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That Thoreau in 1862 could declare wildness to be the preservation of the world suggests the sea change that was going on.
Wilderness had once been the antithesis of all that was orderly and good—it had been the darkness, one might say, on the far side of the garden wall—and yet now it was frequently likened to Eden itself.
Whatever value it might have arose solely from the possibility that it might be “reclaimed” and turned toward human ends—planted as a garden, say, or a city upon a hill.
It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness.
As Henry David Thoreau once famously declared, “In Wildness is the preservation of the World.” (1) But is it?
The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems.
Even as the fight was being lost, Hetch Hetchy became the baffle cry of an emerging movement to preserve wilderness.
Fifty years earlier, such opposition would have been unthinkable.