Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Almost missed this one: John Derbyshire reviews a collection of nature writing, and gives a very nice tip of the hat to Steve, who is not included:
The [political] Left survives and flourishes because, as well as there being plenty of people whose satisfaction in life is to boss others around, there are even more who are willing to be bossed. Those who are not so willing — persons of a prickly-libertarian temperament — often head out to the wild places, to end up as lovers of the raw creation. There is, too, that aspect of the conservative temperament that abhors sentimentality and wishful thinking, and greets with happy recognition the cycles of death and mayhem that comprise most of the natural world's activity. I am thinking here, in both cases, of the Western writer Stephen J. Bodio, whose 1998 memoir On the Edge of the Wild offers an eloquent hunter's perspective on nature.

The Left undoubtedly has the best of it, though. They certainly have the best of this volume, which contains nothing of Stephen Bodio's at all — nothing at all sympathetic to hunting, except as carried out by American Indians.
The review finishes, unexpectedly, as a positive one. I note with amusement and approval that he prefers unknown writers, "writers I had never heard of, but whom I am glad to have encountered," among whom he numbers Ed Abbey. And though I agree with his assessment of two samples which he rightly mocks as purple prose, I disagree about his Eliot Porter quote:
In the winding canyon dark and light reflections replace one another in slow succession. The gentle wake of the boat breaks these images into undulating spots and patches, each wave for a moment holding a fragment of sky mixed with golden globules of sunlit rock.
I suppose Mr. Porter may be justly accused here of having failed to convey the moment to a distant audience, but the moments here described are a very large part of why I squandered years of time and set myself far behind my peers financially working as a ne'er-do-well river guide. Sunny canyon reflections on shaded water, broken by concentric ripples from my quietly dripping oars: it was worth everything for that alone.

Also worth noting is Mr. Derbyshire's mention of the decline in outdoor recreation:

While reading America's Earth I came upon a report just issued by the Nature Conservancy, telling us that people are spending less time in the Great Outdoors than ever before. Activity in this zone has been declining for twenty years, the researchers tell us. The annual per capita rates of decline have been from one percent to one and a quarter, depending on the type of activity measured — camping, backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, or trips to national and state parks and forests.
I hear this a lot, and it's probably true, but it's often hard to believe. It seems to be an instance of Yogi Berra's "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." So many places are positively infested with recreationists (as Mr. Derbyshire may recall from his hike to Inspiration Point in Grand Teton, where he missed the Peculiars by only a couple days). Even Nevada is becoming a destination, while REI, EMS and their ilk seemingly continue to flourish. I know people (assholes, I might add) who use Delicate Arch as a Frisbee golf hole. I suppose it's true though. Outdoor activities are now dominated by gearheads and destination vacationists, while locals who use their public land backyards on a regular basis do seem to be on the wane. The economic demographics of outdoor recreation are also unencouraging. My river company, which is actually a non-profit organization ostensibly dedicated to exposing the voting public to wilderness, recently raised prices on trips because people seemed to assume that our low cost reflected low quality. Bookings went up and honest working clientele continue to decline.

Still, though many places are overrun, a great many aren't. They can have Grand Teton and the Maroon Bells. There are areas right next door where I can still be confident of not seeing a soul.