Jan. 23, 2008: Preserve beauty


To The Editor:
Even those who profess a deep love of wild nature have an ambivalent relationship with Nature. “We all proclaim our love and respect for wild nature, and in the same breath we confess our firm attachment to values that inexorably demand the destruction of the last remnant of wilderness," wrote Thomas Merton in "The Wild Places" in 1968.
To love wild nature doesn’t mean to reject civilization and all types of development. It means preserving as much of wild nature as we can because there simply is not much of it left. Thus many people want to preserve the natural beauty of the remaining wild places in their own backyards for their enjoyment and for other benefits, such as clean water, and for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations. Some people believe that wilderness preservation must be done for its own sake because wild nature has an especially high value because of its increasing rarity, for, as we know the scarcity of a valuable thing increases its value.
Perhaps what is needed today is a heightened “sense of place.” A sense of place can be described as a having affection and respect for a particular place. And the landscape of a particular place is perhaps one of the chief factors determining our sense of place. “One’s own landscape comes in time to be a sort of outlaying part of himself…Mar those hills, and he suffers,” wrote the naturalist and native son of the Catskills, John Burroughs, in “A Sharp Lookout” in 1886.
In speaking about what he called the human hunger for natural beauty, John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” Muir was strongly opposed to industrialization and commercialization of beautiful natural places. He said that some people “seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.” (The Yosemite, 1912).
Perhaps a heightened sense of place might help us to realize which kind of economic development fits in aesthetically and ecologically here in the Catskills and which does not. Clearly small scale, unobtrusive development is far more appropriate ecologically and aesthetically than large scale, overbearing development if one’s priority is to preserve the natural and rural beauty of the Catskills.
Augustine Patrone,