Out of the Wild: A Conversation between William Cronon and Michael Pollan

From Orion Magazine:

What is wild? What is cultivated? And what can these ideas teach us about our relationship to landscape? Questions like these have been a lifelong passion for William Cronon and Michael Pollan, both of whom have written deeply on the blurry boundary between nature and culture. Michael’s first book on the subject was Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education; he has gone on to write about food in all its forms in books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the recent Cooked. Bill’s exploration of the wild and the cultivated has emerged from a historical perspective; his first book, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, traced the history of human alteration to landscape and pioneered an argument against the idea of pristine wilderness. Recognizing the interplay between their ideas, Orion asked Bill and Michael if they would have a conversation that could be shared with Orion’s readers. They met in Berkeley, California, where they talked about ecology and storytelling, nature and artifice, and the promise and challenge of finding meaning in the natural world.


Bill: The chapter “Nature Abhors a Garden” in Second Nature is still one of the best things anybody’s ever written on the boundary between wild and cultivated. Part of what’s brilliant about that piece, I think, is your deployment of humor. What is it about humor that you find so compelling in terms of writing about nature

Michael:“Nature Abhors a Garden” is a comic piece about my war with a woodchuck, and there’s a lot of Bill Murray from Caddyshack in there. There’s a point in the essay at which I describe pouring gasoline down a woodchuck burrow and lighting it on fire, and when I tell that story, especially to young people today, they’re amazed and often upset with me—there’s an assumption that an environmentalist would never do something like that. But working out that conflict between the cultural baggage that we carry into nature and the practical necessity of getting ourselves something to eat—I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of many of the issues we face.

More here.