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A Walk in the Woods - Close Reading

Read the following prompt and annotate. Feel free to respond to your virtual peers' comments, as well. (Remember that this is a work of nonfiction to prepare you for AP Lang. So you should focus on the author's purpose, tone, structure, diction, syntax, etc.)



In 1998, Bill Bryson published the following excerpt in his bestseller, A Walk in the Woods. Read the following excerpt. Then analyze the choices Bryson makes to convey his message to his audience.

Here in the Smokies, not far from where Katz and I now trod, the Park Service in 1957 decided to “reclaim” Abrams Creek, a tributary of the Little Tennessee River, for rainbow trout, even though rainbow trout had never been native to Abrams Creek. To that end, biologists dumped several drums of a poison called rotenone into fifteen miles of creek. Within hours, tens of thousands of dead fish were floating on the surface like autumn leaves. Among the thirty-one species of Abrams Creek fish that were wiped out was one called the smoky madtom, which scientists had never seen before. Thus, Park Service biologists managed the wonderfully unusual accomplishment of discovering and eradicating in the same instant a new species of fish. (In 1980, another colony of smoky madtoms was found in a nearby stream.)

Of course, that was forty years ago, and such foolishness would be unthinkable in these more enlightened times. Today the National Park Service employs a more casual approach to endangering wildlife: neglect. It spends almost nothing—less than 3 percent of its budget—on research of any type, which is why no one knows how many mussels are extinct or even why they are going extinct. Everywhere you look in the eastern forests, trees are dying in colossal numbers. In the Smokies, over 90 percent of Fraser firs—a noble tree, unique to the southern Appalachian highlands—are sick or dying, from a combination of acid rain and the depredations of a moth called the balsam woolly adelgid. Ask a park official what they are doing about it and he will say, “We are monitoring the situation closely.” For this, read: “We are watching them die.”

Or consider the grassy balds—treeless, meadow expanses of mountaintop, up to 250 acres in extent, which are quite unique to the southern Appalachians. No one knows why the balds are there, or how long they have existed, or why they appear on some mountains but not others. Some believe they are natural features, perhaps relics of lightning fires, and some believe that they are man-made, burned or cleared to provide land for summer grazing. What is certain is that they are central to the character of the Smokies. To climb for hours through cool, dark forest and emerge at last onto the liberating open space of a sunny bald, under a dome of blue sky, with views to every horizon, is an experience not to be forgotten. But now…with the Park Service doing nothing, woody species like hawthorn and blackberry are steadily reclaiming the mountaintops. Within twenty years, there may be no balds left in the Smokies. Ninety plant species have disappeared from the balds since the park was opened in the 1930s. At least twenty-five more are expected to go in the next few years. There is no plan to save them.

Now you might conclude from this that I don’t much admire the Park Service and its people, and that’s not quite so. I never met a ranger who wasn’t cheerful, dedicated, and generally well informed. (Mind you, I hardly ever met a ranger because most of them have been laid off, but the ones I encountered were entirely noble and good.) No, my problem is not with the people on the ground, it is with the Park Service itself. A lot of people point out in defense of the national parks that they have been starved of funds, and this is indubitably so. In constant dollars, the Park Service budget today is $200 million a year less than it was a decade ago. In consequence, even as visitor numbers have soared—from 79 million in 1960 to almost 270 million today—campsites and interpretations centers have been shut, warden numbers slashed, and essential maintenance deferred to a positively ludicrous degree. By 1997, the repair backlog for the national parks had reached $6 billion. All quite scandalous. But consider this. In 1991, as its trees were dying, its buildings crumbling, its visitors being turned away from campgrounds it could not afford to keep open, and its employees being laid off in record numbers, the National Park Service threw a seventy-fifth anniversary party for itself in Vail, Colorado. It spent $500,000 on the event. That may not be quite as moronically negligent as tipping hundreds of gallons of poison into a wilderness stream, but it is certainly in the right spirit.

DMU Timestamp: August 14, 2020 20:51

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