There was a point, or rather a month, when Theodore Roosevelt became the specimen we know him to be. At the prompting of his father, as every American child should recall, he had spent his youth building the body nature had not given him, a body worthy of his mind and vaulting aspirations. Still, TR had never cut an imposing figure. He was wiry, his learned athleticism and inborn energy wound into a slender frame. His voice squeaked. One noticed his glasses, whiskers, and teeth before anything else.
But as Edmund Morris explains in his celebrated Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, the West changed all that. “Some extraordinary physical and spiritual transformation occurred” when Roosevelt rode nearly a thousand miles over 32 days with a cattle roundup across the Badlands in 1885. “The anemic, high-pitched youth who had left New York only five weeks before was now able to return to it ‘rugged, bronzed, and in the prime of health,’ to quote a newspaperman who met him en route.”
The open range of the Dakotas awoke something in TR. The weak flesh finally had the strength to reflect the willing spirit. Bill Sewall, one of his hunting guides and manager of his cattle ranch, reported that Roosevelt had become “as husky as almost any man I have ever seen who wasn’t dependent on his arms for his livelihood.” TR’s Harvard classmate and fellow historian William Roscoe Thayer, upon seeing him after a separation of years, confessed surprise “to find him with the neck of a Titan and with broad shoulders and stalwart chest.” The man with the near-superhuman tolerance for pain at last looked like it.
The wilds remained a place of escape for Roosevelt throughout his life. There he could become more fully himself, the man of vital energy and purpose he had forged by will. It is impossible not to see TR’s passion for conservation and the Badlands as the need to preserve the space in which he could grow, and where he hoped others would grow and develop, too. Morris writes of a later trip westward: “With his belly full of antelope meat, and the oily perfume of sage in his nostrils, he rejoiced in rediscovering his other self, that almost forgotten Doppelganger who haunted the plains while Commissioner Roosevelt patrolled the streets of Manhattan.”
The frontier thesis is an old one, exhumed and put to bed again in magazines like this one with the regularity of the seasons. But Theodore Roosevelt illustrates it in the individual person, a human need for animal room to roam. The vastness of the frontier allows for development. We are what we do, and the space in which we do things, which itself shapes those actions, affects directly who or what we become.
This is a simple observation, and largely self-evident. But it is missing from conservative messaging (to use an ugly consultant-class neologism) around environmental policy. A lot else is missing, too.
Conservatives, it turns out, are bad at talking about the environment. It has mostly been …read more
Via:: American Conservative
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