Wilderness and the American Mind

Elk in the Yellowstone National Park, 1988, JVS,


"In wildness is the preservation of the world,"said Henry David Thoreau (1851), about the biological and cultural heritage of our industrial civilization. Wildness is today in retreat due to a loss of endangered species, oil drilling in the Arctic tundra, logging old growth forests, and the twin threats of economic growth and global warming. There are plans to sell off National Parks.

We examine the impact of industrialization on human values by contrasting the conservation and preservation of biological wealth in the USA to nations around the world over the past two centuries for you to sense the underlying role of wilderness protection in shaping an emerging national ethos for ecosystem protection. You may articulate in writing and in speaking your knowledge of biological problems and policy constraints facing wildlife and wild areas based on readings, discussions, and interviews as a primary goal of my course. Your work should show plainly how ecology influences political decisions. My class involves you in a reflective exercise applying scientific laws concerning extinction; varieties of biological diversity and recent discoveries of medically valuable organisms to assess how well wildlife will thrive in the future.


Focusing on national, and international examples of wilderness advocacy, students will comparatively examine case studies and quantitative analysis of case based, global ecological problems, such as acid rain, global warming and urban sprawl on the health of native wild areas. I encourage participants to practice descriptive writing, analytical methods, critical thinking skills, and oral expression through either problem oriented research or work for community based, service providers whose organizational missions involve some depth of wildlife education. Those groups are the Chelonian Institute, Audubon, or Save the Manatee Club. To best grasp ecosystem management optional outings to Florida natural areas and forests are encouraged.


Related wilderness pages


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Texts:             Author Title                                       


Roderick F. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind

Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger

Aldo Leopold, Round River or A Sand County Almanac (back-up)

Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet


  ∞  ∞

Reserve Readings


Murray Bookchin, Our Synthetic Environment.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.

Michael Pollan, Second Nature.

Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream.

Harold Ward, Acting Locally.

Victoria Edwards, Dealing in Diversity.

William Schwartz, Voices for Wilderness.

Joseph Siry, Marshes of the Ocean Shore.


Kruger National Park, South Africa, "A resident pacderm " JVS 2003: What is the value of wild lands without wildlife in them?



Work to do:


What must you do to do well in this course? In order that you excel in this class I judge every day by your comments in class about the texts how ready you are. All your grades are based on the criteria detailed below with reference to reading texts, working in the community, relating all of the authors to course themes, & completing all the assignments on time.




# What to do; When to do it %; value
1. Participation -- speaking in class & interpreting books; 1 pt./week & month
2. Project -- creating an ecological wilderness, written drafts: Sept. 28 - Nov. 9 .
3. Oral --   (4 presentations)   from texts Sept 16-19, Oct 3-5, 26, Nov 14-16.
4. Midterm “synthesizing ideas”

9/ 28 draft;

rewritten answers Oct 3 & 5.

5. Final  --“examining our future” verbal presentation **: Dec. 6; 11 AM –2 PM

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All assignments are graded with careful attention to each of these criteria:


1. clarity, coherence, spelling, grammar & logical consistency

2. length & development of your arguments, ideas, or presentations

3. information from the class texts, library research, and / or interviews

4. frequency of examples from the lectures, journal, notes & readings

5. substantial discussion of the subject & introductions, summaries, conclusions.





Dates & Days: Monday –Wednesday & Friday                      Readings to discuss & analyze


August            The fundamentals of you and us in the wild

22       Introduction: Who are we, & where are places?           “The habitat Problem

24       What is wilderness;strictly speaking?             Nash, pp. vii-43.

26         Outside and Uptight: “Examining the buttoned-downed mind

29         Eroticism, Boundaries & “Appetites”                   Williams, pp. 79-96.

31         Selection: “the idle hours of the ignorant”          Leopold, pp. 3-5.


September      Stalking wildness as a way of knowing the earth

2          Romantic and Transcendental reforms              Nash, pp. 44-107.

7           Making Sense of preserving wild areas              Nash, pp. 108-140.

9           Muir and the battle to save the wild canyon       Nash, pp. 141-181.

12         Water, wildlife and habitats                              Siry, Marshes, pp. 3-11, handout WEAL

14         Biological realities as a limitation -- species        Leopold, pp 10-30. Nash, pp. 182-237

16         A philosophy of protection (oral presentation)    Nash, pp. 238-271.

19         2 views Nash Alaska & Pollan: a dialectic          Nash. pp. 272-315, Pollan, pp. 104-127.         

