin, his argument is solid and easy to accept as fact, yet it is also easily contestable because of how he uses literature as representative of American culture.  This undertaking is impossible to do completely, as there were sections of society who had no interest in what was happening in the west (and as Henry pointed out, who could not read), yet Slotkin claims that with the literature, the frontier mythology is encompassing of American culture.

This point is reaffirmed in Henry’s below post, as he concurs that just a snapshot of a culture cannot interpret the national consciousness of America.  I also did not consider the era, as Henry smartly points out the illiteracy in America made the novels and stories of the time even less influential, further weakening Slotkin’s contention.

Unfortunately for Slotkin, if he lessened his claim and stated instead that the literature had some influence, his argument becomes weak, yet because his claim is encompassing, it is currently flawed.  Slotkin does a good job of providing as much evidence as possible, but regardless of how many stories supported his argument, someone could still say that assuming that the frontier mythology represented the whole nation’s consciousness is an over-the-top claim.

While flawed in its methodology, looking past these concerns I found the work rather convincing, and its approach as an environmental history intriguing.  Slotkin adds an interesting wrinkle to the definition of nature, as he creates a polarizing distinction between the wilderness full of savage Indians and the metropolis expanding into the wilderness.  While creating the distinction, as Ian states below it allows for male heroics within nature, therefore allowing humans as actors within nature.

Creating “Wilderness”

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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.”

Defining Wilderness

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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

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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

The Natural Aspect of Davidson’s Campus

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What is considered natural is very hard to pinpoint in this day and age, as very little is left untouched by humans in some manner.  As a result, it is much more common to consider gardens, manicured lawns, and arboretums as part of nature, even if they are far from natural.  This seems understandable when one compares such human creations to the skyscrapers and interstates that are a staple of American life.  Through such a lens, Davidson’s campus appears much more natural.  One example of this is the large trees that surround the well located in front of Chambers.  The size of those trees indicates that they are of significant age.  It is unlikely that they were planted, but rather they are likely the remnants of a forest that may once have existed on Davidson’s campus.

Obviously this is not the case for the majority of trees at Davidson.  A thorough inspection of the campus maps reveals a very detailed plan for the exact location and species of every tree located on campus.  The school devised a plan for what species of tree would be planted and in what designated area.  This realization would have been impossible without the campus maps, and it definitely takes away from the natural appearance of the campus.  At the same time, I do not think the natural feel that emanates as one tours Davidson’s campus is completely negated by this realization.  Compared to many other colleges and universities in North Carolina, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Davidson appears very in touch with nature.

This is where it becomes important to differentiate between wilderness and nature.  Wilderness, as I see it, is what existed before human interaction or manipulation.  Such a definition means that state and national parks are nearly all that remains of the wilderness in present day America.  Thus, Davidson’s campus obviously does not qualify as wilderness.  The campus maps show that Davidson has been changed and transformed over the years according to human desires.  This does not mean, however, that nature is no longer present at Davidson.  The trees are still home to squirrels and there are enough woods to house the affectionately named “Commons monster,” several deer, and even the occasional skunk.  While all of this is merely a remnant of the once untamed wilderness that existed here long before Davidson was ever founded, it is still nature.

As far as the most unnatural aspect of Davidson’s campus, I have to agree with Ian’s anointing of the artificial turf inside Richardson Stadium.  It resembles a cheap doormat more than it does natural grass.  The artificial turf is also very painful to fall on.  The little black pebbles that Ian mentioned are not easy on the skin if you fall-they destroy your legs and leave something similar to a rug-burn, only worse.  The artificial turf is yet another example of the human transformation of Davidson’s campus.  Even so, as long as the trees, shrubs, and grass remain, Davidson will always maintain contact with nature.

Davidson Wilderness

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After looking over the pictures of the evolution of Davidson’s campus, I was shocked to see the gradual deforestation that has occurred throughout the grounds. Though the years were not listed, years before my time here, the grounds surrounding Chambers and many of the dorms were littered with trees of varying sizes. In my opinion, this created a more natural feel to the campus, as the trees, even if they were planted by humans, represented the ecological side of our ecosystem. Today, though trees remain around chambers, they are not nearly as prevalent, replaced by pristinely kept grass that radiates with an artificial feeling.

Following our class discussion on what part of campus was the most “natural” or “wild” to me, I was left without a clear answer. My initial answer was the cross country trail, but sadly the trees that gave the course its natural feeling were all planted by human hands, stripping it of the natural purity I initially accredited it with. After some thought, I realized that the most natural thing to me on Davidson’s campus are the squirrels.

For those who do not know, Davidson squirrels are a little different than others from around the country. They often run right up to you and do not flee as you walk within feet of them, but continue doing whatever it is they do. For some, they might see this as unnatural, as the squirrels do not fear humans as other squirrels around the land generally do. Yet, for me, I see it as the peak of nature on campus. These animals recognize us as part of their ecosystem, regardless of our biological differences. It appears as though they have learned that we pose no threat to their way of life, so they do not fear us, leaving them to calmly live alongside us on the campus. Though different than most animals, I view their acknowledgement of our place amongst their ecosystem as the epitome of nature on this campus.

If I had to pick one thing on campus that I view as the most unnatural thing, I would have to go with the turf on our football field. Nothing screams unnatural like artificially created grass filled with black little beads that get everywhere. Our insistence on creating a playing surface that is unchanged by natural occurrences reflects our desire to control the world around us and deny the randomness that nature presents. This is a common practice of our culture, especially when it comes to planting gardens/shrubbery, as we are actively shaping nature in the ways we want it, rather than allowing its beauty to blossom through its own design.