In the spirit of the ‘Maroon Belles’
Dottie, Connie, Joy — those names form a mantra summoning an invaluable wilderness heritage. Without the beloved “Maroon Belles,” our vast and beautiful wilderness areas would not be so vast and not so beautiful in their vastness.
Dottie Fox and Joy Caudill are gone, leaving Connie Harvey as the last of a triumvirate that directed their life energies to conserving as much wild land as they could squeeze into a wilderness bill over 50 years ago that more than doubled the size of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
“From 1964 to 1980, we were working on it,” said Joy, who passed away two weeks ago, “and we underwent a huge learning process that was very exciting. There were huge ups and downs, and there was a lot of camaraderie. It was a lot of like-minded people working together for a wonderful cause that we all believed in.”
I had the honor of interviewing these three wilderness icons for the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a vital piece of legislation that gave Congress the power to preserve the American heritage of wild lands that helped form the American character on the leading edge of the Western frontier.
Rather than having their faces carved Mount Rushmore-like in the Maroon Bells, Dottie, Connie and Joy have been exemplars of humility and service.
“People protect wilderness not for money, fame or glory,” Connie said. “It’s because of a passion that is latent in people and it comes out when they’re exposed to wilderness. The three of us had real staying power, but we don’t give a hoot for glory. We’re just interested in results.”
And results they achieved by ground-truthing with volunteers who walked the land to determine its wild character. Their energies represent a heartfelt passion for pristine creation, sanitizing sacred wildness from man’s meddling and the direct influences of modern industrial life.
“Wilderness is a tremendous asset,” enthused Dottie Fox, who was an artist and avid hiker. “It protects our air and water, and it gives us one of the most pristine environments in the whole country.”
“It was a really important bill and it has really worked,” Joy confirmed. “We have set aside some really important land.”
“In order to preserve the land in its natural state,” added Connie, “it is absolutely necessary to have the kind of protection afforded by official wilderness areas. It’s something I’m very proud of because it was very important.”
What these visionary women started is now up to us to sustain in keeping with what wilderness historian Rod Nash posed about the value of conservation: “Doesn’t the present owe the future a chance to know the past?”
The question deserves affirmative resolve from every generation under whose watch wilderness must elicit undying support. Without that support, any Congress could vote it away. The loss incurred would be devastating, not only to Americans but to a world that desperately needs what wilderness affords — perspective.
The kernel of the wilderness philosophy is gleaned from what Albert Schweitzer realized from the wilds of Africa. “The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. … A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals, as well as that of his fellow men.”
Aldo Leopold said the same in his “Land Ethic”: We extend rights to the land through moral and ethical treatment of the Earth and respect for the soil. The result is compassion for all interconnected life. It was this ideal that propelled Dottie, Connie and Joy to dedicate themselves to founding the Wilderness Workshop in 1967, which carries on today.
“It started very low-key,” Joy recalled, “just as neighbors writing letters at the dining room table.”
These neighbors were brought together by three compelling women whose feminist sensitivities and sensibilities were attuned to the land that gave meaning and significance to their lives, land that will hopefully give meaning and significance to countless other lives far into the future.
The spirit of the Maroon Belles lives on in the wilderness.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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