Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tread softly…


One last brief episode from Megan Marshall's biography of Margaret Fuller.

In 1843, a few years before Thoreau began his sojourn in the woods at Walden, Fuller took a summer-long journey to the Midwestern frontier, travelling by steamboat on the Great Lakes, wagon, and canoe, sometimes on her own, sometimes with friends. She became very much concerned with the plight of Native Americans, who were being displaced from their ancestral lands to make way for the farms and cities of Europeans. This was all of a piece with her feminist, anti-poverty, and abolitionist views. Marshall writes:
At every turn she found these strands intertwined -– creation and destruction, creation out of destruction. Margaret had looked forward to viewing stands of virgin forest in the Michigan woods, but when the ferry docked at the Manitou Islands to refuel, she found instead crews of Indians at work chopping down "real old monarch trees" to "glut the steamboat" and feed its fires. She was horrified by the Indians' role, perforce, in defacing their wilderness. The "rudeness of conquest" necessary to support "the needs of the day" was ""scare less wanton than that of warlike invasion." Who could possibly "make amends to nature for the present violation of her majestic charms."
Who indeed?

I see the wanton destruction of the immense natural beauty of this island –- the leveling of dunes, the death of coral reefs, the diminution or extinction of native flora and fauna -– to build condos and playgrounds for wealthy Americans and Canadians, who wantonly participate in destroying the very things they presumably come to experience. But of course I am part of it. And it didn't begin with me. It started when the lookout on the Pinta spotted these unspoiled shores. Or even before when the first Native Americans arrived.

Thus the paradox of conservation. The "rudeness of conquest" to satisfy "the needs of the day." We are all of us caught up in it to one degree or another, even Margaret Fuller who was a paid passenger aboard the steamboat, travelling to broaden her experience and satisfy her curiosity. I despair of resolving the conflict in my own life. May each one of you who visit here be more successful.