“Everywhere, from every slope, the Cascades cascade.  Water shoots out of cracks in the rock, it falls over the edges of cliffs, it foams, sprays, runs and plunges pure and cold. Enough snow and rain fall up there to irrigate Libya, and when water is not actually falling from the sky the sun is melting it from alpine ice.”

“In the past, in the High Sierra, he [David Brower, conservationist] had on occasion rubbed penny-royal-mint leaves over the embossed letters in the bottom of his cup and added snow and whiskey for a kind of high-altitude julep…”

[Charles F. Park, Jr., geologist, mineral engineer] “I am not a member of the Sierra Club,” he went on.  “I don’t approve of their policy.  To me, they are preservationists, not conservationists.  You can’t avoid change.  You can direct it, but you can’t avoid it.  I like Serra Club books, though.”

“A cold stream offers a kind of retread.  The pain goes away for a while afterward, and miles can be added to a day.”

“The beauty of the mountain across the valley was cool and absolute, but the beauty of the stone in Park’s hand was warm and subjective.  It affected us all.  Human appetites, desires, ambitions, greeds, and profound aesthetic and acquisitional instincts were concentrated between the stone and our eyes.”

“Above Park’s desk at Stanford was a picture of a jackass, with the caption “Can I help?  Or do you want to make your own mistakes?”

“We’re not so poor that we have to spend our wilderness or so rich that we can afford to.” [Newton Drury quoted by Dave Brower]

“Land was a form of religion to the Indians, and the Black Hills, in this sense, were the religion of the Sioux…With the white man and his sense of property and the rights of property came the inequities and paradoxes that eventually led to the need for a conservation movement…There are no Sioux in the Sierra Club.”

[Dave Brower] “But I go further.  I believe in wilderness for itself alone.  I believe in the rights of creatures other than man.  And I suppose I accept Nancy Newhall’s definition: ‘Conservation is humanity caring for the future.’  It is the antithesis of ‘Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

[Dave Brower] “Why grow to the point of repugnance?  Aren’t we repugnant enough already?…When one country gets more than its share, it builds tensions.  War is waged over resources.  Expansion will destroy us.  We need an economics of peaceful stability.”

“Brower is a visionary.  He wants – literally – to save the world.  He has been an emotionalist in an age of dangerous reason…His field, being the relationship of everything to everything else and how it is not working, is so comprehensive that no one can comprehend it.  Hence the need for a religion and for a visionary to lead it.”

“Brower was reverent toward the young.  His faith had told him that the young would do better with the earth.  He did not associate lumber companies, motor companies, chemical companies, or mining companies with youth.  He admired Young Turks while he attacked Old Philistines.”

“Her [Anne Hus’s] father was a man who failed at so many jobs that he said he should go into undertaking in order to prolong human life.”

[Charles] Fraser (real estate developer), ebullient, was finding Brower so docile that he wouldn’t even call him a druid, and in a sense Fraser was right, for the rote behavior of an ordinary member of the priesthood should be simple to predict.  This, however, was – as Fraser apparently did not grasp – no ordinary member of the priesthood.  This was the inscrutable lord of the forest, the sacramentarian of ecologia americana, the Archdruid himself.  Fraser’s difficulties with druids were anything but over.”

[Brower to Fraser] “Save it!  Save the greenery!  I can make noise, but you can make deeds,”  Brower said.  “Save the marsh!  Grasses are one of the nicest ways the green thing works.  The green giant is chlorophyll, really.  When I come back in another life, I am going to spend my whole life in grasses.  I’m addicted to the entire planet.  I don’t want to leave it.  I want to get down into it.  I want to say hello.  On the beach, I could have stopped all day long and looked at those damned shells, looked for all the messages that come not in bottles but in shells.”

“It was, to the eye, a wide expansive landscape with beguiling patterns of perspective.  Its unending buttes, flat or nippled, were spaced out to the horizons like stone chessmen. Deer and antelope moved among them in herds, and on certain hill tops cairns marked the graves of men who had hunted buffalo.”

“The conservation movement is a mystical and religious force, and possibly the reaction to dams is so violent because rivers are the ultimate metaphors of existence, and dams destroy rivers.  Humiliating nature, a dam is evil – placed and solid.”

“Cans of beer are known as sandwiches in this red, dry, wilderness world.  No one questions this, or asks the reason.  They just call out “Sandwich, please!” and a can of Coors comes flying through the air. ”

“Force of suggestion creates a false expectation.  The mere appearance of the river going over those boulders – the smoky spray, the scissoring waves – is enough to imply a rush to fatality, and this endorses the word used to describe it…Running the rapids in the Colorado is a series of brief experiences, because the rapids themselves are short…The projector of our own existence slows way down, and you dive as in a dream, and gradually rise, and fall again…Tents of water form overhead, to break apart in rags. Elapsed stopwatch time has no meaning at all.”

“The beer was in a big container full of ice.  The ice had been made from water of the reservoir – reclaimed pellets of the Colorado.  The container held dozens of cans of beer and soft drinks, enough for ten men anywhere else, but even on  the lake the air was as dry as paper and the sun was a desert sun, and we held those cans in the air like plasma, one after another, all day long.”

“A cloud – a phenomenon in this sky – covers the sun.  We are shivering.  The temperature plunges if the sun is obscured.  The oven is off.  Clothes do not quickly dry.  Fortunately, the cloud seems to be alone up there.”

“The summit is the anticlimax,” he [David Brower] says, “The way up is the thing. There is a moment when you know you have the mountain by the tail.  You figure out how the various elements go together.  You thread the route in your mind’s eye, after hunting and selecting, and hitting dead ends.  Finally, God is good enough.  He built the mountain right, after all.  A pleasant surprise. If you don’t make it and have to go back, you play it over and over again in your mind.  Maybe this would work, or that.  Several months, a year, or two years later, you do it again.”

[Dave Brower] “Lake Powell is a drag strip for power boats.  It’s for people who won’t do things except the easy way.  The magic of Glen Canyon is dead.  It has been vulgarized. Putting water in the Cathedral in the Desert was like urinating in the crypt of St. Peter’s. I hope it never happens here.”
[Floyd Dominy, Commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation] “Look, Dave.  I don’t live in a God-damned apartment.  I didn’t grow up in a God-damned city.  Don’t give me the crap that you’re the only man that understands these things.  I’m a greater conservationist than you are, by far.  I do things.  I make things available to man.  Unregulated, the Colorado River wouldn’t be worth a good God damn to anybody…”


copyright: 1971 John McPhee

author bio:  http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/john-mcphee

photo(partial): Nancy Crampton/Associated Press