Dating back synonym
That Thoreau in 1862 could declare wildness to be the preservation of the world suggests the sea change that was going on.
Wilderness had once been the antithesis of all that was orderly and good—it had been the darkness, one might say, on the far side of the garden wall—and yet now it was frequently likened to Eden itself.
As Henry David Thoreau once famously declared, “In Wildness is the preservation of the World.” (1) But is it?
The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems.
Whatever value it might have arose solely from the possibility that it might be “reclaimed” and turned toward human ends—planted as a garden, say, or a city upon a hill.
Such memories may be uniquely our own, but they are also familiar enough be to be instantly recognizable to others. The torrents of mist shoot out from the base of a great waterfall in the depths of a Sierra canyon, the tiny droplets cooling your face as you listen to the roar of the water and gaze up toward the sky through a rainbow that hovers just out of reach.
Niagara Falls was the first to undergo this transformation, but it was soon followed by the Catskills, the Adirondacks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and others. (9) By the first decade of the twentieth century, in the single most famous episode in American conservation history, a national debate had exploded over whether the city of San Francisco should be permitted to augment its water supply by damming the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy valley, well within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.
The dam was eventually built, but what today seems no less significant is that so many people fought to prevent its completion.
For many Americans wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth.
This will seem a heretical claim to many environmentalists, since the idea of wilderness has for decades been a fundamental tenet—indeed, a passion—of the environmental movement, especially in the United States.