I was reading the book Foundations, written by Eugene Hargrove, several days ago. He talks about his Onondaga cave in Chapter 6.
The Onondaga cave arouses my feeling of a slight nostalgia and reminds me of the cave without a name which I explored with my teenager companions when we were about twelve years old. The cave is about 30 minutes away from our homes by bicycles. Its entrance locates at the foot of a mountain beside a river. Nearby there are very few houses or people. Apparently, we have an association with this particular place which brought the rare experience of adventure to four teenagers. We explored the cave with candles in our hands. When the lights shed on the drops of water attached to the stalactite, they were shinning in the darkness like diamonds and we cheered. We did not attempt to try further in the cave after 15 minutes, we had the worries that we might get lost in the cave. And because there was seldom people around the cave, getting lost would be a tragedy. This exploration of the cave happened several times until our parents or guardians found out our secret and we were forbidden to enter into it without a companion of an adult. It never happened because entering the cave with an adult would destroy the adventure. Soon we entered the middle school and learned some geographical knowledge about karst topography. We were informed there are many more caves in our area and the largest one would be very quickly developed into a tourist destination to show the world “the greatest wonder”. The largest cave is the Hunaglong Cave, covering a total area of 48 ha (120 acres), and now it is a national 4A rated scenic. But, we miss the small cave without its name rather than the Huanglong Cave. By telling this story, I am trying to say that some places have their identification. We associate the places for our experiences and memories. It might be anthropocentric, but it does not exclude the uniqueness of this place.
I take the uniqueness of a place as its intrinsic value. It is similar to what happens when we talk about the unique value of a person, an artwork, or other good things. The uniqueness indicates irreplaceable. My cave is unique to me in this sense that I identify it as part of me. It is not because I own it, but because without it I might lose some part of my own uniqueness. In this way, the uniqueness produces something superior to my identity just through its existence. If my cave for some reason was gone, I return to the cave site and find out my attached place disappears. There is no place I can attach myself to. That is what the majority of the world population experience right now. Urbanization swallowed North America, South America, and most of Asia, not to mention old Europe and the new Oceania. Homogenization deprives the uniqueness of the places and replaces it with monotonous hybrids of nature and cities. The idea of preservation has something to do with this uniqueness. What has been preserved are supposed to be samples of those places with uniqueness. Unfortunately, uniqueness could not be saved by samples because sampling indicates abstracting and the absence of uniqueness. The only option to save the unique value of the places would be inhabiting without interfering.
I am not claiming that the preservation is not necessary.