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Perhaps more often than we'd like to admit, human hands have already been at work where now we seem to see only pristine and unspoiled nature.

Perhaps more often than we'd like to admit, human hands have already been at work where now we seem to see only pristine and unspoiled nature. Years ago, a friend of mine returned from a trip to England with photos of and stories about the beautiful "untouched" and "undisturbed" landscapes-gently curving river inlets and small forests of old trees.

She was downcast when I pointed out that the very areas she had traveled through were fabrications from an earlier time, the result of centuries of sweeping enclosure laws which had driven the rural poor from their lands in order to create vast tracts both arable and beautiful. These lovely, wide-open spaces had been engineered by the likes of "Capability" Brown, the founding father of modern landscape architecture, for the great estate owners of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They had, in turn, become patrons to painters and poets who immortalized these scenes as natural, as always having been there.

One need only read a book like Alfred W. Crosby's Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 to see how deeply involved we human beings have been in reshaping our environments throughout our history as a species. But our capacity to reshape environments has often had disastrous consequences. Some environmental thinkers, like Bill McKibben, suspect that nothing less than the "death of nature" is in the offing-that we have gone too far this time, and that nothing we humans can do will set things right. This rather extreme form of species-guilt, as Carl Pletsch discusses this issue in "Regimes of Nature," has a tendency to paralyze both the will and the imagination, and has led some strict preservationists to conclude it is always best to leave things as they are.

But perhaps, as William Jordan III and Frederick Turner suggest, a world without human intervention is both unthinkable and unnatural. In "Rituals of Restoration," Jordan looks to the tradition of Aldo Leopold and his successful projects for prairie restoration. Turner, on the other hand, thinks through the problem of what he calls ecological invention by proposing the fabulation of gardening Mars-a fantasy with both thematic and formal roots in the great traditions of epic poetry, as Judith de Luce discusses in her contribution to this issue.

Ecological restoration is humanistic insofar as it sees humanity as both destroyer and (potential) restorer-problem and potential solution. Rather than regard human beings as somehow parasitic upon the planet-alien and dangerous interlopers in an otherwise Edenic paradise-restorationists believe that we can intervene to restore what Turner calls classic ecosystems through a combination of science, horticulture, gardening, art, and ritual.

But as G. Stanley Kane points out in "Restoration or Preservation," it could be that partisans of the restorationist cause have drawn their lines too sharply and also fall back too readily into the old dominationist paradigms which serve to reinstate us as lords and rulers over the earth-the very thing that got us into this mess in the first place.

If nothing else, the restorationist vision offers some hopeful, reasonable, collective, and imaginative solutions to what now appear to be insurmountable difficulties. It dares us with responsibility-even poetry. And it relieves us of our seemingly outcast state as mere despoilers of nature.

Some of the essays which follow are adapted from Beyond Preservation: Re, storing and Inventing Landscapes, published this month by the University of Minnesota Press. One of the editors of that volume, Carl Pletsch, is responsible for introducing me to the literature of restoration ecology and, particularly, the work of Frederick Turner. Pletsch's editorial guidance, friendship, and support were essential to this issue. For myself and The Humanist, I would like to thank him and acknowledge his time, energy, and excellent work.
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Author:O'Sullivan, Gerry
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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