21         Our Common Threat: ecological consequences             McKibben. pp. 3-46, Margulis, pp 1-4.

23-24    Field trip to the Florida natural area – is it a wilderness? 9 AM - 5 PM

26        The “role of symbiosis” in Ecosystems                Margulis, pp 5-12,113-129. Nash, pp. 316-341.

28         written drafts, Project Phase One: Defining & dedicating wilderness, Nash, pp. 342-290.

30/1      TBA      Field Trip to Chelonian Institute, Oviedo, or Environmental Ed. Center, Seminole, Fla.



October            Creating more ecological wilderness and wildlife refuges

3           Mid-Term * (oral) report based on your written essay: compare Nash w/ Leopold's views

Present a dialogue reporting on an idea or chapter in Nash, Leopold, pp.31-33, & Williams, pp. 3-12.

5           dialogue reporting critiques                             Nash, Williams, Siry & McKibben

10         The challenges of economics & technology       Williams, pp. 132-140.

12         The End of Nature? Adaptability & Myths          McKibben. pp. 47-91, Nash 342-378.

14         Information dynamics, meaning, and policy       Williams, pp 29-147. Margulis, pp. 1-32.

17         Envisioning an Ecological Community                McKibben, pp.95-138. Leopold, pp. 264-279.

19         Basic Factors: Nash, McKibben, Margulis to Framework: Siry, Margulis, pp. 105 – 129.

21         A Vision of our Urban Future: cases                  McKibben pp. 139-170. Williams, pp. 51-78.

24         Ecological costs of enterprise                          Leopold, pp. 237-263. Williams, pp. 97-131.

26         Assimilating many human demands       (oral)     Williams, pp. 13-50. Leopold, pp.96 -128.

28        Assimilating many human demands       (oral) McKibben. pp. 171-217.

31         No class. In lieu of field trips and office visits



Ecolacy: Applying what we are reading to the local and regional context.

Nature as a clue to organization: compare each author’s concepts & work on site.

2          Day of the Dead , Critique of bourgeois values Leopold, pp. 3-8 & 129-157, Margulis, pp.13 –32.

4           The criticism of Bureaucratic wilderness                         Leopold, pp. 158-173. Williams, pp. 133-145.

7           Climate change (contrasting views)                    McKibben, pp. 63. Siry “Feeling the Heat

9           Maintaining ecological wilderness, written drafts presented as summaries in class

11-12    Field Trip to a local forested ecological area     Forests a site analysis-- (handout) 9 AM - 2 PM

14         Oral on Science of Complexity & Sustainability                        Margulis, pp. 33 –68.

16         Oral on Life, resistance & sexuality                             Margulis, pp. 69-104.

18         The Habit of Truth: what ails wildlife? POPs --Chemicals, heat or pH? Margulis, pp. 105 – 129.

21         Endocrine disruption inquiry     Siry, Steingraber pp. 5-11 handout. (Corals & Mangroves).

28         Wilderness ecology is a synthetic science          Siry, pp. 12-25 (handout) FORESTS are for?

30         Relate: Nash, Siry, & Margulis to 3-threats in Williams, McKibben & Leopold, pp. 31-33 &145-157.



2,_ Last Class:

12/6 11 AM –2 PM, Final Exam, oral report on future wild **

last version of written essay is also due.


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Week number & lessons                     Questions to answer in Assignments & Activities

Concepts to consider in “free writing” are presented as weekly questions to answer.  

1           Introduction:     “The Habitat Problem,” Maps as models for decision-making.

How can service to the community be one means to learn about wildlife ?

