Wildness: Relations of People and Place

Wildness: Relations of People and Place


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Whether referring to a place, a nonhuman animal or plant, or a state of mind, wild indicates autonomy and agency, a will to be, a unique expression of life. Yet two contrasting ideas about wild nature permeate contemporary discussions: either that nature is most wild in the absence of a defiling human presence, or that nature is completely humanized and nothing is truly wild.

This book charts a different path. Exploring how people can become attuned to the wild community of life and also contribute to the well-being of the wild places in which we live, work, and play, Wildness brings together esteemed authors from a variety of landscapes, cultures, and backgrounds to share their stories about the interdependence of everyday human lifeways and wildness. As they show, far from being an all or nothing proposition, wildness exists in variations and degrees that range from cultivated soils to multigenerational forests to sunflowers pushing through cracks in a city alley. Spanning diverse geographies, these essays celebrate the continuum of wildness, revealing the many ways in which human communities can nurture, adapt to, and thrive alongside their wild nonhuman kin.

From the contoured lands of Wisconsin’s Driftless region to remote Alaska, from the amazing adaptations of animals and plants living in the concrete jungle to indigenous lands and harvest ceremonies, from backyards to reclaimed urban industrial sites, from microcosms to bioregions and atmospheres, manifestations of wildness are everywhere. With this book, we gain insight into what wildness is and could be, as well as how it might be recovered in our lives—and with it, how we might unearth a more profound, wilder understanding of what it means to be human.

Wildness: Relations of People and Place is published in association with the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization that brings together some of the brightest minds to explore and promote human responsibilities to each other and the whole community of life. Visit the Center for Humans and Nature's Wildness website for upcoming events and a series of related short films.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226444833
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/03/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 877,353
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Gavin Van Horn is the director of Cultures of Conservation for the Center for Humans and Nature, a nonprofit organization that focuses on and promotes conservation ethics. He is coeditor of City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness, also published by the University of Chicago Press. He lives in Evanston, IL. John Hausdoerffer is a fellow for the Center for Humans and Nature as well as the executive director of the Center for Environment & Sustainability at Western State Colorado University, where he is professor of environmental sustainability and philosophy and directs the Master in Environmental Management Program. He is the author of Catlin’s Lament: Indians, Manifest Destiny, and the Ethics of Nature and editor of Aaron Abeyta’s Letters from the Headwaters. He lives in Gunnison, CO.

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Relations of People & Place

By Gavin Van Horn, John Hausdoerffer

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2017 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-44497-0


Wildfire News

Gary Snyder

For millions,
for hundreds of millions of years
there were fires. Fire after fire.
Fire raging forest or jungle,
giant lizards dashing away
big necks from the sea
looking out at the land in surprise —
fire after fire. Lightning strikes
by the thousands, just like today.
Volcanoes erupting, fire flowing over the land.
Huge Sequoia two foot thick fireproof bark
fire pines, their cones love the heat
how long to say,
that's how they covered the continents
ten lakhs of millennia or more.

I have to slow down my mind.
slow down my mind
Rome was built in a day.


Conundrum and Continuum One Man's Wilderness, from a Ditch to the Dark Divide

Robert Michael Pyle

Conundrum Hot Springs bubbles out of a slice of alpine fairyland in Colorado's Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. This modest-sized hot spring, nested in the lap of high meadows thick with magenta paintbrush and Colorado blue columbines, is situated at 11,200 feet above sea level, a good, stiff hike from any trailhead. When I got to know it in the mid-1970s, hiking from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at Gothic to Aspen, it was in good shape and never very crowded with the naked soakers who came to supplicate its powers. That changed with popularity, as more weekend sybarites made the long trek up from Aspen below. Internet images now show Conundrum still pretty, not entirely spoiled, but sometimes bank-to-bank with bodies, as if it were the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The US Forest Service has had to impose various controls on numbers and camping in order to protect the sensitive site. Conundrum Hot Springs is, relatively speaking, still wild. But it has grown less Wild.

What do I mean by that? The words "wild" and "wilderness" have different connotations for different people. They can stand for anything you love, anything you don't understand but are trying to, or anything you long for, fear, resent, or rejoice in; they stand for any state you wish to elevate or derogate, praise or blame, inveigh against or agitate for. It would seem that these words can mean almost anything you want them to. Are they therefore useless as words? As ideals or as realities? I don't think so. But I believe we should take great pains to be clear when we discuss them, and even more so when we seek to apply them on the land.

