Dr. Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
15 October 2014
Wilder’s Take on Nature
Throughout many of the books we have read so far this semester, the topic of nature is intensively discussed. All the authors seem to have a universally contradicting definition of nature. Much like Edward Abbey, Wilder shows us that nature is a beautiful yet harmful environment that greatly influences our view of the world. We must acknowledge both extremes of nature so we may responsibly explore potentially unknown territory. Also, we must analyze how both authors are impacted by nature.
Nature is an incredible environment to explore. From plant life to wildlife, nature gives humans much to admire. Wilder illustrates the beautiful and delicate side of nature when she describes one evening at silver lake. She writes, “Beyond the lake’s eastern shore the pale sky was bordered with bands of crimson and gold. Their brightness stretched around the south shore and shone on the high bank that stood up from the water in the east and the north” (71). We must appreciate all nature has to offer because most individuals don’t often experience life outside of modern civilization. Similarly to Wilder, Abbey displays the beauty of the desert elegantly in the chapter “Solitaire.” He admires the sky and describes to the reader:
“Dark clouds sailing overhead across the fields of the stars. Stars which are usually bold and close, with an icy glitter in their light – glints of blue, emerald, gold. Out there, spread before me to the south, east, and north, the arches and cliffs and pinnacles and balanced rocks of sandstone (now entrusted to my care) have lost the rosy glow of sunset and become soft, intangible, in unnamed, unnamable shades of violet, colors that seem to radiate – not overlay – their surfaces” (Abbey 13-14).
The beauty of nature is highly important to Abbey, as it should be to everyone. A world without nature would offer no escape and little inspiration.
While nature has many positive aspects, it can be harmful as well. Humans tend to become caught up in the beauty of nature, forgetting potential dangers nature has in store. The ugly side of nature is portrayed in the chapter “Last Man Out.” Laura and Pa discover wolf tracks and they discuss their findings, “Those wolves must be very big and heavy. ‘Buffalo wolves are the largest wolves on the prairie and very fierce,’ Pa told her. ‘I’d hate to meet one without a gun’” (Wilder 153). Pa is teaching Laura she must be careful or else she could become the prey. We cannot overlook threats nature has in store. Edward Abbey also reveals the dark side of nature when he describes the desert as “a-tonal, cruel, clear, inhuman, neither romantic nor classical, motionless and emotionless, at one and the same time – another paradox – both agonized and deeply still” (Abbey 319). Abbey uses much of the book to describe the beautiful scenery, but the condition of the desert must be taken into account. The desert is truly a cruel environment. Humans have struggled to live in the desert and plants and animals need special adaptations to survive.
Nature also has an immense impact on the lives of humans. While not all individuals have the opportunity to live in the wilderness many briefly explore it; This exploration tends to alter humans’ views on society. In Wilder’s case, she begins to appreciate industrialization. In the chapter “End of the Rails” the family comes to the end of their train ride, full of open fields and beautiful views. However, Laura quickly becomes enthralled with the rail workers. Wilder writes, “There was nothing as wonderful as railroads, and railroad men were great men, able to drive the big iron engines and the fast, dangerous trains” (Wilder 30). She does not hate nature, but she believes industrialization is an amazing concept. In a way, the emptiness of the wide-open fields triggers Laura’s love for the excitement of industrialization. In contrast, nature causes Edward Abbey to grow a sort of hatred for modern civilization. He points out how wonderful the feeling of temporary separation from society is when he remarks:
“My God! I am thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the business men, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back in the capital, the foul diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephone!” (193).
Abbey has come to believe that humans have become lost in modern technology, losing sight of nature and all it has to offer.
I believe it is important we look at nature from all of these standpoints. There is harm in seeing only good or only bad in nature. Constantly viewing nature through one extreme is naïve. Nonetheless, we shall grow to understand how nature affects our lives. Regardless of how obvious it may be, we are all moved by nature in some way, shape, or form.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wildrness. New York: Ballantine, 1968. Print.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: Harper & Bros., 1953. Print.