Thinking about wildness in CA: Daniel Duane

Daniel Duane first came across my media screen last summer with a spectacular essay in the NYTimes Sunday Review — My Dark California Dream — in which he thought through some of the problems that have hit California lately, from wildfire to drought to traffic to the devastation of sea life off our shores.

But it was not a litany of horrors, nor a blaming, it was a wrestling with the issue(s), including the issue of one’s own lost paradise, one’s own inevitable self loss.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.

Tremendous. Now Duane brings another top of the Sunday Review section essay, a long thoughtful look at what is known, in a somewhat Orwellian way, as “wildlife management.”

Duane puts it more vividly, in the opening of The Unnatural Kingdom:

If you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below.

Binoculars reveal three sturdy ewes perched on a wall of rock, accompanied by two lambs and a muscular ram. The sight fills you with awe and also with gratitude for the national parks, forests and, yes, environmental regulations that keep the American dream of wilderness alive.

Unless your binoculars are unusually powerful, you are unlikely to notice that many of those sheep wear collars manufactured by Lotek Wireless of Newmarket, Ontario. You will, therefore, remain unaware that GPS and satellite communications hardware affixed to those collars allows wildlife managers in distant air-conditioned rooms to track every move made by those sheep. Like similar equipment attached to California condors, pronghorn antelope, pythons, fruit bats, African wildebeest, white-tailed eagles, growling grass frogs, feral camels and countless other creatures, those collars are the only visible elements of the backlot infrastructure that now puts and keeps so many animals in the wild.

Phenomenal. Part of a book Duane is working on about the Sierra. That’ll be good…

Theunnaturalkingdom

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