Starved Rock State Park is in Illinois, near the intersection of I-80 and I-39, just an hour an a half southwest of Chicago. This, along with the surprisingly spectacular natural features, makes it one of the busiest parks in the country. On a pleasant weekend in autumn the park can receive over 70,000 visitors.
I went to Starved Rock in November (read previous post) and just went back for a return visit. Not coincidentally, I’ve been reading a book by author and wilderness guide Jack Turner entitled “The Abstract Wild.” In it he suggests that our society has lost its understanding of value of wild nature and that our parks, far from being havens of wildness, “were created for, and by, tourism…. They are managed with two ends in mind: entertainment and preservation of the resource base for entertainment.”
As I hiked through the rugged canyons and enjoyed the icy waterfalls that are among the most popular winter attractions, I was struck once again by the often-surreal juxtapositions that result from our approach-avoidance relationship with wild nature. Here is a photo essay of a few things I observed, intermixed with quotes from Turner’s book.
“We treat the natural world according to our experience of it. Without aura, wildness, magic, spirit, holiness, the sacred, and soul, we treat flora, fauna, art, and landscape as resources and amusement.”
“Although the ecological crisis appears new (because it is now ‘news’), it is not new; only the scale and form are new. We lost the world bit by bit for ten thousand years and forgave each loss and then forgot.”
Most of us don’t talk of normal and abnormal or good and evil; we talk about what we like and dislike, as if discussing ice cream. Perhaps what I fear most is that the destruction of the natural world to serve human needs and ideals will become an issue decided by opinion polls and surveys that track the gentle undulations of the true, the good, and the beautiful among a people now ignorant of what was once their wild and beautiful home.”
“This is not the wild, not a wilderness. And yet we continue to accept it as wilderness and call our time there a wilderness experience. We believe we make contact with the wild, but this is an illusion. In both the…parks and wilderness areas we accept a reduced category of experience, a semblance of the wild nature, a fake. And no one complains.”
“When we deal in…abstractions, we blur boundaries—between the real and the fake, the wild and the tame, the independent and dependent, the original and the copy, the healthy and the diminished.”
“Alas, collections of acreage, species, and processes, however large or diverse, no more preserve wildness than large and diverse collections of sacred objects preserve the sacred. The wild and the sacred are simply not the kinds of things that can be collected.”
Once the meaning of the wild is forgotten, because the relevant experience is lost, we abuse the word, literally, mis-use it. … Why do we associate the savage, the brutal, with the wild? The savagery of nature fades to nothing compared to the savagery of human agency.”
“I believe a saner relation to the natural world must end our servitude to modernity [abstraction] by creating new practices that alter our daily routines. I also believe that no resolution to the crises facing the wild earth will achieve more than a modicum of success without an integration of spiritual practice into our lives.”
One final observation in closing: Along with the waterfalls, the other main attraction during this season are the eagles that winter on the Illinois River. I did see a few eagles, mostly on two islands where they could comfortably perch undisturbed by the human gawkers. I saw many more representations of eagles in the gift shops and on the walls in the lodge. One elderly gentleman lounged nonchalantly in the visitor's center wearing a felt eagle hat as if it were the most normal thing in the world. I wish I'd gotten a picture of that. At first glance I thought he was wearing a chicken!