PREMONITIONS AND ADMONITIONS
ENCOUNTERS WITH THINGS TO COME
Hawaii volcano scene
Narrative of a Tour Through Hawaii
by William Ellis (London: H. Fishyer, 1828)
IN THIS final section, the readings all communicate the future, though in
different ways. The prescient quality of George Catlin's vision, uncanny in retrospect,
was more the result of a painterly flight of fancy than a reasoned working-out of the
national park idea; for that, we have Frederick Law Olmsted to thank. Paternalistic as it
was, the Lowell industrial plan, described here by Charles Dickens, heralded some of the
advances which blue-collar women have only recently begun to make in the American
workplace. The essays by Bayard Taylor and Mark Twain, who were ostensibly writing
in description of striking geological features, are really mood-pieces that catch an
otherworldliness in which all modes of time-past, present, and future - merge.
Much of this anthology has imputed a timelessness to the national parks. We have
had them for well over a century now; as they have aged, they have acquired a beguiling
bouquet of inevitability. Yet if it is true, as it seems to be, that humankind's capacity for
spoliation grows a little bigger each day, then is the continued existence of the parks to be
taken for granted?
There is a lot of talk, in connection with the national parks, about "future generations."
Some of this is vacant breath, boilerplate, the clattering of bureaucrats. Some, though, is
spoken in earnest, and those who speak it are necessarily candid about the unsecured-the
never-to be-secured-future of the parks. The pieces by James Bryce and Wallace Stegner
are marked by this candor, and prefigure the admonitory themes which have dominated
national park writing since the 1960s.
A NATION'S PARK