By John Agnew, Jonathan M. Smith

First released in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.

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If we wish to understand the manner in which Americans have imagined this primal nature, we must therefore advance not by way of scientific analysis, but by way of symbol and myth, by examination of what Schama describes as “poetic forms by which such mysteries [are] intricately symbolized” (Schama 1995: 257). 2 Symbolic landscapes. A symbolic landscape is commonly supposed to condense and clarify a meaning that is elsewhere found in a diffuse and ambiguous form. A natural wonder such as the Grand Canyon affords the viewer a number of strong sensations that can be transformed, through interpretation, into an idea of nature.

At the gates of the forest, [he wrote] the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his cit y estimates of great and small, wise and 34 Environmental ideals and realities foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he takes into these precincts. This did not mean that one should necessarily “camp out and eat roots,” for we are “men instead of woodchucks,” but that we should discern in the objects of nature “a present sanit y to expose and cure the insanit y of men” (Emerson 1940: 406, 414, 420).

Berry is only partly correct. There are certainly many aspects of local environments in America that a swelling majorit y of the residents no longer care about, or even understand – periodic drought is an example from my own region – but there are at the same time other aspects about which they have come to care even more deeply. All people continue to depend on the local or regional environment for things like air and water (although for many this is ceasing to be the case with drinking water), which is why air and water qualit y have become for many people virtually synonymous with environmental qualit y.

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