RANCH. Controlled burn. Results. Jane’s version. Tuesday? October 2, 1962

The superintendent announced on my arrival that we must have a look at the controlled burn.

He was proud of its success, and I must acknowledge it.

Because of the burn, he said, the range would carry twice as many cattle! My reaction, kept to myself of course, was less practical. Tampering with ten thousand acres of beautiful canyons, acres and acres covered with ceanothus that would otherwise be ridge-to-ridge deep blue in spring, seemed to be an insult, a degradation.

I could not tell him that.

And yet it was well known that the Indians had burned their land to increase feed for game.  A sneaky thought surfaced: Such a desecration just might relieve my of my nostalgia for the place.

The burn had raked across more than ten miles of coastline. It had rubbed out the telling details that gave the land its character. The country had become anonymous, a land that could belong to anyone or everyone. The coastal substrata, nevertheless, showed up clearer than before. but somehow the arbitarary movements of the controlled burn had eliminated what originally had been oppposing and balanced. A wildfire would have kept to its own natural laws of destruction. The prevailing wind would have driven it steadily in a certain dirction, letting it die out in interesting places and skip over others.

This controlled, scientifically managed, calculated burn had swept the country clean. Whenever the guided fire had been reluctant to do its job, it had been relit, sometimes a nuber of times. When it had wanted to run wild it had been arbitrarily, rationally controlled by backfires. At dangerous points, firebreaks had been buldozed. I felt as though a fine charcoal drawing, laid out before me, had not been given time for the fixing fluid to set before some giant hand had deliberately smudged it.


Preservation, they say, is a femail concern–a female weakness.

Wheelwright,  Jane Hollister and Lynda Wheelwright Schmidt. The Long Shore: A Psychological


Experience of Wilderness. San Francisco: Sierra  Club Books