Singing Stones : A Naturalist in the Escalante Canyons
Natural history--primarily descriptive and comparative, and based on direct observation--represents a comprehensive approach to understanding nature, including humans. In the wake of the Scientific Revolution, natural history diverged into two separate streams: scientific and literary. the former tended to become overly dry and analytical under the influence of post-Newtonian mechanistic science, while the latter often became so reflective that it lacked scientific merit. This study attempts to revitalize natural history by re-braiding its scientific and literary components. to do so, it focuses on a specific landscape--the Escalante River canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah. the study demonstrates an interdisciplinary approach to developing a sense of place, and illuminates the relationship between humans and nature. Although unique enough that people come from all over the world to visit, the Escalante (heart of the nation's newest and largest national monument)--with its grand scale, wildness, changing human values, and management conflicts--is representative of much of western North America. the study's introductory chapter traces the lineage of Western natural history, and calls for a renewal of interdisciplinary approaches. Five subsequent chapters demonstrate this method by undertaking a representative treatment of the Escalante canyons, alternating between discussion of large-scale historical and geographic patterns, and specific examples. Interweaving exposition and personal narrative, chapters focus on: (1) the physical landscape, including geologic history and geomorphology; (2) natural history of representative species of plants and animals that live here, in the context of their ecological interactions; (3) the procession of human cultures, from prehistoric hunter-gatherers to Mormon settlers, that have lived in and passed through this region; (4) the history of public policy, much of it national in scope, that elevated a single human value of this land--livestock grazing--above all others for the past 120 years; and (5) the recent trend toward recreation and tourism replacing ranching as the primary human use of the region. In short, this work provides an in-depth guide to understanding the Escalante canyons, and a model for an integrated understanding of any landscape.