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Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture and Story by Gary Paul Nabhan

1997; 338 pp. $25. Counterpoint Press.

Our most vertically integrated naturalist, Gary Nabhan, has given us his best book yet. This Lebanese-American apparently was "marked" for life growing up in industrial Gary, Indiana with nature treks to the Indiana dunes. His mind must have been whip-sawing back and forth yielding an uncommon dendritic growth. In essay after essay this reasoned voice details a complex story of our oldest subject, the human/environment interaction.

Cultures of Habitat sets up and explores the problem: Is it the humans in the wild or how humans are in the wild that should be our worry? On a visit to a landscape described by Saint Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac, Gary describes the Rio Gaviln watershed, noting Leopold's characterization of the place as "a picture of ecological health" where, not incidentally, the watercourses draining into the Gaviln were all punctuated with check dams, placed there by prehistoric Native Americans.

Here's Nabhan: "But there is a nuance missed by most of Leopold's philosophical disciples over the four decades since the Sand County and Round River essays did much to forge the developing ethics of the so-called environmental movement. Like other montane ecosystems which collectively cover one-fifth of the world's land, the Sierra had not only been heavily peopled at one time but their inhabitants had also managed them in a way that did not deplete their diversity...The obvious human manipulations of the watershed did not keep Leopold from calling it 'unspoiled.'... This entire notion remains a contradiction in terms for most wilderness advocates today, who cannot imagine any appropriate cultural presence in the wild."

These essays of course do more than discuss this contradiction, but that alone is worth the price.


ISBN: 1887178961

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