Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wallace Stegnar - A Conservationist

I saw this special on Wallace Stegner on PBS last night and it really hit home with me.

Wallace Stegner was a wonderful writer and proponant of protecting wild places for all to enjoy. Back in the 60s, when he was active, he was called a conservationist.

Now he would be called an environmentalist. The problem with being an environmentalist today is that it has such a political connetation to it. It means you are a wildly left wing, communist, tree hugging, live in the woods off the grid, kind of person. In the 60s a conservationist just wanted to protect the great outdoors.

Wallace Stegner was a great champion of keeping the West as a wild place. He was instrumental in elevating Canyonlands and Arches National Monuments to National Parks, he was a friend of Ansel Adams (those neat pictures of Yosemite), Edward Abbey (Monkey Wrench Gang) and Morris Udal (Secretary of State in the 60s who fought to protect the West from over commercialization).

Wallace Stegner was a very prolific writer of all things Western. He was described as having written about the day-to day West; the life of a cowboy, the changing seasons, the life on a ranch in Montana. I believe he was a great influence on Edward Abby's writing, they have similar styles. If you want to read any of his books just look him up on the web. I have read "A Gathering in Zion" about the Mormon migration and "Beyond the 100th Meridian" about John Wesley Powell's trip down the Colorado River. Both worthy reading.

In December 1960 Wallace Stegner wrote what is now called the "Wilderness Letter". Here is a passage from that letter:

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we polute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it. Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserves--as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds--because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there--important, that is, simply as an idea.

You can read the complete letter by going to the internet and simply typing in "Wallace Stegnar Wilderness Letter". The letter is a fantastic tribute to the benefit of having wild places just for the sake of having them. He refers to a lot of places in Utah in the letter. It is about 5 pages long but it is well worth reading. He uses the phrase "the geography of hope". Isn't that a great way to sum up why we need wild places? This letter is a tribute to what I believe is a necessary part of life. Protecting our sanity has no political agenda.

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