Table of Contents


General Introduction


Impressions of the North Cascades
Essays about a Northwest Landscape

Part I: Landscapes of Memory

Introduction to Part I

The North Cascades is a wild landscape. Its wildness is its most distinguishing quality, since the surrounding land has been extensively sculpted by human activity. Gazing out from the summits of Mount Fury or Sahale Peak today, one sees little sign that humans have been active in this area. Appearances can be deceiving.

When we gaze upon such a wild landscape our thoughts turn to geologic time scales. Glaciers grind the bedrock up high, while meltwater gouges the hillsides and valley bottoms. For a moment we think that we see a place as it has always been, but of course this is not so. The landscape changes before our eyes. The mountains are wearing down, the glaciers retreating, the flora and fauna changing with the climate. The only constant here is inexorable change.

The North Cascades has a history that stretches back billions of years, and the trained eyes of the geologist and glaciologist are slowly unraveling the mysteries of this history. These people study a natural history of ancient seas, colliding tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, and grinding ice sheets. The crash of colliding glaciers echoes down the ages. Animals and plants come and go. The trumpeting of mastodons and mammoths, the screams of saber-toothed cats, and the croak of the raven are heard above the rush of water and the roar of wind.

We look upon such landscapes as having no significant human history, defined as they are by their wildness. Yet human history also plays a part here. Native Americans came and lived on and with this land. They gathered huckleberries, hunted goat, elk, deer, and bear, fished for salmon in the rivers, and made a living. Their tools were few, but they had what they needed. They struggled and loved and, in ways that perhaps seem small from our modern perspective, made their mark upon the land.

The Native Americans yielded to a human power greater than theirs. They succumbed to diseases to which they had no resistance, were pushed aside by technological might beyond their imagining. European settlers came and trapped, prospected, mined, homesteaded, and logged. They built dams on the rivers to power their cities and created national parks and forests to preserve resources for human futures. They decreed that the core of this landscape would be park and wilderness in what Rebecca Solnit in Savage Dreams, has described as an attempt "to save a few places from the fate of the rest and to prepare an escape from the diminished beauty of the rest, a landscape of leisure apart from the landscapes of work."

This landscape of the North Cascades has many histories. We look first to the past, to memories of the landscapes we find in rocks, glaciers, and the minds of people who have lived long in this place.

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North Cascades Conservation Council
P.O. Box 95980
Seattle, WA 98145-2980