Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 14:23
Looking out my window as I write this, it's hard to think of wilderness. I'm surrounded by houses and tame landscaping; walk a couple blocks and I'm surrounded by the traffic and lingering construction projects on campus. As Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, "wilderness is a resource that can shrink but not grow." Here in the city, it certainly looks as though wilderness has shrunk to nothing.
But for others, where "wilderness" resides depends on your definition of the word. William Cronon, the Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, has argued that we should think of wilderness as something that surrounds us, not something apart from us. In his essay "The Trouble with Wilderness," Cronon says that by separating the concepts of "civilization" and "wilderness," we tend to lose our respect for the nature in our own backyards.
"The tree in the garden," Cronon writes, "is in reality no less other, no less worthy of our wonder and respect, than the tree in an ancient forest that has never known an ax or a saw." That is, we should remember that we live among wilderness, and to appreciate nature in all its forms and locations.
Still, this is difficult to do in the midst of a city. It's easy to get distracted by the many "un-wild" components of a city, from police sirens to telephone wires. But there are still several places in Madison where wilderness is just a short walk away.
For example, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve stretches along the shore of Lake Mendota, creating a wilderness area that is literally in the backyard of the Lakeshore dorms. The Preserve is home to several conservation projects, from the removal of invasive species and restoration of native plants to runoff management.
But it's not strictly for conservation. The Preserve includes the Lakeshore Path (pictured above), which passes dorms, the UW Crew boathouse, an exercise facility and the UW Marching Band practice field, among other landmarks. The path is regularly used by bikers, joggers and students walking to class. While this provides a challenge to conservation managers, it also blends city and nature, people and plants. And the more people that have access to this area, the more people can appreciate the conservation efforts of the Preserve and get in touch with nature.
Another high-profile nature area in Madison is the UW Arboretum, which lies south of campus on the shores of Lake Wingra. The Arboretum is not only known for conservation efforts and varied types of ecosystems, but is also a part of the fabric of the city. As in the Lakeshore Preserve, joggers, bikers, hikers and skiers use its trails. It's not man or nature; it's man and nature.
True, such places aren’t quite as awe-inspiring as Yosemite's Half Dome or a towering forest of sequoias. But, as Cronon writes, "idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we actually live, the landscape that for better or worse we call home." By appreciating the nature close to home, we can remember that we're a part of nature ourselves.
, view from Picnic Point, part of Lakeshore Nature Preserve: pawpaw67/Flickr
You might also like: