The Trouble with Wilderness; a response

William Cronon begins this excerpt of The Trouble with Wilderness by questioning wilderness’ identity as “the last remaining place where civilization.. has not fully infected the earth”, an “escape from our own too muchness.” Cronon makes the initial statement that wilderness is not actually a “pristine sanctuary”, but a place that allows the accepted views of a peaceful piece to overshadow its perverse unnaturalness; a place offering you intense emotions of something “profoundly other than yourself.”

The connotation around wilderness remained negative throughout the 18th century, grouped alongside “desolate”, and “barren”. But in the beginning of the 19th century, all the preconceived notions of American’s wilderness had been reimagined. Philosophers such as Thoreau and Muir began shifting America’s views of wilderness on their side. Muir declared in 1869 that there was “no description of Heaven that I have ever heard of read of seems half so fine.” after his visit to the Sierra Nevada; transforming “Satan’s home” into “God’s own temple.”

After a new American wilderness had been constructed, this theory of wilderness as a whole, to be accepted, had to be “loaded with some of the deepest values of the culture that created and idealized it.” Hence, the modern American wilderness: sacred, supernatural, sublime. Cronon recognizes that while God shows himself everywhere, that many turned to the ideal landscapes, vast and powerful, noting that with these romanticized places such as Yellowstone, Yosemite,  and the Grand Canyon, remind oneself of their own mortality, and thus the existence of a higher divine power.

In continuation of early philosophers writing, the idea of a luscious wilderness was supported by actions of Americans throughout the following decades and wars. Men with means were expected to “preserve for themselves some remnant of its wild landscape.”. An “uninhabited wilderness” was recreated by forcing Native Americans off their land to reinvent a frontier to be explored by the rich.

Furthermore, Cronon adds that our very notion of wilderness as an individual is what it is because it is formed from our own experiences, and seen from “the angle in which we regard it.” Thus, bringing America to it’s “Central paradox”, that this view of American’s wilderness is a “dualistic vision”,that if nature is true, then it must also be wild.


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