The Trouble with Wilderness by William Cronon

Intention:  Cronon discusses various types of wilderness and people’s interactions and level of appreciation for it.

Ethos: Cronon includes excerpts from Wordsworth, Thoreau, Muir, and Stegner, and discusses God and creation to add credibility to his piece.  He mentions Jesus and His struggle with Satan in the wilderness to show the sacred side of wilderness.  God was often found and present in nature throughout the biblical stories, which adds awe to the wilderness.  People find peace and spiritual healing in nature because of God’s presence; Cronon realizes this and adds this section about God into his piece to appeal to his readers.  Wordsworth’s excerpt, along with Thoreau, Muir, and Stegner, discusses his experience with nature.  Cronon’s inclusion of these works of literature introduces credible figures regarding nature and enhances his essay’s ethos.

Memory: Cronon moves through American history and how nature was viewed during different time periods.  After the Civil War, primarily wealthy people were intrigued with the wilderness.  This established the “national frontier myth, standing for the wild freedom of America’s past and seeming to represent a highly attractive natural alternative to the ugly artificiality of modern civilization,” (192).  People were starting to view nature as a place of recreation, a place where one could go to tour around with guides on scenic routes.  The Indians were native to the land, but the colonizers sought to remove them to create uninhabited land that could be view by tourists.  Because of this, Cronon concludes, “…there is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness.  It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny,” (193).  Cronon uses history and facts of early America to provide background information on the evolution of wilderness.

Quotation: “What I celebrate about such places is not just their wilderness, though that certainly is among their most important qualities; what I celebrate even more is that they remind us of the wilderness in our own back yards, of the nature that is all around us if only we have eyes to see it,” (201).  Cronon makes the point that the vast and wondrous landscapes of nature are incredible, but the smaller forms of nature that are around us in our everyday lives are just as incredible and worth recognizing.  Cronon mentions the well-known reserved parks of nature, but he has an unbiased view on wilderness and discusses the smaller parts of wilderness as well.  This unbiased view makes the essay diverse and well-rounded.  I love this quote because it gives beauty to the nature that we are constantly surrounded by but often overlook.  We must develop the proper eyes to see the beauty that has always surrounded us.

—Vanessa Petranek

1) The author organizes the argument using logos and providing concrete examples to support his claims. Cronan refers to The Endangered Species Act int he United States. This is a reliable source from which he can now discuss. He points out how it is contradictory for us to protect endangered species and interfere with natural selection (the exact thing we are attempting to protect). By using parts of legislation, he logically can form his argument.

2) “The point is not that our current problems are trivial, or that our devastating effects on the earth’s ecosystems should be accepted as inevitable or “natural.” It is rather that we seem unlikely to make progress in solving these problems if we hold up to ourselves as the mirror of nature a wilderness we ourselves cannot inhabit.” With this quote, Cronan points out what the reader may be inaccurately thinking about his opinion, and explains what his real opinion is in straightforward words.

3) Cronan uses ethos to gain the trust of the reader by talking about his personal experience. “when I think of the times I myself have come closest to experiencing what I might call the sacred in nature, I often find myself remembering wild places much closer to home.” By referring to himself, this this ethos appeals to his humanity and makes him more relatable.

-Mackenzie Coon

The intention of this essay is to persuade the audience to rethink the term “wilderness” and the connotations we, as a society, link to the term.

William Cronon uses the appeal of ethos to help convey his message in The Trouble with Wilderness. Cronon has several degrees from prestigious universities such as The University of Wisconsin and Yale University. He also cites many well-known conservational authors such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Due to his involvement in the conservationist group called The Trust for Public Land, his knowledge on the subject of this essay is evident. All of his works are considered by many literary experts to be credible and are highly critically acclaimed.

One of my favorite quotations from this essay is, “In the theories of Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, William Gilpin, and others, sublime landscapes were those rare places on earth where one had more chance than elsewhere to glimpse the face of God.” Even though Cronon uses this statement to contradict the common view of wilderness, I love how viewing nature is compared to catching just a glimpse of the face of God.

