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The wilderness idea.

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed.

Wallace Stegner (1909- ) was born in lowa, and he graduated from the University of Utah. Stegner is a prolific author who has written many novels and diverse nonfiction; his novels have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His nonfiction works include several books (This is Dinosaur, Wolf Willow, and The Sound of Mountain Water) that reflect his love of nature and the West. "The Wilderness Idea" is from The Sound of Mountain Water (1969).

... What I want to speak for is... 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....

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 pollute 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 stink 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 other 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 preserved--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 the reasurance 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 sane lives. It is important to us when we around simply because it is there--important, that is, simply as idea.


Earth Day poster by artist Robert Rauschenberg, 1970. The first Earth Day signified the arrival of environmentalism as a major political issue.

COPYRIGHT 1991 COPYRIGHT 1990 Diane Ravitch
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:excerpt from the 1969 book The Sound of Mountain Water
Author:Stegner, Wallace
Publication:The American Reader
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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