As a non-native of Virginia I admit that I was surprised to see bears on the side of the road a few weeks ago. Granted, I was with a friend driving along Skyline Drive, a route in the Shenandoah National Park renowned for its views and fall colors. The bears were in a tree, looking for honey I assume, and as the sun set we could make out their steady silhouettes.
Skyline Drive reminded me of a course I had taken in undergrad on American environmental history and a particularly controversial essay by William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”. The essay questions whether wilderness, as it was defined and protected with the creation of National Parks in the late 19th and early 20th century, really was that different from the urban civilization it was meant to contrast with. Cronon suggests a potential “fight from history” of constructed wilderness and the danger that in idealizing areas of wilderness, people will stop “idealizing the environment in which we actually live, the landscape that for better or worse we call home.” In so doing, he argues for including nature, and the experience of the wilderness, within the broader context of our lives and resisting the urge to put up silos around specific experiences.
While there is much to discuss about Cronon’s work, this last point is an important one. While a Sunday drive along SkyLine drive is indeed a welcome break from case preparation, recruiting, and other responsibilities, it is not an experience so disconnected from life at Darden as it may seem. Viewed, instead, as an experience complementary of or included in business school here, actually helps avoid the trap that Cronon warns us against; the stunning lookouts to the east of forests tinged with brown, yellow and orange encircle, if you can see far enough, Darden and Charlottesville. November at Darden is often called “Black November”, because of the increasing course load and intensity of recruiting, but sharing the views from Skyline Drive is a powerful argument against said bleakness. It is important to view the experience here in its entirety to appreciate its richness.
Indeed, while the Shenandoah Park allows the chance for friends to partake in venturing outside of grounds, there have also been some stunning encapsulations of the community spirit at Darden this fall. As term 2 ended we celebrated the retirement of Professor Clawson after over 30 years at Darden. Just prior to his last First Year class, all of the First Year students and faculty lined the hall outside or section rooms to applaud and congratulate him. It was a moving gesture fit for lauding such dedication to the school. We also celebrated the completion of our 100th case at Darden with a Luau-themed foam party after term 2 exams.
Those celebrations, as well as other events at Darden, are part of what makes the school special. Skyline drive, however, and other avenues for exploring, that we have access to by being in business school here, also contribute to the Darden experience. Sometimes we can forget that, especially when immersed in a particularly hard ops or accounting case (a routine occurrence lately), but it is important to remember as it puts things in better perspective. Just don’t feed the bears.
A view from Skyline Drive
FY’s and Faculty Applause for Professor Clawson