Impressions of the North
Essays about a Northwest Landscape
Part III: Landscapes of
Introduction to Part III
A little over two centuries ago the first European
eyes gazed eastward from the deck of a ship in the Strait of Juan de
Fuca. The white cone of the mountain George Vancouver named Baker rose
prominently to the northeast, while southward stretched a horizon of
serrated peaks. Here was a wild, untamed land ripe for the taking, a
land of empire and opportunity. They claimed the place for the king of
England and moved on.
The pace of change on this landscape was slow at
first, then increased to a blur of settlement and development. The
mountains that are the core of the North Cascades, because of their
extremely rugged topography and discouraging climate, were on the
margins of this process. Late in the nineteenth century, when thoughtful
people began to worry that natural resources were being squandered
without thought for the future, the hand of government reached out from
Washington, D.C. and decreed that these mountain lands would be
"reserved," placed off-limits to greedy entrepreneurs who were claiming
land for logging and mining as fast as their schemes would allow.
Subsequently these reserves were made national forests, wild and
primitive wilderness areas, and parts of them became national park and
national recreation areas.
The idea of national park is little more than
a century old; of wilderness; less than a century. What seemed
useless to those first Europeansuseless because it was wild and
would only be useful when tamedhas now become useful
because it is wild. Such an idea would only serve to bewilder the
early pioneers who encountered this landscape.
We cannot predict what the future of the North
Cascades will be, nor can we control that future, but we can and must
consider it. How different this landscape would be today had people with
foresight not promoted forest reserves late in the nineteenth century.
Now, as the twentieth century comes to a close, many concerned people
are thinking about what this particular landscape might be for future
generations, and how these visions might be achieved. Time and again
the grizzly bear appears in our thinking, a symbol of the nature that
early settlers sought to conquer and which many of us today seek to
restore. We have wilderness now, but is it really wild without the
grizzly? As human populations grow in numbers and become ever more
dominant all over the earth, some grow thoughtful and downright angry
at the prospect of a world without deep wilderness, where a creature of
the magnificence of a grizzly can go about its business.