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.
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.