A braid of circumstances ties the Beat Generation to the North Cascades. In the early 1950s, a weary America turned its attention to getting ahead after enduring the Depression and WWII---and in that era of the man in the gray flannel suit, a group of literary rebels hit the road and the trail. While the Lost Generation found its refuge and inspiration in Paris, the Beats found their safe harbour in the North Cascades as well as in San Francisco’s North Beach.
James Martin, North Cascades Crest: Notes and Images from America’s Alps (1999) p.58
There is a historic tendency to date the origins of a deeper ecological awareness in North America to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. There is no doubt that Carson’s incisive missive woke many to troubling ecological issues, but there were sensitive canaries in the toxic mineshaft before Silent Spring left the publishing tarmac.
On October 7, 1955, the poet Kenneth Rexroth orchestrated the most famous Beat Generation poetry reading in history, one that joined Columbia-educated, Greenwich Village Beat writers—Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac— with the ecologically minded “mountain Beats” of the West— Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder—at San Francisco’s Six Gallery. It was that night when Allen Ginsberg read his poem “Howl” for the first time in public. But for Kerouac, Whalen, and Snyder, a Western landscape far from that gallery touched their work deeply.