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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 2, 2004

Weekend Living

Earth Day celebrated with lecture

Turner considers the organization of space

Express Staff Writer

Jack Turner stirred environmental conservationists and preservationists with his book "The Abstract Wild." The collection of radical environmental essays explores the connection wilderness has lost to actually being wild.

Appropriately, Turner will share his insight into the environment at the free Community Library Earth Day lecture on Thursday, April 8 at 7 p.m. at The Community Library in Ketchum.

"The Abstract Wild" by Jack Turner.

Turner will ignite attendees with his lecture "Radical Walking" that examines how society organizes space, which is based on his next book of essays. The philosophical approach delves into the linear structure of western wilderness, society and thought. He will further explain how learning to walk in a different way can access freedoms disappearing from our linear lives.

Turner explained the linear organization of western geography has "nothing to do with the biological reality of things that live there." Instead of organizing land according to natural boundaries, like rivers or mountains, straight lines divide land with no regard to nature. Take for example, the western states. Almost all of the western state lines are linear, Idaho being one of the few exceptions.

The linear state boundaries organize society into smaller and smaller squares. Square states, have square counties with square cities all the way down square houses. Turner commented that "there is no reason to have square houses or cities." His lecture will examine how and why the linear structure came about.

Linear organization is one of the components of what Turner calls the "formal mapping system." The formal mapping system contrasts directly with the cognitive mapping system. Instead of linear boundaries, cognitive mapping is based on personal experience.

Personal experiences include Turner’s venture to the north side of K2 without a map. During the trip he brought camel drivers to show him the way, who also did not have maps. The camel drivers guided the trek by information passed down by their grandfathers.

Treks like the K2 expedition are possible because, as Turner explained, "the way you find your way through land has nothing to do with linear space." Instead, elements like landmarks enable people to map through their own experience.

Turner noted that people are happier finding their own way because their understanding of space is "based on their own experience, not something projected onto them." This Turner believes is true of Parisians who orient themselves with the Eiffel tower.

Turner also compared the differences of skiing on Bald Mountain, with mapped runs, in contrast to skiing in the backcountry. He suggested skiers experience certain freedoms skiing in the backcountry, than on a mapped resort.

Turner further explained backcountry skiing is similar to "walking freely." Walking freely is one way to escape the rigidity of linear mapping and access certain freedoms.

As a philosopher, naturalist, Buddhist and premier Teton Mountains climbing guide, Turner combines an intriguing array of talent. Turner has taught philosophy at the University of Illinois, served on the Rhodes Scholarship Committee for Wyoming, and led more than 40 treks throughout the world. He has lived in Grand Teton National Park for the past 22 years.

Turner compliments his own experiences with the wisdom of Thoreau, Hemingway and Faulkner, which he integrates into his arguments. After speaking briefly with Turner, it is clear the depth of his approach is historical, cultural, sociological, personal and environmental, which combine for an interesting insight into the essence of Earth Day.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.