Wasatch Environmental Update for June 29, 2014
By John Worlock, Member, SOC Board of Directors
“More From Stegner’s Wilderness Letter”
Again this week we’ll read to you from the famous Wilderness Letter by the novelist and historian, Wallace Stegner. He wrote it during the campaign for passage of the Wilderness Act fifty years ago, making an unusual, but important, case for Wilderness.
“Let me say something on the subject of the kinds of wilderness worth preserving. Most of those areas contemplated are in the national forests and in high mountain country. For all the usual recreational purposes, the alpine and the forest wildernesses are obviously the most important, both as genetic banks and as beauty spots. But for the spiritual renewal, the recognition of identity, the birth of awe, other kinds will serve every bit as well. Perhaps, because they are less friendly to life, more abstractly nonhuman, they will serve even better.”
Before recommending deserts as possible wilderness, he recalls a boyhood on the Saskatchewan prairie, writing that “the vanishing prairie is as worth preserving for the wilderness idea as the alpine forest. So are great reaches of our western deserts, scarred somewhat by prospectors but otherwise open, beautiful, waiting, close to whatever God you want to see in them. …
“In that desert climate the dozer and jeep tracks will not soon melt back into the earth, but the country has a way of making the scars insignificant. It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, …… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, …..and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs. Save a piece of country like that intact, and it does not matter …. that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value. Roads would be a desecration, crowds would ruin it. But those who haven’t the strength or youth to go into it and live can simply sit and look. ……And if they can’t even get to the places ….where the present roads will carry them, they can simply contemplate the idea, take pleasure in the fact that such a timeless and uncontrolled part of earth is still there….
We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”