Wasatch Environmental Update; Wallace Stegner on Wilderness


Wasatch Environmental Update for June 15, 2014

By John Worlock, Member, SOC Board of Directors

“Wallace Stegner on Wilderness”

Our favorite style of landscape is Wilderness – whether forested, desert or seashore, but wild and lonesome – that’s the recipe. One of our favorite authors is the novelist and historian, Wallace Stegner. So this week we’ll combine them and read to you from Stegner’s famous Wilderness Letter, written during the campaign for passage of the Wilderness Act fifty years ago. He took an unusual, but important, direction. Stegner writes: “I should like to urge some arguments for wilderness preservation that involve recreation, as it is ordinarily conceived, hardly at all. Hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain-climbing, camping, photography, and the enjoyment of natural scenery will all, surely, figure in your report. So will the wilderness as a genetic reserve, a scientific yardstick by which we may measure the world in its natural balance against the world in its man-made imbalance. What I want to speak for is not so much the wilderness uses, valuable as those are, but the wilderness idea, which is a resource in itself. Being an intangible and spiritual resource, it will seem mystical to the practical minded–but then anything that cannot be moved by a  bulldozer is likely to seem mystical to them. I want to speak for the wilderness idea as something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a people.”

Later Stegner quoted his fellow writer, Sherwood Anderson, who wrote “Is it not likely, that when the country was new and men were often alone in the fields and the forest they got a sense of bigness outside themselves that has now in some way been lost…. Mystery whispered in the grass, played in the branches of trees overhead, was caught up and blown across the American line in clouds of dust at evening on the prairies…. I am old enough to remember tales that strengthen my belief in a deep semi-religious influence that was formerly at work among our people. I can remember old fellows in my home town speaking feelingly of an evening spent on the big empty plains. It had taken the shrillness out of them. They had learned the trick of quiet….”

In wilderness, we too might learn the trick of quiet.


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