2           What is science literacy when defining wild & wildlife? – Siry (lecture), Nash & Williams.


3           How important are habitats & what is a wilderness? Nash & Williams: Make maps, (reports)


4           History & who we are: how do biotic communities have wild potential? Nash



Mid-term oral & written reports: compare texts to Siry's Website on

A Taste for Country.”


Report: compare & contrast evidence in Leopold,Nash & Pollan about “Country

6           Wilderness & the environmental resistance that shapes life? McKibben


7           Why is the ethical imperative to promote wild areas so essential? McKibben, Nash.


8           Report on causal differences in methods among Williams - Nash - Margulis - McKibben.


9           What is your role in creating a viable wilderness reserve? -- (Service reports) – Nash.


10         Criteria for judging the effectiveness of organizations and goals. Nash, Williams & Siry.


11         Nature and service as a guide to personal behavior when doing something constructive.


12         Is creating an ecological wilderness an evolutionary uncertainty? Leopold - Williams - Siry


13         Are biological restoration & human growth inseparable to survive? McKibben, Margulis.


14         Reporting about and evaluating each other’s projects for content, impact & meaning.

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F inal Exam: Dec. 6; 11 AM –2 PM

oral & written, redrafted report: on “The Future of Wilderness

Present an answer to class 6 minutes:

What sorts of actions are needed to protect what is left of our natural areas?


The Purposes of the Readings is to discuss & analyze all of the author’s core beliefs.

Speaking: talk so that everyone understands & direct your work to this class as your audience.


Course Goals: In order to sharpen your analysis, the goals of this course sustain 3 objectives of ecological citizenship in relation to your improving your speaking, expression & critical thinking ability:

one:       to provide you practice for greater ease and/or success in careers and job interviews.

two:      to honestly use reasoning and enhance your contributions to a project team or jury.

three:     to act accountably in giving sworn testimony or formal talks on complex problems .


This 4 credit hour course is an intensive reading, analysis and critical thinking course where writing is done to both interpret contrasting arguments and synthesize related evidence from different authors. All written work should be footnoted (or use end notes) with appropriate references to support your statements of fact and opinions and have a list of sources consulted.


For every hour in class I expect you to study for three hours because I reward your hard work and revising your assignments for clearer descriptions, accurate references and logical arguments.



I am here to encourage you to perform well and excel in your studies, by improving your analytical and argumentation skills. Meeting with me in my office is done to identify your personal means to reach your goals, by assessing your reading, note taking and writing skills. Your being an effective thinker with respect to all class materials that you are asked to synthesize is my priority.



Last class day, December 2, 2005, when all outstanding work is due.

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Detailed requirements:

Oral      present descriptive, argumentative and analytical material to the class in 3-5 minute talks,

            by comparing & contrasting Leopold’s & Nash's approaches and beliefs about country.

            Make a visual representation, provide an overhead transparency and turn in your notes!


Midterm * A problem solving two day experience based on discussion from which you write a

            3 pp. Focus paper (typed, data & summary) on “How has wildness shaped our society?”             Siry's, Williams’ and Nash’s views contrasted with Leopold, Pollan & McKibben. Due Oct. 5.


Project: select a theme * or service provider to work with in order to protect wilderness. In the third week, select a service provider and write-up themes to develop into a project composed of written text, photographic data, archival information or interviews that clarifies the readings. A summary and abstract are shred on Nov. 18, with all members of the class for their responses.

Answer: “ how is biological literacy crucial to changing people’s behavior in their surroundings as their habits alter wilderness? ” Can be part of a service-learning project.


A Theme is selected before midterm (9-28) & refined after seeing me. Draft due Nov. 9.

            7 pp. typed with photos, data and summary + 1 page abstract (purpose & method)

            Examples of themes that tie Nash and McKibben to Margulis and Leopold are:

                       ecosystems have inherent limits that we may not ignore.

