Why is it the “Best Idea?”

I recently started thinking about way back in the early weeks of class and how many documentaries have campaigned that national parks were America’s “best idea.” This really got me thinking, what are the reasons for this? Obviously there is the fact that beautiful land is no longer something reserved for only the upper class–suddenly all people with a small bit of change in their wallet can visit a national park and experience all of the grandeur that such an area expresses. But is this really all that the “best idea” entails? That we can all look at beautiful scenery and be refreshed by it?

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Telling a Story

Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855It’s amazing how landscape art can tell a story of American history, without so much as a single word being portrayed in the piece. Here we see The Lackawanna Valley, a piece made by George Inness in 1855. While the meaning may change by our view of things today, at the time this was an image of inspiration and power. America’s landscapes were being cleared, all of the trees being cut down, in order to further expand westward. We see in this image that most of the trees in the foreground have been cut down, most likely to create the railroad for the train that is seen in the mid-ground of this painting. Rather than being saddened by this destruction of forests, people of the day would have been thrilled to see this expansion.

What appears to be a farmer is resting lazily in the foreground in the newly cut pastoral field. This land may very well become farmland for the farmer. The train is at enough distance that its smell and noise do not seem to disturb the restfulness of this man, nor the painting he is resting within. In fact, the train seems to feel like it belongs there. In an odd way, this image seems to suggest a unification of man with nature, than than a destruction of nature by man. The town in the distance becomes an extension of the forest that still remains, and the train drags the town down into the clearing where no manmade structures yet stand. This odd sort of unification is what Americans felt they were achieving at the time, a oneness with their countryside.

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World’s Newest and Highest National Park

While our class normally deals with parks and landscapes within the US, let’s not forget that other countries also have designated national parks. China recently unveiled the name of their newest national park, one that sets a new record for having the highest point of any national park in the world. The park covers a total land area of 78,000 square kilometers (roughly 49,000 miles) and is Tibet’s third national park. The deputy chief of the region’s tourism bureau, Sun Yongping, says that the “national park will be focused on the protection of the ecology and biodiversity and prevention of illegal resource exploitation or land use,” essentially the same goals established by American national parks. This is the third national park in three years to have been opened in the region of China known as Tibet, a relatively autonomous region of the country. Along with the newly unveiled park, these three parks consist of Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon National Park and Namtso National Park. The three parks that have been opened in Tibet are China’s way of trying to turn Tibet into a more visitor friendly area.

Ever since 1982, China has been creating national parks in batches, for both conservation and as an attempt to attract tourism. To date, China has 208 national parks within its borders. Many of their parks are divided into zones called “scenic zones,” which often extends the boundary of the national park with areas where tourism is highly encouraged.

Back to the name of the park that China unveiled…  Continue reading

Deconstructing “Origin: Spirits of the Past”

Origin: Spirits of the Past cover

Origin: Spirits of the Past is an anime movie that came out in 2006 which, while not focusing as heavily as it could on this aspect, gives commentary on the relationship between man, machine, and wilderness. At the start of the movie, we see that humanity has been replaced as the dominant, intelligent species–its replacement? Plants. Nature has taken over after a genetic engineering experiment gone wrong. The trees gain consciousness, after which they wipe out human civilization. The future is hard-pressed, and the water supply for humanity is controlled by the forest life.

Origin: Spirits of the Past

Two branch off groups of humans exist in the world, with two cities–the pacifistic Neutral City, and the militaristic state of Ragna. Neutral City exists solely of people that attempt to gain the forest as an ally, increasing the water supply and establishing peace with the forces of nature. These people exist in a state that can be considered “one” with the wilderness. Certain people within the city even undergo a process where they essentially walk into the forest, talk with its sentient plantlife, and become “enhanced;” meaning they gain powers from the forest in exchange for a part of their humanity. They are wild and untamed compared to the Ragna, who exist to overthrow (or even destroy) nature, and exist as far away from it as possible (the city is located in the desert and made mostly of metal). Ragna focuses on the manufacturing of synthetic components, industrial machinery, and weaponry.

Without getting too indepth, the story reaches a point where the mechanical- and the natural-aligned humans must war for the future of humanity. Should they return to their mechanically-oriented life of the past, or continue on the road of coalescence with nature?

An Intermingling of Man and Nature in Artwork by Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens created the piece Landscape with the Château Steen in 1636 with oil on a canvas. He was well known for his creation of landscape art during the Baroque period. However I feel that, in particular, this piece has an odd sort of “intermingling” about it.

Landscape with the Château Steen

A highly detailed version can be found here

In this work, we can see that the area that Paul Rubens is painting–a land outside of Antwerp, Belgium–is mostly unpopulated. The only place that easily gives rise to the idea of humanity is the left side of the piece, where many members of the human race can be found working or riding along a road that leads to the Château de Steen, a manor that Peter Paul Rubens himself bought in order to rest and relax. The estate was large, covering what seems to be a large portion of what Rubens has painted above.

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Danger: National Park Ahead

National parks are beautiful places that enjoy much attention over the years, but they have a wild (yes, wild) side that comes back to bite at humanity once every so often. People tend to forget that while these parks are maintained by park services, they are still quite untamed–and quite dangerous. Nine confirmed cases of a disease known as the hantavirus–known fully and scientifically as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome–have recently been linked to Yosemite National Park. These individuals, just nine out of the 230,000 guests to have visited Yosemite,  had stayed one or more nights at the park since June of this year and become infected. It wouldn’t be that bad if the disease wasn’t so deadly–3 of the 9 died, while the remaining six fully recovered.

Yosemite National Park

According to CBS News, one survivor stated that she was disappointed in the park service’s lack of response, calling it a “seemingly lack of concern for public welfare.”  Continue reading