Notes and Thoughts on Red (Williams)

The Need for Wilderness

  • this idea of the importance of wilderness is a recurring theme in the three books we have read so far
  • “humanity is a part of nature, a species that evolved among other species”; “the more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility,” says E.O. Wilson; (75); Wilson makes an important point here in that humans are themselves organisms utterly dependent on the landscape and natural resources; this view offers a much needed alternative to the separation between humans and nature (duality); allows us to address the fact that if the health of the earth fails, humans will go down with it; we shouldn’t be fearful of the animals we are! (187)


  • in fact, “wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization,” Aldo Leopold (174); this definition created the spine or the wilderness/conservation movement; again, here humans are portrayed as vulnerable, needing the wilderness to nurture them, in order to survive
  • in an ideal world, there would be no need to designate “Wilderness” (18); however, we clearly do not live in this ideal world: the biggest problem is that there are too many of us (158); shares views similar to Abbey’s
  • Redrock Canyons are an “acquired taste” with harsh and brutal beauty (5), but as the world becomes more overcrowded and corrupted by capitalism, the landscape of minimalism takes on more significance–perhaps the places we once overlooked suddenly seem more beautiful; e.g. the Meadowlands?; we need to increase our association with the land because “this is all there is” (19)
  • wild country is central to our psychology (6); wilderness in Utah is not  belief, but a physical place (long list of names), e.g. Moon Eyed Horse Canyon (is this named after the chapter in Abbey’s book?)
  • “through [wilderness] protection we can find faith in our humanity”; we need direct contact with the beauty of the natural world; wildlands are alive–when someone says “look, there’s nothing out there”, what we’re really saying is “I cannot see” (69); viewing/experiencing wilderness allows us to appreciate the true value of preservation
  • we need wilderness to be more complete humans (187); what we know in the wild is translated through our bodies, whereas in the cities, it is translated through billboards, TV’s, etc. (186)
  • our current national parks system is not big enough; local extinctions occur because animals need more passage corridors to facilitate better gene flow (102)

Definitions of “Progress”, Competing Interests and Views

  • economic progress verses preservation of wilderness; e.g. Bush energy plan–very abstract and secretive; “thumper trucks” search for oil and gas under the desert sand–this destroys the beautiful, fragile and compacts it beyond repair (224-226); 
  • wilderness is the single most divisive word/issue in the American West (176); like the South (with its Civil War history), the West has been profoundly shaped by loss; battle of public verses private land uses (7)
  • federal resource employees are increasingly the target of beatings, death threats (8)
  • we erode our own environment/history in the name of economic growth and so-called prosperity (160)
  • BUT, the Colorado Plateau and other wilderness places posses spiritual values that can’t be measured in economic terms; we must ask our politicians who is truly speaking on the side of “deep time” (70); responsive citizenship and individuals matter in healing our relationship with the earth (71), e.g. Mary Austin and her “Victorian diction written through the perceptions of a radical spirit” (172)–she “believed in a wild America, in all that was indigenous” (166)
  • Williams suggests that perhaps we need to reframe the issue of wilderness; “conservation is part of our enactment of democracy” (101); “wildness is a deeply American value“, “we have never needed wilderness more” (188); wilderness makes us American, says Leopold (178)
  • democracies are full of “strike moments”, when the accumulation of injustice spurs social change; Will we encounter such a moment soon in the U.S.? At what point will politicians realize that our nation’s largest problems of economic/social justice go hand-in-hand with environmental degradation?
  • profit dictates public lands policy; Leopold argues that we should include the natural world as part of our community, thus enabling us to better measure the impacts of our actions; but conservative Utah citizens fear this
  • BUT perhaps what Leopold is arguing is conservative at its core!; Who are the real radicals here, the people who wish to preserve the character and uniqueness of the land, or those who want to build more sprawl? Sprawl is a dangerous/radical human experiment that is failing, as evidenced by our impact on the environment (e.g. draining of aquifers, etc.); What this suggests is actually the need for MORE government involvement to control capitalist tendencies driven by profits, and not rooted in the fundamentally democratic value of what benefits the community
  • in 1996, President Clinton set aside 1.7M acres of land as parks; huge local protest ensued, because this move “locked up” the coal from the community; seen as a federal dictatorship; but historically, progress in creating national parks has involved bold federal action against local roadblocks (99-100); this section of the book reminds me of the current health care debate, in which the “evil big government” is being portrayed by some as trying to impede on every level of personal life
  • Utah was founded on spiritual grounds (Mormons); now it must be protected on spiritual grounds

Internal Family Debate

  • “What do you kids want? To stop progress? You and your environmentalist friends have lost all credibility” (88)–quote by Williams’ father
  • differences in opinion exist even at the close family level; generational gap and differences in perspective exist
  • for Williams, listening to her father/family requires “revolutionary patience” (98)
  • “‘Whine, whine, whine,’ my father says. ‘You cannot stop development, you cannot stop progress, much less run from it. It will only follow you.'” (117); Williams has come to accept growth, but is repulsed by the growth of greed (117); unchecked/unregulated capitalism trends towards greed/personal benefits

Strong Feelings and Eroticism of the Land

  • desert is a place of self discovery because there is no place to hide; thus we can find ourselves better (77)
  • what might it mean to make love to the land? (16)
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the section of the book where Williams states that looking at a landscape from behind the windows of your car is the same thing as the shallow sexual pleasure derived from pornography (106); porn=sensation without true feeling (108)
  • eroticism is the human desire to share ourselves, make ourselves whole; “we can choose to photograph a tree or we can sit in its arms, where we are participating in wild nature, even our own” (111)
  • I also really enjoyed the chapter about the archaeologist who aims to interest the whole town in archeology by spreading poetry in discrete ways; I found some information online about guerrilla poetry, here, here, and here. It turns out that guerrilla poetry is quite a movement.
  • Perhaps our desire for wilderness is similar to sexual desires, illustrated by how many people flock to our national parks. For this reason, we need to establish more parks (77). Picture of traffic jam in Yellowstone:


Into the Future, Remembering the Past

  • the eyes of the future pray for us to see beyond “our own times” (229)–perhaps we should look seven generations down the road, like American Indian groups; we should strive to see the impacts of our actions in the future, instead of focusing on short-term economic growth today
  • Williams mourns what is happening around her; too many people are moving in and backhoes are churning (116); resorts to waking up earlier for solitude
  • as wilderness disappears, so does Williams’ piece of mind; “The idea of progress exists only because we have forgotten more than we have remembered” (118); she decides to move to country, away from the “conspiracy of city lights” (123)
  • she also mourns the loss of history to new development; American Indian history; ancient Indian ladder is “stolen” by a museum=”theft in the name of preservation” (50)
  • color is the magic of the world; she uses the color red to illustrate strong feelings; connects us to the red desert and our landscape–our blood is red; red is the first color perceived by babies…(133-138)
  • we need to start looking more at the subtleties of the landscape to appreciate it more–to not see it simply as a resource to be exploited, but as a place of much beauty, a deep connection with our souls
  • Navajo culture has been informed by the coyote; their landscape is one of the imagination; they understand deeply how their life depends on the desert (25)
  • 9/11 attacks illustrate that there is no place on earth immune from suffering (215-217); we should show our strengths in the midst of these challenges by creating new wilderness areas–preserve our democracy and ideals for the future

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