“For many Americans wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth. It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness” (Cronon, 1995, p. 1).
But, about 250 years prior to this notion most were not looking for what we now consider “the wilderness experience” (Cronon, 1995, p.1). Wilderness, by the 18th century definition was essentially “barren,” “waste,” or just “deserted” (Cronon, 1995, p.1). Moving on to the early-mid 1900s, Marafiote (2008) suggests that American citizens believing in the American Dream changed the term drastically. Citizens began making the move for consumerism and cultural progress after significant technological advances in instigated by World War II (Marafiote, 2008). Thus, post-war not only increased America’s economic prosperity but also created more and more leisure time for middle and upper class citizens (Marafiote, 2008). As a result, Americans created excursions for vacations where one could go back into the wilderness “to get away from it all.”
Today, the clash between wilderness and technological advancements are stronger than ever before. I am even beginning to feel the tug… As of late, I use the internet for everything from groceries to communicating with family, watch television for at least a few hours a day and use my cell phone more frequently than not. But, every once in a while I miss my life before internet, television (and not to be forgotten- the invention of the cell phone). I missed the days of being a carefree teenager who could walk to Lake Washington from home and sit for hours. No noise. No people. Just silence.
Lake Washington and the staircase three blocks from my childhood home.
In protest, I decided to go sans technology and “into the wilderness” for two hours. So my fiancé, Jeff, and I took a 30 minute drive out to Snoqualmie Falls- a place I had never explored. Nonetheless, there I was on a Saturday morning in a parking lot full of cars from Canada. I noted the waterfall in the background and the Salish Lodge, which was conveniently within walking distance and almost on top of the waterfall itself. Just as Cronon (2008) states, there are various pockets of American now considered “wild beauty”- and this seems to be one of them. Walking in the opposite direction of the crowds, Jeff and I ended up finding a quiet spot underneath a tree to sit. Looking in the distance, it became obvious that not only as humans do we like to control nature (i.e. cutting down trees to build a lodge and modern amenities), but that nature can also be super profitable (i.e. putting your lodge right next to a huge waterfall).
After about 30 minutes of silence, a child screeches in the background. My peace of mind and the silence was over. And I will not lie, the first few minutes was not the most peaceful nor was it entirely horrible either. The rest of the hour and a half Jeff and I made small talk without a cell phone interruption- something we hadn’t done in a while. When the technology protest was over we enjoyed the view of the falls together. However, I was also sad to find out that the trail to the bottom of the waterfall was closed due to “redevelopment” and new “enhancements” to come in 2013. Have we come to a point in history where wilderness alone is considered primitive in comparison to human constructions? Until this day, I still don’t have clue as to what these “enhancements” truly pertain. Maybe the state decided the falls needed a picnic area at the bottom. Or as Marafiote (2008) shares, in the dualism between wilderness and technology, the civilized look towards progress while primitivity is seen as the untainted.
“No one spends twenty-four hours a day watching television…And almost no one spends much time alone outdoors—the hermit tradition,” (McKibben, 1993, p. 10).
What I did find out was that Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has been using the falls for a renewable energy source since the late 1890s with the start of the Puget Sound Energy’s Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project (PSE, 2011). According to the PSE website, Snoqualmie Falls is the home to one of the oldest hydropower facilities and the first company in the world to have “a hydroelectric plant built completely underground (PSE, 2011).” As of today, PSE customers continue to receive a renewable energy source between two powerhouses generating around 44 megawatts of electricity (2011). Thus making Snoqualmie Falls the perfect blend of modern technology and wilderness.
Overall, it seems I have found the in-between. Those who come to the Salish Lodge want the best of most worlds- modern amenities so close to the wilderness, as defined by Cronon (1995). Yet, according to McKibben, the transition from natural sources to technological ones is almost complete (1993, p.10). So while the wilderness technology dualism mixed with cultural constructions of nature seemed to have shaped many thoughts and for the most part have denied any middle ground. However, the middle ground is where we live-“all of us, in our different places and ways—mak[ing] our homes” (Cronon, 1995). I have a feeling that Cronon is on to something. Snoqualmie has shown me that there can be balance but only if you care to look for it.
Cronon, W. (1995). The trouble with wilderness; or, getting back to the wrong nature. In W. Cronon (Ed.), Uncommon ground: Rethinking the human place in nature (pp.69-90). New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Retrived from http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness_Main.html
Marafiote, T. (2008). The American Dream: Technology, tourism, and the transformation of wilderness. environmental communication, 2(2), 154-172. doi:10.1080/17524030802141737
McKibben, B. (1993). Daybreak. In The Age of Missing Information (pp.8-36). New York, New York: The Penguin Group.
Puget Sound Energy (2011). Visit Snoqualmie Falls. Retrieved from http://www.pse.com/aboutpse/ToursandRecreation/Pages/Snoqualmie-Tours.aspx on July 31, 2011.
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