Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Prompt 2: Nature

Irene Magdon
Seminar in Composition
Dr. Adam Johns
October 15, 2014
Definition of Nature
            Wilder defines nature in By the Shores of Silver Lake as a thing of beauty and innocence that one should take time to appreciate. Although she does not outwardly make this definition, she demonstrates it several times throughout the reading. Wilder uses Laura as her example to the readers. She shows how nature and innocence can be lost in the progression made by the greed of mankind. This is an argument that runs rampant in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.
            We can all agree that the character Laura is a free spirited, adventurous child. She possess within herself the innocent and full-hearted adoration of the beauty around her that is uncorrupted by cruelties and reality of the changing West. In the chapter “Silver Lake,” Laura gets consumed by the beauty of the sunrise. She takes the time to enjoy this awe-inspiring moment that most people would take for granted or not notice in the chaos of their day. “You should have seen the sunrise… I just had to watch it,” (Wilder, 72).
            We know very well that Edward Abbey has a lust for being outdoors; similarly, Laura has a seemingly burning desire to be out of the house. On pages 159 to 160, Wilder states, “Often she was restless in the house. Then she would walk from window to window, looking into the whirl of snowflakes and listening to the wind… When the sun shone, no matter how cold it was, Laura must go out.” This eagerness appears to more than just childish restlessness; it has a sort of passion to it that drives Laura’s life. If she had it her way, she would never settle down. She would prefer to explore the West and its undiscovered beauty rather than be suck in place following her mother’s footsteps as a teacher.
            I fully support Wilder’s definition of nature. I, too, see it as a requited love that shows us the simple pleasures of life that can be enjoyed. As we go about our busy lives as the elder Wilders do, we often take for granted the natural luxuries granted to us. In modern times, when we choose to take in these beautiful aspects of the environment, it is through the means provided by industrial tourism that Desert Solitaire combats. I believe that Abbey would love to have Laura’s opportunity to see the country in its original, untouched state before it was scarred by modern industry.
            The mysterious wolves seem to pose as a symbol of the West. New and uncharted places are often viewed as hazardous just as the wild wolves are. As man starts to colonize the West, the wolves start to vanish along with the fears and speculations of the new land. But is this a good thing? Could it be that by not chasing Laura and Carrie the wolves showed their innocence and vulnerability that is also that of the West’s? Laura subconsciously hints to this realization when she states, “I hope you don’t find the wolf, Pa… Because he didn't chase us,” (Wilder, 1680). Upon learning of the wolves being driven by hunger from their den Laura sympathizes with them saying, “Oh, Pa, the poor wolves,” (Wilder 172). While they are dangerous animals that should be approached with caution, Laura understands that they are creatures trying to survive just as her and her family.
            We cannot forget the mystical view Laura has of the buffalo wallow that little baby Grace ran off to and truly mesmerizes Laura with the thoughts of fairies. This is the same kind of mystical mesmerizing effect that the Rainbow Bridge has on Abbey in “Down the River.”  Upon finding it, and regretting not having Newcomb with him to see it, Abbey says, “No man could have asked for a lovelier defenestration. Through God’s window to eternity,” (Abbey, 192). It is on this same page that Abbey makes an excellent point about the changes taking place in the environment around him that can also be paralleled to the changes occurring in the West during Laura’s time. “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare, said a wise man. If so, what happens to excellence when we eliminate the difficulty and rarity,” (Abbey, 192). As we currently know, the West has become greatly populated since Laura’s time. Almost all the buffalo that created the beautiful fairy ring have been killed off and so the number of “poor wolves” has declined. We could possibly infer that if Laura had known the changes that would create Abbey’s West she would not be so eager for change.

            Wilder’s definition of nature is highlighted countless times throughout her writing along with Abbey’s. It is seen through the eyes of an innocent and good-hearted child as well as a vulgar and often bitter man. Both appreciate the land around them in a way that is not common to those among them. Through both, we are made aware of how nature is taken for granted by those consumed with moving forward in modernization.

Works cited:
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990. Print.
Wilder, Laura I. By the Shores of Silver Lake. Harper & Row, Publishers Inc., 1971. Print.


  1. I like that you compared these two works because they don't at first lend themselves to comparison. Edward Abbey vs a children's novel; not the Venn diagram I had in mind. Some of your best insight is in the second to last paragraph when you compare the wallow to Rainbow Arch, because there are a few weird similarities and a few interesting differences in these two landmarks and how they are perceived that you talk about. You make it work though, albeit with a few hitches.
    Whenever you use a quote, you like to drop it, then leave it there with no insight surrounding it. Don't drop the mic and walk away! Try to make your quotes fit into your sentences like puzzle pieces. Also, the paragraph length was OK, but some more complex ideas could have made for longer paragraphs. I also was not a fan of when you said phrases like, "We can all agree that the character Laura is," or, "We know very well that Edward Abbey has," because they assume just a tad too much about your reader. As someone reading your argument, I may not hold these convictions or think the same as you, and it is your job to prove these things to be true to me. You cannot assume I'm already on your side, and if I am, the argument is not worth making.

    Overall the idea for the paper was excellent, the execution was just a bit lacking.

  2. Let me focus briefly on two things I would like to have been different, or would like to be different in a revision.

    1) I would like to see you deal somehow with what I'll call the tension between innocence and experience, childhood and adulthood in Wilder. Clearly Laura loves the land; clearly, too, she has some understanding that just by being there she is part of the process of transformation/destruction of the West. I think a reading of the book which says that she holds views like Abbey's even though her family and social position means that she participates as a witness to the destruction is very defensible. But if you see Laura as a kind of witness to a transformation she abhors, I'd like to see you be more explicit about it, and to address the more problematic parts of the book for that argument (her fascination with the men building the railroad is the obvious starting point for me).

    2) What's significantly missing here is your viewpoint. The prompts calls for a useful definition of nature. So what does your definition imply for you? That we ought to aim to restore things in some way to what they once were? That's what Abbey thought (which lead, at least in part, to the foundation of the Earth First! movement).

    I like what Joe had to say. I agree with his compliments in the first half, and also that your use of quotations could use improvement.

    One reason I focused on what was absent in this version is because quite a lot was present. This is focused, interesting, and shows a good understanding of both texts. I would like to see you push against its limitations, but what you have now has considerable strength in its own right.


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