The chief conundrum here, as I see it in the context of our ravenous contemporary culture, is this: to what extent can "the wild" and "the Wilderness" include our own species, and how? Since conundrums by definition are unanswerable, this riddle may be too. But given the extent to which many people care passionately about what they consider the wild, governable or ungovernable, this wild riddle is at least worth talking about.

Conundrum Hot Springs is no different from thousands of special places that have become more and more trodden with population and recreational growth. But were it not for the springs' lucky inclusion within a federal wilderness area, they would likely be utterly overrun by crowds come to enjoy them via Jeep and truck and dirt bike, not on foot. Indeed, a couple of watersheds away, around the glorious Cumberland Pass, ATVs ravage the arctic-alpine tundra that lies outside a designated wilderness area. Wilderness designation is often questioned because it excludes humans except as visitors, while what we consider wilderness was often human habitat in earlier eras, to a degree only recently realized. For example, from the 1960s into the twenty-first century, fieldwork by the geomorphologist-turned-archaeologist James Benedict turned up abundant, never-dreamt-of evidence of native occupation of the high country in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. In 1992, Benedict named one of his key papers "Footprints in the Snow: High-Altitude Cultural Ecology of the Colorado Front Range." Surely Conundrum Hot Springs, across the Continental Divide from Benedict's Niwot Ridge study site, was also well used by humans before ourselves: their seasonal, altitudinal migrations must have included medicinal stop-offs at the place of the soothing waters. But those humans, and their pre-ATV level of impact, are long gone. These days I have to ask, isn't it better to toss the distant wild to the wolves, and just occasional humans, than to all the people, all the time, with all their modern engines and appetites?

Happily, it needn't come to such a stark either/or for the great majority of the land. The national forests, by design and slogan, are "the land of many uses." The formal wilderness areas are just one of those many uses, and humans are abundantly accommodated in all the other zones. Nor is the wild entirely absent from them, whether logged, mined, grazed, or drilled. In fact, the wild goes down much deeper than that — all the way to the cracks in the city sidewalks. For here's the big secret: it's not a matter of "wild" or "nonwild." Wildness (in the sense of that which takes us out of ourselves) exists all along a great, big continuum — a sliding scale, graduated not in numbers but in degrees of differentiation from the human quotidian. And why should this surprise us? We have come to learn that many qualities once seen in black-or-white, either/or terms — character, art versus craft, sociopathy, race, beauty and ugliness, and certainly gender — are actually present as continuums. Most dualisms and dichotomies blur upon honest examination.

My own sense of the wild gradient began with a beguiling stump on the corner and traveled from there along an actual, physical continuum — a ditch. But first, that stump: Walking to kindergarten, my mother and I stopped beside it daily to poke for beetles. As long as I was still too small to roam, our backyard contained my multitudes. Soon I graduated to the High Line Canal, an irrigation ditch coursing the altitudinal contours across the landscapes of Greater Denver, carrying Platte River water from its mouth at the edge of the Rockies out onto the plains near the present Denver International Airport. I first met it as a young boy in love with, but too far from, the mountains. Living on the east side of Denver, I might as well have been in Kansas for all the access I had to the Rockies. However, I found that I could escape my raw, suburban tract by traipsing off to the old ditch, and along it, as far as my short legs and the long days would allow. I learned my butterflies there — the wood nymphs and admirals, coppers and skippers — and how mountain species would come down to the plains along the green corridor of the canal, and vice versa. I also learned that the farther west I roamed, beyond the city and toward the foothills, the wilder and more diverse in species things grew. And when eventually the butterflies drew me beyond the hogback and up into the Indian Peaks, I learned what real Wilderness was.

In the same year as the passage of the Wilderness Act (1964), I gained the mobility to reach the high wilds that the act set out to protect. Not long after that, I went to college, read Roderick Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind, and understood why I'd felt what I had — and that I would always fight to preserve Wilderness in the world. I also read Leopold, the Muries, and Marshall. Over the next half century, I sought deep wilderness from Mount Bierstadt in the Colorado Front Range to the Brooks Range of Alaska; from the High Sierra to the Himalayas, the Pennines to the Pamir, the Dolomites to the Dark Divide; from the Astrolabe Range of Papua New Guinea to the Qin Ling Mountains of Shaanxi, China, to the Vatnajökull of southeast Iceland, and many other places in between and along the way: all Wild, with a capital W; some occupied by my own species, some not. And after it all, I still believed (and believe) Thoreau when he wrote, "We can never have enough of nature. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander" (306).