I think that Cronon succeeds in his intention of writing this essay through his use of parallelism, comparison, and symbolism among other rhetorical devices and figures. He makes a strong connection to his audience and provides clear points. As an audience member to Cronon, I was persuaded to rethink my view of the term “wilderness.”

–Maria Schroeder

Cronon arranges this piece by coalescing numerous historical facts about the evolution of the term “wilderness” and its many labels, and a series of references to notable environmentalists and writers whose main focus was nature and its significance. This is effective, because through the blend of information, Cronon is able to acknowledge that his opinions are simply opinions. By providing his audience with the extra background information and contrasting viewpoints of others, he is able to persuade his audience to delve deeper into the idea of “wilderness” and its role in our lives today.

One memorable quote from this piece is, “Wilderness hides its unnaturalness behind a mask that is all the more beguiling because it seems so natural. As we gaze into the mirror it holds up for us, we too easily imagine that what we behold is Nature when in fact we see the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires.” This quote is memorable, because it introduces the idea that “wilderness” was a concept created entirely by the modern world. The metaphor that Nature is a mirror that reflects humanity’s subconscious desires supports this claim, while also establishing the idea that it’s human nature to project our aspirations on the world around us. Therefore, humanity may be blind to the reality that the man-made “wilderness” is not the solution to society’s problems and instead may be part of the problem.

Cronon’s attention to detail throughout the piece is seen in the memory-evoking imagery he places throughout. For example, he states, “Remember this? The torrents of mist shoot out from the base of a great waterfall in the depths of a Sierra canyon, the tiny droplets cooling your face as you listen to the roar of the water and gaze up toward the sky through a rainbow that hovers just out of reach.” By utilizing an impersonal memory, Cronon is able to support his claim that the memories made in the wilderness may seem to be uniquely our own, yet many people can recognize a similar scene. This is due to the notion that “wilderness” is “quite profoundly a human creation”. Cronon also establishes his tone through the quote above by directly addressing the audience and asking them to recognize the clichéd nature scenes that are forced upon us as a part of our culture.

–Hannah Wagner

It was very interesting to me that Cronon wrote a whole essay essentially on the misuse of a single word. He explains that wilderness used to be a place you most definitely did not want to be because it was “deserted” and “savage.” It was a “waste.” The word we should use to describe the beautiful, natural parts of the world is “Sublime.” Cronon argues that throughout the years, this word has lost its original meaning because of disuse, and now its former opposite has adopted that meaning. How many other words or phrases do we misuse in our everyday lives? How many ideas have been morphed throughout the years?

Cronon arranges his essay in a way that provides first the definition of both wilderness and sublime, then gives a history of how these terms have been morphed over the years, and finally examples of our misguidances in modern times. This is a very logical arrangement. By providing facts of the meanings of the words and how these ideas have changed over time, Cronon allows the reader to discover their own ideas about the idea of wilderness while they are progressing through the essay. After giving the reader time to come up with his or her own opinions, he ends the essay with a discussion of modern times. He forces them to again rethink the ideas they just rethought and think about Wilderness in relation to their own life. He argues “the tree in the garden is in reality no less other, no less worth of our wonder and respect, than the tree in an ancient forest that has never known an ax or a saw…”Most people would think of wilderness and nature as being in a far away national park, but now Cronon challenges readers to see that even the weeds popping up through the cracks in the side walk are part of nature.

One of my favorite quotes from this essay is, “We are the most dangerous species of life on the planet, and every other species, even the earth itself, has cause to fear our power to exterminate. But we are also the only species which, when it chooses to do so, will go to great effort to save what it might destroy.”(Wallace Stegner) This really resonates with me, especially as I plan to study sustainability, because it emphasizes just how powerful humans are. We can use our power positively or negatively—to save or to destroy—and it is completely our choice.

–Alyssa Cassidy


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