We’re well into the outdoor season, the months for running rivers, exploring canyons, bagging peaks, and biking over impossible trails. These activities in our mountains and deserts are often described with the words adventure and extreme. Activities once seen as a time for exploration, contemplation, and individual physical challenge are now held out as competitions against the landscape. We don’t visit the natural world to be part of it; we go with our kayaks, climbing gear, bicycles, skis, and snowboards to overcome it. The landscapes we pass through pursuing these sports become secondary to the actual pursuit. We’re there to conquer the natural world rather than embrace it.
Andrew Gulliford, a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, wants us to reconsider the reasons we go into nature. His new collection, Outdoors in the Southwest: An Adventure Anthology (University of Oklahoma Press), brings together works by a handful of well-known eco-minded writers — Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, and Barbara Kingsolver among them — as well as a larger number of journalists, environmentalists, and adventurers, to argue for a perspective on the natural world that includes aesthetic as well as recreational values. “These remote places provide rare opportunities to experience what has been lost to us in the business of the twenty-first century: to find silence, solitude, and darkness with plenty of stars. To walk for miles without seeing a single town,” Gulliford writes. He offers a chapter on “Why We Need Wilderness,” which focuses on New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area, set aside in 1924. Other sections discuss the historical significance of wilderness lands, their mountains, deserts, and canyons — their rivers and wildlife. Some of the best writing here is the anthologist’s. There’s a reason they call it the great outdoors. Gulliford understands that greatness.
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