Spectacular video of Yellowstone

Time for a little weekend trip.  This 25-minute high-definition video will acquaint viewers with the world’s first national park like nothing else can — except going there.

If it doesn’t make you want to visit Yellowstone, there’s probably not much that will.

I’ll be back to serious writing in a day or two.  Thanks to the folks at “The World From Above” for making these videos available!

“About the greatest song ever written about America”

Greatest guitar slogan ever. Click to hear a version lacking the verse on hunger.

When most of our everyday words — lectures, readings, the stuff on meeting agendas — fail to move us, it may be song lyrics that bring us most quickly back to understanding the magical power words possess.  There’s probably no better song to sum up what “Words Are Roads: Yellowstone” is all about than Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

It may be, as the Boss himself has said, “about the greatest song ever written about America.”  Springsteen, in this moving 1985 tribute to the song, knew the simple and elegant lyrics transport us to the plains and seashores and mountains, but also that they address some of the contradictions that keep us from enjoying what should belong, by all rights, to everybody.

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Happy birthday, John Muir!

Muir study desk from Atlantic Monthly

John Muir’s study desk. Click for larger view and see link near end of post for Atlantic Monthly article on the desk and other Muir inventions.

Earth Day, April 22, follows by one day the birthday of John Muir, a great former Wisconsinite and one of my personal heroes.  A founder of the Sierra Club and one of the most influential nature writers in history, Muir is deeply tied to our state in many ways.

We’re reminded of this when we take in the visitor center at Schmeeckle Reserve or ramble around the Bascom Hill Historic District at UW-Madison (as my colleague Tim Halkowski did recently, posting a photo of a Muir marker — one of several Facebook posts he’s devoted to Muir over the past week). Here’s a little more about Muir’s ties to our state.

Muir, of course, loved to wander, so he’s a perfect figure to study during the “Words Are Roads: Yellowstone” tour this summer.  It’s hard not to be impressed with a guy who can walk from Indiana to Florida in a bit more than a month (thanks for that link too, Tim); the backstory to this walk is even more improbable than the walk itself.

It’s too easy to fill space writing about the Muir’s accomplishments, but I’ll leave that to others on his birthday. I  do hope all of my students this summer, if they aren’t already familiar with Muir, will be able to share my fascination with the man and his work.

For all students everywhere, however, it’s usually fun to consider what’s behind a guy who can invent both a book-opening study desk and a combination alarm clock and tilting bed.   Muir was definitely one creative Badger.

(edit: Muir’s birthday is not April 22 as I originally wrote.  My apologies for the error.)

Greenville, Wisconsin: Trail Town Seeks to Honor Heritage of Its Open Land

Julius Drive (red line) marks where the Yellowstone Trail passes through the heart of open land in the Greenville area that has been giving way to urban encroachment.

Julius Drive (red line) marks where the Yellowstone Trail passes through the heart of open land — slowly giving way to urban encroachment in Greenville. Click to enlarge Google Earth image.

One of the many great stories along the Yellowstone Trail in Wisconsin is the effort in the Town of Greenville to hang onto the area’s agricultural heritage and its natural lands, with the trail playing a potentially useful part.

John Julius, whose family name graces part of the original Yellowstone Trail — Julius Drive, south and west of the main portion of town — has been among many local residents who have helped put together the Greenville Greenbelt agricultural enterprise area, or AEA. The state-designated area is intended to help eligible landowners  enter into voluntary farmland preservation agreements and collect farmland preservation tax credits.

Julius, who recently took a few minutes off from getting his oat crop planted to discuss the AEA and its relationship to the Yellowstone Trail, has a deep commitment to preserving open space where he grew up, just west of Appleton’s Outagamie County Airport. Julius has the ability to stand at any high point in the county and point out every major landmark and landowner in every direction, with endless stories related to both the people and places.

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Ed Abbey and his Facebook Voice in the Wilderness

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk.  From Eric Temple's Facebook page (see post).

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk. From Eric Temple’s Facebook page (see post).

There’s no telling what Ed Abbey would think of a Facebook page in his name, but I was surprised and pleased tonight to run across a wonderful site in his honor, put together by filmmaker Eric Temple, creator of the documentary “Edward Abbey: Voice in the Wilderness.”

(Bonus coincidence: Temple’s web site has a highway sign in its masthead, so how could I not post a link to it?)

When we’re traveling down the Yellowstone Trail in 2016, it’s going to be a real pleasure to discuss Abbey’s “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks,” a rant about roads in national parks, among other things.  It will also, of course, do the thing that good reading often does: provoke squeamishishness about the very actions we’re participating in.

To the extent that we are merely employees and dependents, we are helots or slaves ruled by an oligarchy of techno-military-industrial administrators. Never before in history have slaves been so well fed, well medicated and lavishly entertained, but we are slaves nevertheless. Our popular culture — television, rock music, home video, processed food, mechanical recreation, plastic architecture — is a culture of slaves.   Edward Abbey (link on picture)

Abbey was a caustic critic of exploitation of the natural world, but his polemic also recognized the difficulties and contradictions inherent in simply getting to and trying to enjoy that world.  We will, after all, need to burn fossil fuels to get where we’re going and back in two weeks, which is just the start of all the actions we should probably examine more critically.

The industrial tourism piece, in the classic memoir Desert Solitaire, will be a great way to remind students of the Words Are Roads Party of our big class question: how do we reconcile our desire to protect and enjoy nature with our need for economic development?

In the meantime, I have linked above and included a few words from a recorded address Abbey gave on democracy. I don’t agree with all of his ideas, as many people won’t, but there’s lots worth considering.  His thoughts seem particularly relevant at this time, when many on our home campus are considering our roles in a political economy that seems bent on controlling education in terribly destructive ways. If we could just find ol’ Cactus Ed’s grave, we might see him rolling over in it.