The structure outline for the writing group continues with forays beyond The Pine Barrens into John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, another book-length three-parter in The New Yorker, which also became a book. McPhee showed its structure as ABC/D.
D was David Brower, the archdruid (i.e. head tree-hugger) of the title. B gave Brower that name because of his fierce leadership of the Sierra Club and later the John Muir Project. Brower appears throughout the essays. He climbs the Sierra Mountains, tours an island off Georgia, and rafts the Colorado. In each case, McP. covers the confrontation between Brower and A, B, and C, who seek in different ways to develop or exploit the natural world.
In each case two men with titanic egos clash and occasionally agree. Based on the finished product, McP. should have showed the structure as D vs. A, D vs. B, D vs. C. In D vs. A, Brower confronts Charles Park, a geologist on the hunt for copper and other minerals to mine in the Sierras.
D vs. B has the archdruid battling Charles Fraser, who has bought a major portion of pristine (well, except for some abandoned cars) Cumberland Island. He wants to install housing and water parks and lots of people where the ‘gators and mosquitoes roam.
The action-paced D vs. C pits Brower against the cigar smoking, whisky drinking Floyd Dominy, then Secretary of the Interior. He was building dams along the Colorado River. McP.’s account of their rafting voyage would make a terrific film.
There’s far more to Archdruid than the perfect form to suit to the subject matter. As confirmed by “A Roomful of Hovings,” each of McP.’s essays chronicles efforts at preservation in many different contexts and times, and in as many ways as his subjects can offer.