Catherine J. Davis’s “The Narrows” torments me. I have endured this kind of torture before, when at the peak of a steep Vermont mountain, achieved after an arduous three-hour climb, the others hikers just wouldn’t shut up. “The Narrows” presents a light-box photograph of a forested gorge, covered in luminescent moss, its rocks worn smooth by the passage of a mountain stream. A subtle set of stairs carved into the crag hints at the nuisance to come: people. The sounds of these human visitors, warning each other about the slippery steps, giving directives about picture-taking or just chatting away, continually interrupts an audio track of bubbling, rushing water. But if the people are quieted, which is to say if they are made to go away, will anyone be left to care about that gorge? The solution isn’t a simple one. A difficult question exists at the core of wilderness preservation: for whom or what is the environment being preserved—for human use and appreciation, or for nature herself? Humans litter on trails, but if there’s no one in the forest to hear the tree fall, who will pick it up?
—Lori Waxman 3/26/16 3:28 PM