Caretakers of the Garden of Delight and Discontent: Adirondack Narrative, Conflict, and Environmental Virtue

Eric Richard Holmlund (2010)

This dissertation concerns a widely recognized natural area, New York's Adirondack Park, that serves both as an international model for conservation and as a context for persistent conflict over natural resources, space, wealth and esthetics. It employs narrative inquiry as a method to examine the sources and the function of narratives or stories explaining the history and the present status of social groups in the Park. Narrative theorists maintain that we borrow from such socially circulating narratives to craft our own identities, and then repeat them until we believe them, almost without regard for the factual basis in history or science. The dissertation follows the progress of the author, a professor of environmental studies at a small Adirondack college, as he delves into the formation of his own Adirondack identity and values while traveling with his family from the state capital, Albany, deep into the Adirondack interior. The interdisciplinary approach includes a critical overview of environmental history as it pertains to class and conflict in the Adirondack Park, an exposition of narrative epistemology, interviews with four subjects, a praxis-oriented exploration of environmental virtue, and targeted memoir. This narrative dissertation is at once an intellectual, philosophical, personal and spatial voyage toward a set of answers, or more clearly articulated questions, concerning how one regional community struggles toward finding a satisfactory balance between nature and culture. The author identifies a set of themes that help to bound and conclude the inquiry: Landside and Lakeside, Camps and Camping and the Virtues of the Caretaker. As we compose our narrative beginnings, we also work within [a] three-dimensional space, telling stories of our past that frame our present standpoints, moving back and forth from the personal to the social, and situating it all in place.

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