Yet I never lost my feel for the wild in its most compressed, contained, and essential forms: the moss and blossom in a sidewalk crack; that ragged old ditch on the backside of Denver; and the marsh-cum-dump on my college campus, which we young conservationists saved along the way while we were also campaigning for North Cascades National Park. When Justice William O. Douglas accepted our invitation to come march with us to protect the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area from Kennecott Copper, it gave me the same kind of thrill as leading a few hundred marchers, with trees in hand, down to the campus landfill to occupy it and declare its destiny to be the habitat it once was, instead of the parking lots it was intended to become. And even as much was being lost on every side, all these things came to pass: the mountain fastness, the urban wetland, and so much more in between — the whole great panoply of wildness, seeking a future among our species' unslakable demands.

Having learned the love of damaged lands from the High Line Canal and the beat-up old fields-becoming-suburbs of Denver's hinterlands, I eventually made my home in the several-times-logged-off lands of the Willapa Hills. And now I've lived more than half my life in a sparsely populated rural county among manhandled forests and fields, finding beauty and, yes, wildness among the clear-cuts of Willapa when I cannot make it up to the Olympic Wilderness in the north. In some ways, I am right back where I started: fascinated by a stump on the corner.

Now that we understand that the general condition of wildness lives along a string that stretches from the back alleys of Gotham to the far peaks of Shangri-La (and I have hiked in a place called just that, in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan), we can ask what to call the knots along that elastic string. I don't really worry much about "wild." It's one of those ambidextrous words, like the Irish craic or the German Gemütlichkeit, that is difficult to define, but you know it when you feel it. "Wildland" goes a bit beyond and indicates places that retain some notable degree of wildness despite their history; I called my book about my old ditch in Colorado The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland, and that's not really an oxymoron. But then there is "wilderness," or even more so, "Wilderness." Here I draw upon the thoughts of others. Thoreau: "Life pasturing freely" (306). Dr. Johnson: "a tract of solitude and savageness" (2278). Bob Marshall: "possesses no possibility of conveyance by any mechanical means and is sufficiently spacious that a person in crossing it must have the experience of sleeping out" (141). Aldo Leopold: "a disclaimer of the biotic arrogance" (6). Or how about this, from Shann Ray's novel American Copper: "the wilderness, where she could be alone in great tracts of land, inviolable and fierce of their own accord" (16). Many commentators speak of the wild as being "self-organized." I'm not entirely sure what that really means. But I do understand "inviolable and fierce of their own accord," and it is a way of denoting that far end of the continuum — the Big Wild, the Wilderness.

When I was a graduate student in forestry at the University of Washington, I took a course in wilderness studies from Forest Service scientist John C. Hendee. In one exercise, we took a test that was supposed to measure our position on a scale of "wildernism." As a strong and active advocate for wilderness, I was appalled and embarrassed when I came out as a "weak wildernist." The reason? I had checked that I enjoy driving on small forest roads. Well, I still do ... very much. Yet I also enjoy walking in the Big Wild, the Deep Wild. And I still don't find the two pleasures to be at odds. They're some distance apart on the continuum, but they both take one into greater contact with the extrahuman. I firmly support road ripping to increase the sizes of roadless areas, and I would always oppose a new road into a designated, or de facto, roadless area. But I would also, always, take that bowered lane ahead in my small, old car with zeal and then, I hope, park it and walk beyond the ruts, tank traps, or gates — walking the wild gradient.

In 1990, I spent much of an autumn in Washington State's largest (55,000 acres) de facto but undesignated wilderness, the Dark Divide, in connection with my book Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide. The Dark Divide is so chopped about and entered along its edges that the US Forest Service used to refer to it as "Amoeba." The experiences I had convinced me that motorcycles need to be eliminated from its ancient trails, a road or two ripped, and its forests protected beyond the vulnerable provisions of the Clinton Forest Plan and its roadless rules. That can be accomplished only by inclusion in the national wilderness protection system. However, the Third Congressional District, through gerrymandering, has become a virtual sinecure for the party that never originates, seldom supports, and often blocks new wilderness areas.

Apart from obvious commercial considerations, what is it about wilderness opponents, such as our congresswoman, that so engages their animus? Very often it has to do with the exclusion of human uses (such as dirt bikes, mountain bikes, and off-road vehicles) from wilderness areas. In many a wilderness hearing, discussion, or reading, I have heard the charge that wilderness protection is somehow "elitist." This goes back to at least 1926, when forester Howard W. Flint, in an article titled "Wasted Wilderness," attacked Aldo Leopold's wilderness advocacy as being for the "elect few." Many writers since, including Peter Kahn, Baird Callicott, and Peter Sutter, have considered the "elitist" charge at length and have found it to be generally self-interested. Maybe there have been instances when a true elite has employed the idea of wilderness in its favor — such as when the Rockefellers bought up Jackson Hole to protect their neighborhood — but would anyone today wish to give up their subsequent gift to the nation, Grand Teton National Park?

