The View from the Top of the World


Boise City Department of Arts & History presents Dr. Sara Dant, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor and Chair of History at Weber State University.  Hear Dr. Dant speak on the environment by registering for the April 7 event at BoiseArtsAndHistory.org.  She will be the keynote speaker May 24 at the Andrus Center Conference highlighting 50 years of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Information: BoiseState.edu/sps-andruscenter/ 

I am sprawled on the spongy tundra at the end of the “day,” watching as the summer solstice sun completes an undulating orbit through the sky. Here, well above the Arctic Circle, the long, languid days offer a tantalizing glimpse of the wealth of nature that was once America. My husband Dan and I have joined thousands of Porcupine caribou migrating north out of the Brooks Range. Their route (and ours) follows the Hulahula River to the Beaufort Sea in an ancient circuit to calve their young. It is impossible not to be gobsmacked by the experience. I am simultaneously struck by the aching beauty of this wild landscape and by a deep foreboding for the future of this superlative Last Frontier. 

The Arctic is not really the “top” of the world, of course, but the idea provides a useful concept for surveying the continent’s deep history. For many, the American West has long been synonymous with hope and renewal. Understanding how our unique landscape has shaped and been shaped by the diverse people who have called it “home” is the best way, ultimately, to arrive at a land ethic that allows for development and preservation. At once delicately fragile and remarkably resilient, the arid West has been vulnerable to environmental damage. The scars of centuries of exploitation here can’t hide under luxurious eastern green camouflage. Deserts, it turns out, were not meant to bloom. But the West abides. Indeed, as writer Wallace Stegner reminds us, “This is the native home of hope.” Losing Eden is my act of hope that we might yet learn the environmental lessons of the past and my valentine to the West that I love.

The author of several prize-winning articles, a precedent-setting Expert Witness Report and Testimony on Stream Navigability upheld by the Utah Supreme Court, and co-author of the Encyclopedia of American National Parks, Dr. Dant is also an advisor and interviewee for Ken Burns' forthcoming documentary film The American Buffalo.  She is currently working on the second edition of her book Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West (Wiley, 2017)

Related Businesses

Related Articles