Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
15 October 2014
On the Definition of Nature
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By the Shores of Silver Lake details a very realistic view of life in 1879 and the turning of the decade. This accurate representation provides an insight into what nature should be defined as. Although corrupted and destroyed by humanity, nature is serene and unpredictable; the ways in which people view nature can affect their perception of how corrupted it has become, through their own fault or otherwise. These outlooks on nature are what drive the characters’ actions throughout the stories.
Wilder demonstrates the beauty of the natural surroundings of the Ingalls in every depiction of the landscape, whether it is through her omniscient tone, or from Laura’s point of view while seeing for her blind sister. The author uses the scenery to show how Pa feels entitled to claim a homestead for his family in the newfound western America. He, like many other hopeful families, push further into the western frontier, and drive out wildlife from the increasingly populated areas. Pa is corrupted by his desire to start a new and better life out west, and does not stop to think about what problems are wrought upon the animals that he, along with all the other families, displace. He believes that he is entitled to own the land that he chooses without consequences whatsoever. Wilder uses this point to touch upon the ways in which humanity, represented by Pa, can corrupt the innately innocent nature. This is seen when the author demonstrates the unpredictability of nature because two girls Carrie and Laura come in contact with a wolf. It is later discovered that this wolf had been driven out of its previous home because of the rapid growth of local human populations. Although the wolf poses no danger to the children Pa cannot help but to let his preconceived notions about nature cloud his judgment, and so he sets out to hunt the innocent wolf against the wishes of his family. Laura says, “I hope you don’t find the wolf, Pa … because he didn’t chase us” (Wilder 168). While Pa looks for a homestead for himself and his family, he inadvertently drives the natural inhabitants from their homes. It is not a surprise, therefore, that the wolf returns. This is greatly important because it shows how humanity’s own selfish desires can affect nature, along with its offering different insights to the views of diverse characters and their tales.
Edward Abbey also shows the serenity and unpredictability of nature through his story Desert Solitaire. This is seen during his long descriptions of the landscape, such as in “Rocks”, or when he decides to perform an experiment with a cottontail rabbit. He argues mercilessly, “A sportsman is one who gives his quarry a chance to escape with its life. This is known as fair play … animals have no sense of sportsmanship” (Abbey 33). His own corruption is what drives him to go against everything he stands for as a park ranger, and so he is given a purpose to kill the rabbit and aid in the destruction of his cherished environment.
Abbey also shows his ability to recognize the societal corruption and destruction of nature, not just that of his own. During the Industrial Tourism, he believes that nature is being destroyed through the lack of appreciation and destroyed by the physical construction of roads and man-made trails through the park. “Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves” (Abbey 51). The tourists are being robbed of the chance to experience nature in the most peaceful times, and that is when Abbey feels that nature loses its value. Because the author regards the environment with an almost reverential respect, attempts to lose himself in nature in order to find himself again, therefore diminishing his being corrupt.
People’s views and preconceptions about nature only allow the environment to become corrupted or destroyed on an individual and societal level. By defining nature as serene and unpredictable, but also able to be tarnished and damaged, the essence of nature is captured. As a single idea, nature is anything but corrupted; it is the corruption of people that leads to the destruction of nature.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw, 1968. Print.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: Harper & Bros., 1953. Print.