On William Cronon’s “The Trouble With Wilderness”

William Cronon can be considered a Transcendentalist writer. However, unlike most writers of similar philosophy, William Cronon is not dead: At the age of 63, he has written over 9 works. Today, I will discuss one of them: “The Trouble With Wilderness“. In this paper, Cronon attacks national parks and gardens. His message- truly wild wilderness no longer exists. Cronon asserts that wilderness is a place not just untouched by man, but unconquered by man. Natural parks, he argues, such as Yellowstone, Arcadia, or other government- preserved wilderness areas are merely allowed to exist. These nationally preserved lands are given mercy by the government, and sheltered from the industrial expansion of society. Lands like these are not truly wild. Cronon believes that the only wilderness areas that one should wander in are those that exist in spite of humanity. These lands were the frontier lands, the farthest reaches of westward expansion. The lands that were still wild, unexplored, that repelled industrialization and technology with the stalwart defense of foliage, berserking animals, and natural disasters. These lands were the lands worth walking in. Cronon believes that these lands are the lands worth walking in. However, in the past, beliefs about nature were different. Thoreau thought of nature not as a wild, exciting place where one could experience the true antithesis of humanity, but as a method of seclusion from society. Thoreau used nature as a way to find peace, and to be rid of distractions, allowing him to focus on himself. In his paper, “Walking“, Thoreau gives advice to his audience on how to “Walk”, or achieve a state of mind not unlike meditation. He describes solitude as one of the most important prerequisites for Walking, explaining that when he Walks, he finds a place where he cannot see any trace of society except for the steeples of churches in the valley barely visible from a hilltop. Whereas Cronon criticizes the wilderness for not being authentic enough, Thoreau focuses on using Wilderness as a means to achieve tranquility. Both writers value nature for the sense of seclusion and freedom from society it offers. But unlike Cronon, I believe that if Thoreau were alive today, he would enjoy modern national parks. He may be disappointed to see the occasional picnic table, guardrail, or road, but if Thoreau were alive today he may actually support these traces of humanity amidst the wilderness. I believe he would appreciate these additions to nature because they allow more and more diverse people to Walk.

Personally, I believe that Cronon’s “The Trouble With Wilderness”, while an interesting thought, is not practical. Walking can be achieved anywhere, regardless of how unnatural nature is, so his point is irrelevant. I understand Cronon’s message and why he thinks that way, but I think he is missing the point of the “Walking” and other Transcendentalist papers. It’s as if Dr. Larochelle gave his students an assignment, and, instead of completing it, they argued about which pencil to use, stating that the older pencils were better. Instead of focusing on what the answer to the assignment could be, these students instead complain that the old pencils, which are no longer available, were better. These sentiments disagree with my past and future opinions on the wilderness. I believe and have believed that the wilderness should be protected and made accessible for all humans while maintaining the illusion of wildness.

I think this occurs in every generation, in almost every sect of thought and life. Cronon suffers from a condition that a vast majority of people, myself included, experience: Memory Bias. The past always seems better than it actually was. Change is scary. It’s easy to tightly grip old ideas and think of past experiences as the ‘good old times’. I think that if Thoreau could speak to Cronon, Thoreau would tell him that it doesn’t matter how and where you Walk. Walking is a state of mind, and that no matter how artificial or selected a National park may be, with the right attitude, one can still Walk.

 

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