                        ecological thinking forms the basis of our need to reconstruct society.

                       human dignity imposes restraint on how we design ways to assist one another.

                       preserving ecological systems to nourish human needs is critically necessary.

                       interpreting how a particular place, as a case, reveals important ecological clues.


Participating    summarizing the main ideas in the readings for that day; working in the garden,

                       adopting an organization (service option) & correctly responding aloud in class.


Final     Verbally present to the class a completed research project or service opportunity –

6-7 minutes maximum. This consists of a redrafted 8-page report & a 2-page description of your purpose, technique, goals & sources. If you select the service learning option you report on the community organization, your findings and recommendations. (typed essay)


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Grades: all assignments are graded with careful attention to each of these criteria: {CLIFS}

                       1. clarity, coherence, spelling, grammar & logical consistency

                       2. length & development of your arguments, ideas, or presentations

                       3. information from the class texts, library research, or interviews

                       4. frequency of examples from the lectures, journal, notes & readings

                       5. substantial discussion of the subject & introductions, summaries, conclusions.


Late assignments are penalized (-7%), but going to the writing center & Olin Library is rewarded.


To further the writing reinforcement intent of this College, in this class, I ask you to reflect on the content of your texts, record the discussion’s main points during class and integrate knowledge by informal writing. In addition, writing formally requires that you rewrite your papers. This means that good notes, completed homework, redrafting essays several times, meeting with me for appointments and going to the Writing Center (TJs) are my expectations so that you will practice your existing skills or form new habits to help you excel in college and your careers by being effective learners and witnesses. In writing is the preservation of the mind.


You are expected to do your own work and to give proper credit to others for using their ideas. Your failure to responsibly attribute ideas, phrases and sentences of others by a note in the text -- called plagiarism-- is grounds for getting a zero on your assignment, because you have committed fraud. Trust, based on verification of sources, is the basis of academic life.

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My Intentions in this course are for you to:


Come prepared to class, having read critically and synthesized the assigned authors in order to express your ideas more clearly by carefully citing relevant pages in a variety of writing formats like letters, e-mail, formal papers, briefings, speeches, and summaries.


            Use the Internet weekly to communicate with others and me to exchange electronic writing.


Describe a place to the class verbally and interpret its significance in terms of wildlife and wild features by drawing a map and explaining the landscape features of interest to you.


Orally present to the class your questions drawn from notes in order to practice writing from the perspective of oral interpretation and hearing the significance of spoken words.


Write frequently in a variety of forms such as notes, e-mail, free writing, letters and essays to convey complex ideas in a simple, clear and direct fashion.


Rewrite formal papers for class, by using the writing center at each different stage in the composition process from invention and development to early draft and final production.


Compare and contrast writing from books with community service experience where service providers use a variety of writing media to convey scientific information.


Select a community service provider and examine its performance with respect to informing the public about wildlife matters of community concern and reflecting your readings. (Option)


Develop a term long project --for other classmates to read, review, and respond to in summary fashion-- that ties an eco-community to the central themes of the course as expressed by the authors, the teacher and your research and interviews.


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Central Themes:


An ecological vision ties organic and an inorganic existence together based on five principles and forms one means of preserving wildlife and wild areas, as biotic wealth.


Material reality is actually nested sets of interdependent relations in which humans act, are influenced by, and affect life in a never-ending circuit of reliant feedback reactions.


The Earth , then, is a partner in our endeavors and not some inanimate stage upon which we act out our desires, indulge our fantasies, or satisfy our needs.


Cyclical systems of feedback and response are a means by which changes occur in organ systems, creatures, and ecosystems over time making wilderness self-repairing.


People are responsible moral agents who nonetheless use machinery with far reaching regional & even -often- unpredictable planetary influences on wildlife and wild areas.


Education requires a community commitment to honestly convey information allowing for and encouraging a thoughtful detection of errors, adaptive responses, or fixing mistakes.


Knowledge, reason, scientific certainty and morality always inform effective action to allow people, like you, to improve their conditions and the places in the world they inhabit.



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Last Updated on 8/25/2005.

By Joseph Siry

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