The new environmental health problems are multiple—created by radiation in all its forms, born of the never-ending stream of chemicals of which pesticides are a part, chemicals now pervading the world in which we live, acting upon us directly and indirectly, separately and collectively. Their presence casts a shadow that is no less ominous because it is formless and obscure, no less frightening because it is simply impossible to predict the effects of lifetime exposure to chemical and physical agents that are not part of the biological experience of man. ‘We all live under the haunting fear that something may corrupt the environment to the point where man joins the dinosaurs as an obsolete form of life,’ says Dr. David Price of the United States Public Health Service. ‘And what makes these thoughts all the more disturbing is the knowledge that our fate could pe rhaps be sealed twenty or more years before the development of symptoms.’ Where do pesticides fit into the picture of environmental disease? We have seen that they now contaminate soil, water, and food, that they have the power to make our streams fishless and our gardens and woodlands silent and birdless. Man, however much he may like to pretend the contrary, is part of nature. Can he escape a pollution that is now so thoroughly distributed throughout our world?
Ugly roads are often taken to be a price of civilization, like sewers or police. The boring, chaotic, disoriented landscape, which seems to be the natural habitat for theAmerican automobile, is tolerated with resignation by the highway user. Even those who are alarmed by the ugliness of the roadways emphasize the repression of vice: roads should melt into the landscape; billboards should be controlled; the scars of construction should be disguised by planting. There is little discussion of turning the high-way experience to any positive account.
Yet roadwatching can be a delight. There are many journeys that are enjoyable in. themselves: walking, horse-back riding, boating, rides in amusement parks, or on open bus tops. There are even a few roads in this country on which driving a car is a pleasure.
In an affluent society it is possible to choose to build roads in which motion, space, and view are organized primarily for enjoyment, like a promenade. But on highways whose primary function is the carriage of goods and people, visual form is also of fundamental importance and can be shaped without interfering with traffic flow. It is the landscape seen from these workaday urban highways that will be discussed here from the standpoint of the driver and his passengers; for the purposes of this analysis the issue of how the highway looks from the outside will be ignored. (…)
The modern car interposes a filter between the driver and the world he is moving through. Sounds, smells, sensations of touch and weather are all diluted. Vision is framed and limited; the driver is relatively inactive. He has less opportunity to stop, explore, or choose his path than does the man on foot. Only the speed, scale, and grace of his movement can compensate for these limitations.
The pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination. The reason is clear enough. The ruling motive of the good shepherd, leading figure of the classic, Virgilian mode, was to withdraw from the great world and begin a new life in a fresh, green landscape. And now here was a virgin continent! Inevitably the European mind was dazzled by the prospect. With an unspoiled hemisphere in view it seemed that mankind actually might realize what had been thought ia poetic fantasy. Soon the dream of a retreat to an oasis of harmony and joy was removed from its traditional literary context. It was embodied in various utopian schemes for making America the site of a new beginning for Western society. In both forms -one literary and the other in essence political- the ideal has figured in the American view of life which is, in the widest sense, the subject of this book. (…)
The notion that pastoralism remains a significant force in American life calls for an explanation. At first thought the relevance of the ancient ideal to our concerns in the second half of the twentieth century is bound to seem obscure. What possible bearing can the urge to idealize a simple, rural environment have upon the lives men lead in an intricately organized, urban, industrial, nuclear-armed society? The answer to this central question must start with the distinction between two kinds of pastoralism– one that is popular and sentimental, the other imaginative and complex.