Zakin skewered historian

  Dear HCN,


I have a great deal of respect for Susan Zakin as a writer and, for the most part, I was quite interested in her article, "Shake-up: Greens inside the Beltway" (HCN, 11/11/96). However, I was concerned by her disparaging comments about William Cronon, and the way she frames his book, Uncommon Ground, as part of a greater schism between "the accommodators and those who are standing fast."


Zakin explains that Cronon, along with Bill McKibben, is trying to "debunk the very concept of wilderness." This is a gross misinterpretation. By referring to Cronon as only an "ostensible" supporter of the environmental movement, she needlessly degrades the serious and valuable work which he has done toward improving our understanding of the relationship between human culture and the natural world.


In his essay, The Trouble With Wilderness, Cronon explains that our perceptions of wilderness are a product of culture, which have to be placed in a historical context in order to be meaningful. This is not a new or radical concept. Zakin may recognize that it is the central thesis of Roderick Nash's seminal work, Wilderness and the American Mind. It is Nash who once began a lecture by stating: "Wilderness does not exist. It never has. It is a feeling about a place; part of the geography of the mind."


Cronon points out the simple fact that an artificial preoccupation with wilderness can ultimately distract from one's commitment to home, that place we all live in when we are not out hiking. This is not a challenge to environmentalism; rather, it is a call for a practical, personal and everyday land ethic. Cronon does not deserve such angry rhetoric.


Brad Rogers


Durham, North Carolina