Cheryl Molnar, “Headquarters” (2015), Mixed Media on Wood Panel, 30×40 inches, Courtesy of the artist
In 1846, when he was 29, Henry David Thoreau tried to climb to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Living in Massachusetts, where the virgin forest was long since cut down, Thoreau had never seen true wilderness, and the sheer power of the wild Maine woods sent him into an ecstasy of spiritual overload.
“This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night,” he proclaimed, rejoicing in the “rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact!”
Lost in fog at Katahdin’s upper altitudes and defeated by the rugged mountain, Thoreau never did reach the summit. But his words have lived on in the deepest parts of the American mind, shaping this country’s conscience toward nature. Last year, President Obama designated 87,563 acres of the land that so moved Thoreau as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument — a win for the solid earth, the actual world.
In a few weeks, Thoreau will turn 200, giving the nation a cause for celebrating. But just in time for the bicentennial, the Trump administration is considering stripping Katahdin Woods and Waters of its new designation.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Katahdin this week as part of a systematic review of more than two dozen national monuments being considered for delisting. He’s acting under the executive order of President Trump, who has called the creation of the monuments “abuses.” The president has set his developer’s eye on public property, promising to “free it up” and threatening that “tremendously positive things are going to happen on that incredible land.”
Other targets for possible delisting include Basin and Range in Nevada, Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Giant Sequoia in California. A few of those locations might arguably have some economic potential beyond their incalculable worth as tourist destinations. The oil and gas industries have begun circling around the culturally significant Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, for example, with hopes of fracking it. Many of the monuments also serve as battlefields in the longstanding ideological war between federal power and states’ rights.