The rich American landscape, both natural and cultural, is being threatened and in some cases wiped away completely. Preservation Editor-at-Large James Conaway takes to the road in Vanishing America, exploring the places, people, and traditions that have helped to shape our national identity.
Part personal narrative and part travelogue, his journey offers a smart and informative account from across the country. From D.C’s National Cathedral to a deserted cabin in Big Sur, from dinosaur bones in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands to the weatherworn façade of New Orleans, along the way Conaway meets cowboys, hippies, real estate developers, and many others whose stories weave into a national identity at once created, disappearing, destroyed, and continually redefined. Many of the best reflections of what the country once stood for lie around us abused, exploited, or ignored. How do we resolve the notion of preservation within a culture so dependent on growth and prosperity?
With wit and acute urgency, Conaway reminds us that every bit of property, historic landmark, and distinct community, is vulnerable. These essays serve as a lament for what’s being lost, a prompt for what we still have to preserve, and a celebration of our nation’s unique characteristics.
Preservation magazine editor-at-large Conaway (The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley, 2002, etc.) goes on a walkabout, looking for the America that doesn't make the headlines.Over in, say, Rock Springs, Wyo., time was when a person could find a patch of dirt and grow a few things to eat. When Conaway arrived, he found a "nightmare of development," courtesy of the oil-industry-friendly Bush administration, which did away with the usual precautions "in the frenzied abandonment of environmental and community standards," yielding a raped-and-pillaged landscape that even the worst strip miner could only have dreamed of a generation earlier. Up on the Strip, that remote part of the country where the Grand Canyon divides a chunk of Arizona from the rest of the state, Mormon ranchers struggle to keep a few cattle alive in country so parched that "dust got into ears and nose and formed little mud deltas at the corners of our eyes." In Orange, Va., the better-off among the landed gentry gather on their farms, places where pickup trucks are unknown, to go chasing after foxes - but mostly to eat oysters and clams and tournedos of beef and drink and drink. Each of Conaway's forays into odd corners of the country is an anthropological exercise of a kind, introducing readers to people who inhabit places that could use a little preserving - as, he insists, does the entire public domain, a commonweal that is rapidly disappearing in a country that "denies itself nothing, including squandered resources requiring the abandonment of whole cultures and the destruction of the very ground upon which America was built."A lively, literate and pained visit to American places too little seen, deserving a place alongside Steinbeck's Travels with Charley and William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. (Kirkus Reviews)