Richard White. (Photo by Jesse White.)

You know the feeling: the intoxicatingly fresh air, the crunch of leaves under your hiking boots, and only the chirps, gurgles, and caws of the forest to keep you company as you wander down the trail. Ah, to be free of people and surrounded by untouched nature …

Environmental historian Richard White will stop you right there. This contrast between a hike in the woods and a walk down the city streets, between Yosemite and your office cubicle, is not one of nature versus non-nature. People have lived in, worked in, and even burned these landscapes throughout history, White says, and the idea of pristine wilderness that is “untrammeled by man” -- or so goes the Wilderness Act -- is a myth. “Particularly with climate change,” he says, “we have now touched everything except maybe some of the deepest parts of the ocean.”