One unfortunate legacy of wilderness debate in recent years has been to render "wild" just a four-letter word in some people's vocabularies (many of them in Congress) and to give sanction to the redemonizing of Wilderness. Once demonized by the superstitious who were simply afraid of the sublime wild (sometimes with good reason), wilderness was later largely tamed, then valued, cherished, embraced as a vital legacy, and protected in its lingering margins by the force of law, only to be damned all over again as elitist! That won't do. We knew better, even as dumb college kids: anyone with a pair of boots or sneakers and a crappy knapsack and a canteen knew that he or she could head to the hills with friends, by bus or hitchhiking if necessary, walk into a federal wilderness area, and keep walking — for free. The wilderness, to the young conservationists with whom I came of age, was — and still is — the antithesis of elitist, unless that "elite" included all the plants and animals that lived there, along with every cash-strapped kid or working stiff who could put one foot in front of the other on a trail. I do not know a more democratic ideal than that of Wilderness sensu 1964.

Now, regarding human beings — the upright primate species designated Homo sapiens ("all alike and intelligent"— my, what an optimist Linnaeus really was! Let us hope we someday deserve the name) — in or out of the wild, let's get a couple of things straight. First, we are just another species of primate, and everything we manufacture or perform is a product of an evolved species of upright hominoid ape. Ergo, all of us and all of our productions are part of nature, if nature is everything, which in my view it patently is. Steinbeck, in Log from the Sea of Cortez, said, "Most of the feeling we call religious ... is an attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing ... all things are one thing, and that one thing is all things" (257). Or as Nirvana, in their song "All Apologies," more succinctly put it, "All in all is all we are."

So far, we're good: the idea that there is some essential border between people and the rest of nature is one of the most dangerous dualisms in the world, lending license to all manner of enormities against other species and the land that supports them. No one who understands that humans and nature are indivisible, parts of one continuum, could sanction the Alberta tar sand crimes against the taiga and its people or mountaintop removal in West Virginia. If people are part of nature and the wild lies "out there" in nature, then the wild also dwells within, as Gary Snyder has shown us. Thoreau said, "We are conscious of an animal within us" (210). And Steinbeck asked, "Why do we so dread to think of our species as a species, our eyes the nebulae, universes in our cells?" (314). Why indeed? Antipathy to Wilderness must often be rooted in this question.


Excerpted from Wildness by Gavin Van Horn, John Hausdoerffer. Copyright © 2017 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Into the Wildness
Gavin Van Horn
Part 1. Wisdom of the Wild
1.         Wildfire News
Gary Snyder2.         Conundrum and Continuum: One Man’s Wilderness, from a Ditch to the Dark Divide
Robert Michael Pyle3.         No Word
Enrique Salmón4.         The Edge of Anomaly
Curt Meine5.         Order versus Wildness
Joel Salatin6.         Biomimicry: Business from the Wild
Margo Farnsworth7.         Notes on “Up at the Basin”
David J. Rothman
Part 2. Working Wild
8.         Listening to the Forest
Jeff Grignon and Robin Wall Kimmerer9.         The Working Wilderness
Courtney White10.       The Hummingbird and the Redcap
Devon G. Peña11.       Losing Wildness for the Sake of Wilderness: The Removal of Drakes Bay Oyster Company
Laura Alice Watt12.       Inhabiting the Alaskan Wild
Margot Higgins13.       Wilderness in Four Parts, or Why We Cannot Mention My Great-Grandfather’s Name
Aaron Abeyta
Part 3. Urban Wild
14.       Wild Black Margins
Mistinguette Smith15.       Healing the Urban Wild
Gavin Van Horn16.       Building the Civilized Wild
Seth Magle17.       Cultivating the Wild on Chicago’s South Side: Stories of People and Nature at Eden Place Nature Center
Michael Bryson and Michael Howard18.       Toward an Urban Practice of the Wild
John Tallmadge
Part 4. Planetary Wild
19.       The Whiskered God of Filth
Rob Dunn20.       The Akiing Ethic: Seeking Ancestral Wildness beyond Aldo Leopold’s Wilderness
John Hausdoerffer21.       On the Wild Edge in Iceland
Brooke Hecht22.       The Story Isn’t Over
Julianne Lutz Warren23.       Cultivating the Wild
Vandana Shiva24.       Earth Island: Prelude to a Eutopian History
Wes Jackson
Epilogue: Wild Partnership: A Conversation with Roderick Frazier Nash
John Hausdoerffer 
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