Earth Notes - Wallace Stegner

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Wallace Stegner

Something will have gone out of us as a people, Wallace Stegner famously wrote, if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed.

The historian and novelist, who died at age 84 in 1993, may have been referring to the Colorado Plateau, a place he dearly loved. But Stegner is often labeled the dean of western writers for good reason. He was raised in Montana, Utah, and Saskatchewan, and taught creative writing at Stanford University.

Much of his own work is set in the deserts, mountains, and riverways of the Four Corners region where, he advised, 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; you have to understand geological time.

Stegner often mused about humanity's impact on such wild places. In his Wilderness Letter, he reminded those who live in the West they still have a chance to create a society to match its scenery. The brook would lose its song, he warned, if we removed the rocks.

In comparing Lake Powell to the Glen Canyon the reservoir flooded, Stegner said the whole sensation is a little like looking at a picture of Miss America that doesn't show her legs. . . . In gaining the lovely and the usable, we have given up the incomparable.

Yet Stegner saw reason for optimism. Every natural place preserved, he concluded, gives us a little more hope that we have a future.

-Richard Mahler