Mark Twain's depiction of Lake Tahoe in Chapters 22 and 23 of Roughing It—“the fairest picture the whole earth affords”—has embedded him within Tahoe's history and culture. His descriptions of pristine waters of the lake echo the Transcendental phrasings of Thoreau in “The Ponds” chapter of Walden and fit securely within the nineteenth-century Romantic tradition of wilderness writing. The lakes become important measures of the authors' conceptualizations of the natural world—their “practice of the wild,” in the poet Gary Snyder's terms. Using theoretical applications of wildness, including Thoreau's essay “Walking,” this article argues that neither author's literary imagination reconciles the presence of wildness, ultimately appropriating it as a setting where human activity takes place, and resisting the representation of nature as an organism in a state of constant change. Even Thoreau, after his disorienting climb to the summit of Mount Ktaadn, vows to settle for a more orthodox assimilation of wildness.

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