Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wallace Stegner on 'being Green'

I searched for a quote by Wallace Stegner and found it at the beginning of an essay by him which is titled "Thoughts in a Dry Land."

The Quote:  "You have to get over the color green, you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns, you have to get used to an inhuman scale."

I also found this:

Behind the pragmatic, manifest destinarian purpose of pushing western settlement was another motive: the hard determination to dominate nature that historian Lynn White, in the essay "Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," identified as part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.  Nobody implemented that impulse more uncomplicartedly than the Mormons. a chosen people who believed the Lord when He told them to make the desert bloom as the rose.  Nobody expressed it more bluntly than a Mormon hierarch, John Widtsoe, in the middle of the irrigation campaign:  "The destiny of man is to possess the whole earth;  the destiny of the earth is to be subject to man.There can be no full conquest of the earth, no real satisfaction to humanity, if large portions of the earth remain beyond his highest control."  (Success on Irrigation Projects, p. 138)
That doctrine offends me to the bottom of my not-very-Christian soul.  It is related to the spirit that builds castles of incongruous luxury in the desert.  It is the same spirit that between 1910 and the present has so dammed, diverted, used,  and reused the Colorado River that its saline waters now never reach the Gulf of California, but die in the sand miles from the sea;  that has set the Columbia, a far mightier river, to tamely turning turbines;  that has reduced the Missouri, the greatest river on the continent, to a string of ponds;  that has recklessly pumped down the water table of every western valley and threatens to dry up even so prolific a source as the Ogalalla Aquifer;  that has made the Salt River Valley of Arizona and the Imperial, Coachella, and great Central valleys of California into gardens of fabulous but deceptive richness;  that has promoted a new rush to the West fated, like the beaver and grass and gold rushes, to recede after doing great environmental damage. 
The Garden of the World has been a glittering dream, and many find its fulfillment exhilarating.  I do not.  I have already said that I think of the main-stem dams that made it possible as original sin, but there is neither a serpent nor a guilty first couple in the story.  In Adam's fall we sinned all.  Our very virtues as a pioneering people, the very genius of our industrial civilization, drove us to act as we did.  God and Manifest Destiny spoke with one voice urging us to "conquer" or "win" the West;  and there was no voice of comparable authority to remind us of th Mary Austin's quiet but profound truth, that "the manner of the country makes the image of life there, and the land will not be lived in except in its own fashion." 
Obviously, reclamation is not the panacea it once seemed.  Plenty of people... are opposed to more dams, and there is plenty of evidence against the long-range viability and the social and environmental desirability of large-scale irrigation agriculture.  Nevertheless, millions of Americans continue to think of water engineering in the West as one of our proudest achievements, a technology that we should export to backward Third World nations to help them become as we are.  We go on praising apples as if eating them were an injunction of the Ten Commandments."
"Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs." (p. 86-87)


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