Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
October 14, 2014
Making the Most of Potential
Laura Ingalls Wilder uses her writing in By the Shores of Silver Lake to comment on the meaning of nature and the place of humans in nature. According to Wilder, nature is an endless realm of possibilities. There is potential in it to find nearly anything you could be searching for, whether it be something tangible or intangible. Nature is potential. However, it is different in the eyes of different people. We must use the potential that is nature to further ourselves as individuals and achieve our own personal goals.
Wilder expresses the unlimited potential of nature by constantly mentioning the vastness that Laura sees in it. She comments on her family’s journey to the West that “On every side now the prairie stretched away empty to far, clear skyline. The wind never stopped blowing, waving the tall prairie grasses that had turned brown in the sun” (Wilder, 62). Throughout the story, Laura is looking to this expanse of nature which she believes has endless potential that “would last forever” (Wilder, 65), to satisfy her desire for adventure and freedom. Since Laura has been committed by her family to be Mary’s caretaker and eventually a teacher, she naturally strives to break away from those adult responsibilities and enjoy being a child. Nature offers her the largest amount of potential to achieve the level of adventure and joy she is searching for. When she is exploring Silver Lake, “She want[s] to go on and on, into the slough among the wild birds…” (Wilder, 78). She wants to go on into the eternity that nature provides because it can take her away from those responsibilities that hinder her in society. In the prairie, she can continue on to be who she wants to be and do what she wants to do. Ultimately, Laura does not continue into nature; she reminds herself that she must stay to take care of her sisters. Because of this, she does not take advantage of the potential nature provides, and she ends up descending further into the realm of adulthood she wishes she didn’t have to enter.
The same idea of potential is expressed in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Although, in Abbey’s case, the potential is spiritual, nature holds the ability for Abbey to achieve what he wants, which is a separation from human kind that will help him reflect on his own relationship with the world. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey ventures into nature as a park ranger to distance himself from what he believes is a corrupt and intolerable society. The potential in nature for him is its ability to allow separation from society and connect to something other than other humans. He states that “The ease and relative freedom of this lovely job at Arches follow from the comparative absence of the motorized tourists” (Abbey, 42). Abbey goes on adventures throughout his time and because of his utilization of nature’s potential, he is able to make that nonhuman connection he was craving. Toward the end of his journey, he has rid himself of at least one downfall of humans, saying “I have overcome at last that gallant infirmity of the soul called romance” (Abbey, 243). This means that Abbey’s venture into nature leads to him realizing his goal. The large expanse of land offered by Arches shows the potential of nature to be isolating which is exactly what Abbey needs. By seizing the exclusionary potential of nature, he finds what he is looking for.
Potential in nature cannot only be used to further individuals internally, but can to produce tangible external results. This is shown in both By the Shores of Silver Lake and Desert Solitaire through the developers. In Wilder’s story, most, if not all, of the pioneers are moving westward to exploit nature’s potential. They are in search of land and profit, which are both held in the potential of nature. The prairie contains land for the travelers to settle on, which can yield crops and sustain livestock. The Wilders plan on using their own land to “have a garden and a little field, but mostly raise hay and cattle” (Wilder, 285). By moving to the West and taking advantage of the land nature offers, the family plans to earn economic stability and provide for themselves, which is their ultimate goal.
The developers in Abbey’s memoir also plan to use nature. Nature is potential for them because it holds the ability to gain profit. By building the dam mentioned in “Down the River,” the developers hope for the “generation of cash through electricity for the indirect subsidy of various real estate speculators, cottongrowers and sugarbeet magnates” (Abbey, 151). While this process is questioned on ethical grounds, it shows the same amount of ambition as those who use nature for internal reasons. Those who are molding nature to fit their needs are using its potential to bring in what they need. In the case of the dam builders, it is money.
Despite the rewards that different individuals or groups get from nature, the thing they all have in common is that they are converting potential into results. Abbey, Wilder, the pioneers, and the developers all see how nature can be used to yield positive outcomes. The key is choosing to seize the opportunities that nature hands us. Those who aren’t afraid to seize nature’s potential are able to achieve their goals and obtain what they feel they need.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: The First Morning & A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990. Print.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: Harper & Bros., 1953. Print.