How The Wilderness Was Won

Skirmishing about environmentalism may well continue forever, but the major war is over. It lasted far longer than most people realize.

One of this century’s profound cultural transformations began in the 1960s, when ecological thought took hold and fostered a new seriousness toward earth stewardship. But what happened then was really a transition. Present-day environmentalism represents an elaboration of core ideas developed far earlier by American conservationists, especially the seminal concepts and plans of the two Presidents Roosevelt and their allies.Read more »

A Signature On The Land

The naturalist ALDO LEOPOLD not only gave the wilderness idea its most persuasive articulation; he offered a way of thinking that turned the entire history of land use on its head

The trouble began at midmorning on Wednesday, April 21, 1948, when a neighboring farm’s trash fire got out of control. Flames skittered across the grassy farmyard and began chewing swiftly through a marsh toward the “plantation” of white and red pines that the professor and his family had been nurturing diligently on their 120-acre patch of worn-out Wisconsin farmland since 1935.Read more »

When Dismal Swamps Became Priceless Wetlands

American attitudes toward them have taken a 180-degree turn over the last century—and so have the battles they provoke

ORGANIZED AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM IS HARDLY older than this century, and most of its current concerns are younger still. Some of the resources it now tries to protect, in fact, were among its original targets. To the conservation movement of the early 1900s, clearing a forest was a public offense, but draining a marsh or a swamp was a public duty.Read more »

The American Environment

THE PICTURE IS MORE HEARTENING THAN ALL THE LITTLE ONES

The Cuyahoga River died for our sins . In 1796 the Cuyahoga, which promised easy transportation into the wilderness of the Ohio country from Lake Erie, prompted the city of Cleveland into existence. Over the next 170 years a primitive frontier town grew into a mighty industrial city, one that stretched for miles along the banks of its seminal river. Read more »

The Tyranny Of The Lawn

For more than a century now, American homeowners have been struggling to remake their small patch of the environment into a soft, green carpet just like the neighbor’s. Who told us this was the way a lawn had to be?

When it comes to lawn care, my father has always insisted on doing it the hard way. No shortcuts or modern conveniences for him. After my parents bought a new house in San Diego in the early 1970s, he refused to break up the soil with a Rototiller the way most people did. His more thorough alternative involved digging a foot down with a shovel, pulling the rocks out, and forcing the dirt through a mesh screen.Read more »

Father Of The Forests

Ninety years ago a highborn zealot named Gifford Pinchot knew more about woodlands than any man in America. What he did about them changed the country we live in and helped define environmentalism.

Like most public officials, Gov. Gifford Pinchot of Pennsylvania could not answer all his mail personally. Much of it had to be left to aides, but not all of these realized the character of their boss. When a citizen wrote in 1931 to complain angrily about one of the governor’s appointments, Pinchot was not pleased to find the following prepared for his signature: “I am somewhat surprised at the tone of your letter.… It has been my aim since I became Governor to select the best possible person for each position.Read more »

Lost Horizon

A hundred and fifty years ago, a sea of grass spread from the Ohio to the Rockies; now only bits and pieces of that awesome wilderness remain for the traveler to discover.

Behind my grandparents’ house, the house in which I was born, rose a high pasture, little used in my boyhood and then only for grazing a few head of cattle. Crowned by tall weeds and scarred by runoff gullies, it was my first prairie, the one that still drifts behind all my images and notions of that phenomenon even though it was only forty or fifty acres bounded by timber and bean fields.Read more »

Elm Street Blues

A HERITAGE PRESERVED
Since 1930, more than half of America’s splendid elm trees have succumbed to disease. But science is now fighting back and gaining ground.

They left behind great names —the Divine Elm, the Justice Elm, the Pride of the State, the Green Tree. In their dappled shade countless towns found repose, places like Elmhurst, Illinois; Elm Grove, Wisconsin; and New Haven, Connecticut, “City of Elms.” The trees carried the names of American heroes: the William Penn Treaty Elm, the Washington Elm, the Lincoln Elm. Under trees such as these, revolutions were pledged, treaties signed, oaths of office taken.Read more »

Indians In The Land

Did the Indians have a special, almost noble, affinity with the American environment—or were they despoilers of it? Two historians of the environment explain the profound clash of cultures between Indians and whites that has made each group almost incomprehensible to the other.

When the historian Richard White wrote his first scholarly article about Indian environmental history in the mid-1970s, he knew he was taking a new approach to an old field, but he did not realize just how new it was. “I sent it to a historical journal,” he reports, “and I never realized the U.S. mail could move so fast. It was back in three days. The editor told me it wasn’t history.” Read more »

Part I Four Centuries Of Surprises

We talk about it constantly and we arrange our lives around it. So did our parents; and so did the very first colonists. But it took Americans a long time to understand their weather—and we still have trouble getting it right.

Weather makes news headlines almost every day in some community in the United States. “The weather is always doing something,” said Mark Twain, “always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go.” On any day of the year, two or three weather systems are in action, dividing the country into distinct weather zones and producing what Twain called a “sumptuous variety” of conditions. A northeaster may be racing up along the Atlantic seaboard with gales and drenching rains, menacing ships and planes.Read more »