restricted access Preface: A Place Called the Thorofare
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  xi p r e fa c e A Place Called the Thorofare In wildness is the preservation of the world. —Henry David Thoreau, 1862 It is an unlikely name for the most remote point in the contiguous fortyeight states: the Thorofare.1 About twenty miles as the crow flies to the nearest road in any direction, the point is at the center of a wilderness complex that includes the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Wilderness within the adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the Washakie Wilderness within the Shoshone National Forest bordering both on the east. A fur trapper’s thoroughfare it was, from the Jackson Hole area onto the Yellowstone Plateau, and before that, a Native American trail.2 Today it is more a thoroughfare for moose, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves than it is for people, though there are plenty of hikers tramping the trails in the area, anglers fishing its many streams, and hunters tracking their quarry outside the park. Perhaps surprisingly, this singular area has seen almost nothing published about it: only a book called Hawk’s Rest by Gary Ferguson, more a (mostly deserved) critique of outfitters and their packstock mismanagement than a survey or history of the Thorofare.3 Otherwise, only a few obscure popular press articles and passing mentions are found in other literature, including the voluminous scholarship on Yellowstone’s natural and cultural history.4 In contrast, literature on the idea of wilderness and the history of its protection in America is abundant. Writers have chronicled the evolution of the wilderness preservation movement, from its origins attempting to keep roads and automobiles out of America’s remaining wildlands to its maturity adeptly using the xii PREFACE Wilderness Act in shifting political climates to protect those lands.5 They have interpreted its diverse and evolving meanings, showing that wilderness represents, for us, everything from haunt of evil to sacred nature temple, from resource reserve to evolutionary laboratory, from playground to wellspring of rugged individualism and national character .6 Some have criticized the commonly held idea that wilderness lands have never seen the influence of humanity, arguing instead that Native Americans actively managed most or all of North America’s landscapes, so true wilderness never existed and, according to two authors, is a dead concept.7 In response, others have extolled wilderness as vibrant and relevant, both on the ground and as an idea, supporting their claim with some of the same data as the critics.8 While significant disagreements remain among these writers, they do agree that the idea of wilderness has a powerful hold on the American imagination. Furthermore, even the critics agree that wilderness has value for us, from providing utilitarian ecosystem services (like clean water) to venues for recreation and contemplation (like hiking, hunting, and writing). Missing from this impressive body of literature, however, is a substantive discussion of the most fundamental attribute of wilderness, its wildness. This is the very foundation of wilderness and the wilderness experience, and yet most of these authors give it only passing mention, providing an incomplete picture of its richness and our relationship to it. For example, Michael L. Johnson devotes an entire book, Hunger for the Wild, to exploring the meanings of western wildness to Americans, but spends little time on the significance of wildness in a wilderness context (he also obscures his contribution in dense academic prose). In contrast, Thomas R. Vale’s Fire, Native Peoples, and the Natural Landscape much more intelligibly explores an attribute of wildness in a landscape: human presence in, and influence on, it. Vale’s main objective, however, is to illustrate that some areas of North America had no or minimal human influence; he does not systematically explore other attributes necessary for a landscape to be wild (or not). Similarly, Doug Peacock argues in The Grizzly Years that an important component of landscape wildness is the presence of native fauna, especially grizzly bears. Like Vale, though, his main point is not to characterize wildness, but rather (in his case) to illustrate the A PLACE CALLED THE THOROFARE xiii healing qualities of natural landscapes, as seen through his experience.9 As illustrated by these authors, then, wilderness writing illuminates some of the conditions necessary for wildness to be present in a landscape , but stops short of providing a comprehensive review of those conditions. In other words, we are left without a complete picture of what puts the “wild” into wilderness, how we react to that...


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