Non-fiction review: Satellites in the High Country
Title: Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man
Author: Jason Mark
Publisher: Island Press, 2015. 320 p.
In Satellites in the High Country, journalist and adventurer Jason Mark travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. In California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a battle over oyster farming and designated wilderness pits former allies against one another, as locals wonder whether wilderness should be untouched, farmed, or something in between. In Washington's Cascade Mountains, a modern-day wild woman and her students learn to tan hides and start fires without matches, attempting to connect with a primal past out of reach for the rest of society. And in Colorado's High Country, dark skies and clear air reveal a breathtaking expanse of stars, flawed only by the arc of a satellite passing—beauty interrupted by the traffic of a million conversations. These expeditions to the edges of civilization's grid show us that, although our notions of pristine nature may be shattering, the mystery of the wild still exists — and in fact, it is more crucial than ever.
But wildness is wily as a coyote: you have to be willing to track it to understand the least thing about it. Satellites in the High Country is an epic journey on the trail of the wild, a poetic and incisive exploration of its meaning and enduring power in our Human Age.
Since this book addresses some issues near and dear to my heart (the preservation of wilderness and the pursuit of wild places), I really wanted to like it. And when the author recounts his adventures and wilderness travels, I was pulled along and enjoyed the trip. But in the end, I was disappointed, despite a number of thought-provoking moments along the way.
I think the problem may be that the author is trying to take in too much, or possibly looking too hard for the right situations to back up his argument. It's a bit hard to be sure about that, because in the end, I am not sure what his argument is. He seems to be claiming both that we are seeing (or have seen) the end of wildness/wilderness, and that we have an on-going need for it and must preserve it. Maybe those aren't contradictory arguments, and maybe I was unsatisfied because I prefer to imagine that we can have a real wilderness still, even though I know that my own ventures into "the wild" are heavily mediated by gear and infrastructure.
I'm not sure, but there's a good chance that, reading my last sentence, the author would be satisfied.
This is a book that would probably bear discussion, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a way into the question of the wild/wilderness and it's future. In fact, for all their romantic inconsistencies, I would recommend beginning where I (and the author) did: with classics like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Colin Fletcher. One thing is clear: the author did make the effort to put himself out there where he could experience what wildness he could find in the US, and I don't think he'd say that it's dead, however much we must (realistically) manage it.
Full Disclosure: My husband purchased Satellites in the High Country, and neither of us received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."