Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wildness (Paper Excerpt)

Many adventure writers have touched on the tension between our ideas of civilization and wildness because we tend to be more impressed by adventures carried out in arenas and conditions that otherwise repel human settlement. Fredston, however, gravitates towards the areas of the world that remain unaffected by human interests, not those considered most challenging or difficult to conquer. She demonstrates this distinction throughout her book, both consciously and unconsciously, making it very clear that she considers the experience of pure, unaffected nature to be an important and worthy reason for one to pursue outdoor adventure. She also points out examples of how these areas of pure natural life are being threatened by human politics and society, adding an underlying message of conservationism to the narrative.
            After spending her childhood just outside of New York City, where even most parks were built by humans within the last two centuries, Fredston spends the rest of her personal narrative actively seeking areas with the least possible human settlement. This drives her decision to move to Alaska after completing her education, explaining that “my whole self, every fiber, craved Alaska’s uniqueness, its possibilities, its wildness” (31). This explanation carries some important implications. Having previously experienced the landscape of the Alaskan coastline on a wilderness adventure trip, Fredston understood enough about the area to feel confident in her decision to move to the state full-time. While it is worth remembering that she writes with the advantage of hindsight, so she can frame her expectations in reaction to her then-future experiences, the unconditional devotion to her future life in Alaska shows how heavily her priorities are influenced by the access to wildness. She knew nothing about the living situation or specifics of Alaskan life, but her brief experience with the wildness of Alaska convinced her to move there without much second thought. She expresses a similar enthusiasm for Labrador after her rowing trip there, gush that being “able to travel a twenty-three-day stretch without seeing or hearing any signs of modern man” for her and Doug “revived our hope in persisting wildness” (174). This quote clearly demonstrates how directly Fredston’s idea of wildness is tied to the absence of humanity’s influence over nature.


  1. Ok. My thesis has a little bit to do with conceptions of wilderness and naturalness so I thought I might comment about some of these ideas. I think its quite interesting that in prevailing American rhetoric regarding conceptions of wilderness humans are completely separate. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as an area "untrammeled by man...where man does not remain" (1964 Wilderness Act Section 2c). William Cronon argues in his essay "The Trouble with Wilderness" that this perception of wilderness as separate from humans inhibits a strong environmental consciousness from becoming commonplace. I'm always struck by this common perception because I would consider humans to be part of nature and natural processes.
    There are a number of articles I have read this past year that describe different ways of defining naturalness, focusing on how landscapes can have varying degrees of naturalness that fall between the extremes of a wilderness ideal and constructed cityscape. I think that the way that Fredston describes the landscapes through which she travels emphasizes this idea of a naturalness gradient can be seen. She does, however, seems to place some higher significance on areas that are more natural than others.

  2. Like Anna, my thesis deals with conceptions of wilderness, and William Cronon also came to my mind in reading this post. Though we've read about extreme climate conditions and first ascents quite a lot this semester, I have something of a distrust for the value our culture assigns to so-called "virgin" landscapes, a trap into which Fredston falls. There is certainly a compelling element in going days without encountering other humans - the awareness of the world's immensity, the fecundity of the natural world, etc - but I would preach for caution in the way we imagine "wilderness." Particularly in the Americas, what Western culture still sometimes calls the "New World," it is tempting to construct a collective memory of land "untrammeled by man," though this construction has crumbling foundation.

  3. This also makes me think about the construction of wilderness as a first world luxury, which only a selected few are gifted the chance to experience and ponder. I feel that it could be argued that to some degree as much as Fredston captures nature with her writing, her very presence in such an untouched area contradicts her motives of finding places devoid of human contact. This dichotomy is something that I feel that we have overlooked as a whole throughout this semester. For some reason, more and more, as I read this text the fact that she is from New York City sits less and less well with me. If by seeking the naturalness that NYC lacks by going to places that people have never been before, isn't she then perverting the what she hopes to experience? I realize this touches a lot of sensitive issues, like who deserves to go to these places and what does the place you were born affect what you are entitled to do in life, but I cannot help but to wonder.