When confronted by the political controversies that frequently erupt over Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains, most observers believe these controversies to be “normal” environmental quarrels. This essay argues that, on the contrary, they arise from our expectations about the place. The greater Tahoe area was defined, early in its history, as a work of fine art; this act of definition is the most important factor in political brawls over the region. At the same time, greater Tahoe itself has a say in its own affairs, because natural forces in the area have a powerful influence over human reactions to the place.

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