Sacred places revisted
Rob White in his essay "Sacred Places' (HCN, 3/7/94) offers no alternative to what he sees as the evil of "making" places sacred. He states that it's wrong, spiritually. Then what is right? Self-imposed exile from all non-urban places? Purely scientific investigation, excising any spiritual "response'? Absolute secrecy and muteness about what may be, for many, the moments in their lives most worthy of celebration? He seems to feel that writing about a place, or about how a place changes one (and by extension any creative act that refers to a place), is manipulation and betrayal, no matter how it is done, or for what motive.
I still choose to hope that all the bad writing, all the clumsy passages through wild places, all the bragging about "finds' are the crude shapes of what might evolve into a deeply held and acted-upon land ethic, as described by Aldo Leopold. There's at least a chance that such an evolution might take place, or is already beginning to.
Writers like Leopold and Rachel Carson would have resisted sneering at a "sense of wonder," no matter how ineptly expressed at first, knowing it to be a seed that can grow into a more valuable awareness. The influence of that awakening sense can become a strong force, creating an allegiance to a place; in fact, if extended to less and less "flashy" surroundings, it can finally allow us to love and care for the most modest, most abused of landscapes, as Robert Michael Pyle describes in his fine book, The Thunder Tree.
White sounds suspiciously like the loggers I listen to in Dubois, who feel invaded on what they consider to be their territory. I struggle with similar reactions, especially since so many of the new lovers and seekers seem to have a lot more money and leisure time than I do to go chasing down peak experiences. But Mr. White isn't going to get anywhere by simply condemning the phenomenon of being "on the make for great places." Though that phenomenon has wretched effects, it isn't going to go away, and it might not be pure poison.
We might begin by helping to diffuse the passion concentrated on the most dazzling places. When people first learn about a piece of country, they can't see the subtleties; that takes a longer association and more patient watching. A better way to enact our loyalty might be in encouraging people to find the qualities they come for in a much wider sphere.
The question of an inner vs. an outer experience of a wild place seems to me a queer one. If you take the position I do, that the inner and outer worlds are more or less seamless, then whatever responses flow from a place are included as landmarks on it, and one possible turn in the dialogue can be towards gratitude and further attention. Maybe the "inner process' that Mr. White vilifies in his essay can be seen as something to build on. The fantasy of being the first to discover a place can give way to a different kind of devotion.