Wednesday, July 4

stay on the pavement

the other weekend we drove across the border to Carlsbad, New Mexico. there's a national park there, with miles and miles of underground caverns. we hiked down into the cool dark and spent the afternoon wandering about. .
these are all very crummy cell phone pictures. for way more awesome-looking ones than mine, go browse around flickr or the national park service website.
like most national parks, this place has all sorts of rules and regulations about not touching things and not disturbing the natural habitat of whatever creatures hang out in this desert. while we toured through all these pristine caves, setting foot only on the paved walkways, leaning only on the chill metal railings, I thought quite a bit about the restrictions demanded by the preservationist agenda. there's a significant trade-off there, and one we don't often question too much. most of the time the trade-off is clearly worth it. but still.
in my History of the Book class last semester, friend Emily (look, she has a rather fabulously-written blog! its archives inspire me. seriously.) gave a presentation about archival work and library preservation schemes. she asked some tricky questions about how the efforts we make to preserve rare books actually make them harder to use as they were meant to be used. a book in a temperature-controlled glass case isn't so convenient to read.
but is use always antithetical to preservation? maybe there's a balance somewhere. they still let us walk around in those caves, after all. and sometimes they take the rare books out of their glass cases to be properly looked at.

one of our forthcoming titles at the press next season is a little memoir about a woman who lives in the Carmen mountains of Mexico, adjacent to the same Chihuahuan Desert that hides the caverns in Carlsbad. she writes about living and working and appreciating the ecosystems of that unique wilderness, understanding how the delicate chains of life have been abused in the past, and finding ways to repair and rebuild without upsetting the natural way of things too terribly. her respect and optimism regarding those mountains is almost crazy. I guess when people care enough, it's easier to find the balance between pillaging the land for whatever selfish ends you might be carrying around in your head and fencing it off never to be seen or touched by humanity at all. I feel like there is more to be said about this... but for now I'll just end with a sort-of-related thought and a not-related-at-all link:

on the radio just now, they were discussing the eradication of polio. so I wondered. why all the pressure to preserve endangered tigers and bears and wolves, but no one clamoring to preserve the polio virus? maybe a sample is frozen somewhere in a lab, just for posterity's sake. maybe not. either way, it's an interesting double-standard, you might say.

and totally unrelated: this is a very subjective guide to the greatest kid books of all time, by the people who run Dinner: A Love Story.  it's free. it's delightfully enthusiastic about the reading experiences of children. I love that.

3 comments:

Chris said...

Pretty sure polio horribly killed more humans than tigers or bears or wolves ever did. Tigers and bears and wolves can live by nature without killing humans. I think if their relationship to humans was anything like polio's, they would be held to the same standard.

Chris said...

Unless they had cute faces.

amelia c said...

yeah, okay...
I guess you can't safely keep viruses in zoos or anything, either. (and that, sort of oddly, reminds me of this.