IE Thought of the Week

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"Seeing hope in the extremities of the human world begins with our perception of landscape. For North Americans the landscapes most often associated with renewal are the iconic images of the sublime and distant wilderness. Wallace Stegner captured this sense of the wild in his "Wilderness Letter" of 1960. When Stegner wrote his famous plea for wild country, the daily lives of most Americans were so remote from the landscapes of mountain, forest, and tallgrass prairie he was obliged to appeal for the preservation of the idea of wilderness. If the wild was no longer the landscape against which we took our measure, nor even a place we knew, he wrote, "the reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it."

"We simply need that wild country available to us," he continued, "even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."

He was right, of course. Wild places are sacred, and even infrequent pilgrimages to see them can inspire a sense of wonder and a reverence for life.

But perhaps we have taken Stegner too literally. Perhaps a distant wilderness, an idea of wild country, positions nature too far from our daily lives. Stegner himself was intimate with his surroundings; yet North Americans tend to think that true nature can only be found on the pristine, remote extremities of civilization and that these places have little to do with the everyday human world. Culture is here, nature far away. The trouble is not with protecting and preserving wilderness. It’s that the design of the world we inhabit-our communities, our workplaces, our economy-is so impermeable to nature it is all too easy to leave our reverence in the parking lots of national parks."

~ William McDonough & Michael Braungart

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