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Monday, September 08, 2003

Invention of wilderness
Famous American photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, Ansel Adams,and Edward Weston created beautiful images of a pristine wilderness in the early 20th century, providing us --says current day photographer Rebecca Solnit -- with a mistaken idea of what was there.

The thing that was there, and which the photographers and naturists like John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club) preferred not to see, was people. The glacial Lake Tenaya in Yosemite National Park is such a place and the black oak forest near it was discovered in the 1800s to have an appealing park-like appearance.
What she found was a view of nature, expressed in writing and photographs, that did not include people. And that, she wrote, is how Americans have come to think of the natural world. There is a small problem with this view. When white Americans first encountered Yosemite, it was a well-peopled landscape. It took soldiers to un-people it.

The Yosemite Valley and the area near Lake Tenaya were home to the Ahwahneechee Indians. But the gold rush was on, the future beckoned, and Indians did not fit in. ( Read more...)

Soldiers killed some Indians and moved the rest away. Guess what, says Solnit. You take the Indians away from their Yosemite home and the scrub fills right in again. They had been using controlled burns to keep down the scrub and saplings, so the oaks would produce a good crop of acorns.

She has published two books, 'Savage Dreams: A Journey Into the Landscape Wars of the American West'and 'River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West' in which she addresses the question of what exactly is wilderness.

Sounds like some excellent observations. I hope they're not just an excuse to put oil wells on the Alaskan slope and a MacDonalds at every bend of the trails in national parks.