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as a child, was lamenting a good man's violent passing, asking about life's mean-
ing—and there was the quote. “The earth is mostly just a boneyard,” Gus drawled, per-
haps chewing on a grass stem and daydreaming of his beloved Clara, “but pretty in sun-
light.” 18
The Abstract Wild, by philosopher and mountaineering guide Jack Turner, requires
a bit more explanation. 19 In the summer of 2005 I'd brought his slim volume along to
reread at Fort Clark, Texas, while working on this topic within a vulture's soaring gaze
from where Lonesome Dove begins. Seven years earlier, Turner's manifesto had been
so irritating that I'd tossed it across my office in disgust. I'd been uneasily angry and
couldn't now remember why, so I spent the better part of a day dwelling on what the
author himself calls a rant, then finally went for a stroll along Las Moras Creek to clear
my head. Two tropical green kingfishers zoomed by, reminders that although the Chi-
huahuan Desert begins only a few dozen miles to the west, my 1880s stone dwelling
sits near where the Edwards Plateau's southwestern edge meets a mesquite savanna
that extends up from Mexico. I spotted a diamond-backed watersnake basking on an
overhanging tree limb; dropping low to minimize my profile in the late afternoon sun, I
inched closer for a photograph before the four-foot-long serpent slid into the current.
After an hour or so of creekside idyll, I had to concede that defensiveness clouded my
earlier assessment of Turner. I am an academic, after all, and having labored hard in the
service of conservation as well as spent lots of time outdoors, I resented his sweeping
condemnation of my profession. I also knew that if I were more single-minded I could
do more; if I were stronger, more agile, and had more stamina, I could go farther. And I
knew that the loss he laments, the disappearance of something bigger than us that we
cannot control, is tragic. So, setting aside professional and personal insecurities, what
are the issues at hand?
TheAbstractWild is a carefully argued tirade, 125 pages of white-hot rhetoric in the
service of ideals that must resonate with anyone who's spent time in the backcountry.
Turner begins with a surreal discovery of ancient rock art in a remote Utah canyon, one
whose entry required harrowing, highly skilled maneuvers, and he decries that because
now the site is more readily approachable, its aesthetic values are diminished. I have
only to recall my initial resentment at registering for a hiking permit and packing out
feces in Paria Canyon to empathize with his point. Farther into the topic Turner elo-
quently recounts the impact of large carnivores on our psyches, then berates biologists
who study bears, lions, and wolves for depriving those creatures of their wildness. He
wants as much land as possible to be inaccessible to all but the few humans capable of
entering it with negligible impact. Leave nature alone, he asserts, and she'll take care
of herself. Treat predators with respect, and they won't eat us. Wildlife management, he
believes, is the spiritual enemy of wilderness.
This is powerfully engaging stuff, but Turner is too self-righteous, too quick to stereo-
type biologists as soulless hacks and too facile in dismissing science. What TheAbstract
Wild lacks is anything more than an occasional dash of humility, any admission that oth-
ers deserve their own routes to wildness, any recognition that education and research
influence conservation. It would have been only minimally fair to admit that without
science there'd be no California condors and black-footed ferrets on Earth today. In-
stead Turner admiringly quotes John Muir (though not his preposterous claim of never
having glimpsed a drop of blood in nature); 20 he touts as models of peaceful coexist-
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