If you just want my book recommendations, skip to the end of the blog. If you want to know why I am recommending the books, then I guess you need to read the post!
My graduate course on Environmental History is almost over. It has been a whirlwind tour of the last several centuries worth of changes in how we, as Americans, perceive the wilderness and how we have managed it. There has been a great deal of reading, accompanied by a paper each week. Starting with Thoreau and the transcendentalists, up through Muir and the Westward Expansion, including the formation of our National Park System, and forward to Aldo Leopold, the birth of the science of ecology and influence science has on helping us monitor our environment, it has been a large volume of information to digest, assimilate, summarize, and ponder. We ended our course readings with William Cronon’s twenty page 1996 essay on “The Trouble with Wilderness“. Cronon is an environmental historian with a dossier as long as a cross-country trek, hailing from the esteemed institutions of Yale and University of Wisconsin, Madison. If you have a chance to read this, or any of his other prolific works, I would highly recommend it. He is a gifted writer. But, be ready for your head to spin!
Most, if not all, of this literature and these authors were new to me. Of course, I knew who these historical figures were, but not what they stood for or what inspired them to write some of the classic literature they delivered. Through all of them, I was able to form some connections to the way I feel about nature and the our wilderness today. Given their time in history, one could at least partially understand why they undertook certain actions. Thoreau, being Emerson’s protege, was adept at his prose and conveying the connection some of us feel with our earth home. However, few of us could. or would want to, live in the wild for an extended period of time such as Thoreau did on Walden Pond. It left an odd impression as I am sure it did for some of his countrymen at the time.
We probably owe our National Park System to John Muir, to a great extent. He definitely fought for the early parklands and developed political connections, such as Theodore Roosevelt, to help his cause. Certainly, the few National Parks I have visited including Haleakala Volcano, Rocky Mountain National Park, The Everglades, and The Badlands inspire awe – even if it had been during their most travelled and civilized state. I can only imagine what Yellowstone or Yosemite looked like a century or two ago. I am thankful there was someone to fight for the wilderness in the past.
I found myself connecting to Leopold, as I read an excerpt from his classic, A Sand County Almanac, through his love of science, ecology, and botany. He was an original citizen scientist – collecting phenology data on plants near his shack in a rural Wisconsin county near Baraboo, over many years. Believe it or not, his data is even still being used today to help determine the effects of climate change and global warming on plant adaptations such as an earlier bloom time. It made me feel like documenting my own observations on Monarch migration and spring arrival since 2006 is a worthwhile thing to continue to do.
We had only a slight exposure to Rachel Carson, author of the famous, Silent Spring, in the 1960’s. I think we owe a debt of awareness and citizen action to her, even before being I am really cogniscent of what she wrote.
The course highlighted the social injustices that have occurred in America during acts of wilderness conservation and preservation. While not much as included from the views of the indigenous peoples, it is obvious they were unjustly treated by many, including our government.
So, while the course is over, I am left with a whole list of books want to read. I thought I would share this list with you.
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)
Gloryland by Shelton Johnson (2010)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (2008) an anthology edited by Bill McKibben
Happy Reading! I hope one or more of these inspired writers inspires you to take care of our Wilderness – even if it is right in your own backyard! (Read Cronon’s essay, too!)
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