Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks by Joseph L. Sax

Source: The University of Michigan Press
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks by Joseph L. Sax is an examination of the preservationist ideology in terms of the modern world, and the popularity of national parks as places to play and vacation. While he considers the preservationist stance a moral one in that it looks to preserve the wild without accoutrements, he also recognizes that the national park system is one governed by public policy and unless preservationists can convince everyone that their stance is best, compromises will need to be made. “The assumption is that the values he imputes to the parks (independence, self-reliance, self-restraint) are extremely widely shared by the American public,” says Sax (pg. 15).

Leaving the wilderness completely untouched would essentially preserve it for those who do not need modern conveniences or do not want them when vacationing, but allowing roads to be built along with resorts in every National Park is something he considers ridiculous — a taming of the wild for human desire. “His goal was to get the visitor outside the usual influences where his agenda was preset, and to leave him on his own, to react distinctively in his own way and at his own pace,” he notes (pg. 24).  Like we ourselves do not wished to be tamed by others’ expectations of us, we should not do the same to the wilds of America because by doing so we rob ourselves of the purest experience we can have through contemplation and our own guidance.

Chock full of historic tidbits about the Sierra Club and the Park Service, Sax also relies upon the fishing, hunting, and other guides available that talk about not man’s dominance over nature but how man can forgo its technological advantages and outsmart nature in the hunt.  “The purpose of reserving natural areas, however, is not to keep people in their cars, but to lure them out; to encourage a close look at the infinite detail and variety that the natural scene provides; to expose, rather than to insulate, so that the peculiar character of the desert, or the alpine forest, can be distinctively felt; to rid the visitor of his car, as the fisherman rids himself of tools,” explains Sax (pg. 79).

Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks by Joseph L. Sax is an examination of national parks through the backdrop of policy versus preservation and whether business should be able to dictate how much demand should influence our development of these natural places.  It’s an exploration of how nature can affect the individual if we were to let go our modern trappings and let ourselves be in the wild, rather than try to tame it.  Most fascinating is the discussion of resorts near National Parks and how we soon forget that these are businesses trying to make a profit, and that their build-up for parkland is not necessarily for the benefit of tourists wishing to experience nature.  The Mount LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains is the antithesis of these places, he says, and as someone looking for places to visit there, this one has been on my list.

About the Author:

Joseph L. Sax, a legal scholar, helped shape environmental law in the United States and fuel the environmental movement by establishing the doctrine that natural resources are a public trust requiring protection.  He recently passed away in March 2014.

Mailbox Monday #342

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Water on the Moon by Jean P. Moore for a TLC Book Tour in November.

Early one morning, Lidia Raven, mother of teenage twins, awakens to the sound of a sputtering airplane engine in the distance. After she and her girls miraculously survive the crash that destroys their home, they’re taken in by Lidia’s friend, Polly, a neighbor who lives alone on a sprawling estate. But Lidia has other problems. Her husband has left her for another man, she’s lost her job, and she fears more bad news is on the way when she discovers a connection between her and Tina Calderara, the pilot who crashed into her home. In the months following the crash, Lidia plunges into a mystery that upends every aspect of her life, forcing her to rethink everything she thinks she knows.

Underdays: Poems by Martin Ott, winner of the Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry, for review.

Underdays is a dialogue of opposing forces: life/death, love/war, the personal/the political. Ott combines global concerns with personal ones, in conversation between poems or within them, to find meaning in his search for what drives us to love and hate each other. Within many of the poems, a second voice, expressed in italic, hints at an opposing force “under” the surface, or multiple voices in conversation with his older and younger selves—his Underdays—to chart a path forward. What results is a poetic heteroglossia expressing the richness of a complex world.

Mountains Without Handrails by Joseph L. Sax for review.

Focusing on the long-standing and bitter battles over recreational use of our national parklands, Joseph L. Sax proposes a novel scheme for the protection and management of America’s national parks. Drawing upon the most controversial disputes of recent years—Yosemite National Park, the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and the Disney plan for California’s Mineral King Valley—Sax boldly unites the rich and diverse tradition of nature writing into a coherent thesis that speaks directly to the dilemma of the parks.

The Kingdom and After by Megan Fernandes for review from Tightrope Books.

From Tanzania to Portugal, from India to Iraq, The Kingdom and After charts the 21st-century imaginative echo of empire and displacement in our current moment of terror and globalization. Sometimes written in frank, shrunken lines and other times exploding with surrealist, jurassic imagery, the poems witness an associative mind leaping from bone temples in Tanga to the pumiced surface of extraterrestrial oceans, from a panic attack in Mumbai to the tumbling spirits of the Big Sur coastline. These poems articulate a complex portrait of female sexuality and personhood. Not only excavating the legacy of empire with philosophical rigor, the speaker also dwells in humiliation and wonder, accusation and regret, while trying to envision what indeed remains after the era of kingdoms and kinghood.

Ghost Sick: A Poetry of Witness by Emily Pohl-Weary for review from Tightrope Books.

When a Christmas Eve shooting devastated Pohl-Weary’s community, she began to hunt through the numbness and grief for some understanding and hopefulness about the future.

In the tradition of Carolyn Forché, Ernesto Cardenal and Shu Ting, Ghost Sick is a poetry of witness. It chronicles the impact of violence on an inner-city Toronto neighbourhood, the power of empathy, and the resilience of the human spirit.

What did you receive?