Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Prompt 4: Nature Rambling

Samuel Li
Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
15 October 2014
Nature Rambles
The world created by humans is distinctly different from the one that came before, the natural world. These two worlds are vastly different: one ordered, one not. The human world is “guarded”, in a sense, from the outside natural world and the general rules that apply to it. For most species, survival is paramount, an eternal struggle against other species; for us, it’s a trivial concern. Rarely can anything short of a natural disaster can harm us. This being so, nature can be defined as all that is not human. By “human”, I do not mean literally of the mammalian species Homo sapiens. I mean the cities, roads, agriculture, technology, governments, nations—  all things of human origin. Whether or not other species have these things is of no concern to us, because in the end, humans are “us”, and nature is “them”.
The conflict of nature and humanity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and this contrast commonly appears in works about nature, the main theme being nature being overtaken by humanity. In Silver Lake, humans appear in the wilderness, only to take it over, or at least plan so “...nearly everybody’ll ride on railroads and there’ll hardly be a covered wagon left.” (Wilder 101) In that book and the corresponding time period, railroads are synonymous with civilization. The industry and economy would revolve around these railroads, which would link these far out prairies and their businesses to the big cities back on the East Coast. Similarly, Laura often muses about how the decline of the wilderness gives way to human civilization and settlements: “The buffalo are gone… And now we’re homesteaders.” (Wilder 284)
Abbey takes a less subtle approach on the matter, and argues how humanity directly encroaches upon the natural world. Much of the novel is dedicated to showing how the two concepts, humanity and nature, are at odds. “Wilderness preservation… will be forgotten under the overwhelming pressure of a struggle for mere survival and sanity in a completely urbanized, completely industrialized, ever more crowded environment.” (Abbey 52) When he sees industrial expansion, he sees the destruction of nature, and for good reason. Industry and wilderness cannot coexist, because one feeds upon the other. Industrial expansion undeniably destroys ecosystems, paving over forests and grasslands to make way for pavement and brick and steel. As modern humanity thrives, “everything else”, the ecosystems and other plants and animals, must pay the price. As human civilization becomes more and more industrialized, humanity moves away from the natural, becoming distinctly “unnatural”. Even the word “unnatural” itself suggests something of a human origin.
The importance of this distinction, the incompatibility of modern humanity and nature, is that it shows the pointlessness of actively trying to become “natural” for the sake of wanting to be “natural”. Modern humanity has already become as far removed from nature as it can get, directly in conflict with the outside world. We cannot become in tune with nature, because we and nature are opposites.
Works Cited
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.
Wilder, Laura I. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers Inc., 1953. Print.


  1. I really like your definition of nature and how it ties the two books together. I think more explanation could go into your analysis of the Wilder reading. You could possibly look more into Laura's thoughts and actions regarding the changes taking place. Your point that industry and wilderness cannot coexist is a great discussion point and can probably go into a lot of detail/explanation.
    Overall, I think this is an excellent definition of nature that is supported very well. I think that getting more in depth with the supporting details would make it an even more insightful paper.

  2. I like your introduction and the strength of the views within it, although it could use a little more explanation - "For most species, survival is paramount, an eternal struggle against other species; for us, it’s a trivial concern. " - surely here you are focused especially on our time & place. In contemporary America survival might often seem like a trivial concern but, say, in Afghanistan or Liberia things aren't quite the same. So further context/explanation here would be highly desirable.

    One thing you almost but don't quite say is that in Laura's time railroads are every bit as human, by your definition, as the people themselves. I like this a lot, because it tries to see things from a slightly different angle, but if your'e moving in that direction I'd like to see you make it more explicit.

    I think you oversimplify with Abbey, though. Doesn't the nature/civilization conflict also have to do with the parallel conflict between the individual and the collective, or with his oddly worded culture vs. civilization thing? Sometimes we need to simplify a bit in a short essay, but you are being reductive here.

    "Modern humanity has already become as far removed from nature as it can get, directly in conflict with the outside world. We cannot become in tune with nature, because we and nature are opposites." -- there's a certain amount of circularity here. Abbey gets refuted because he is interested in how things ought to be, whereas Wilder is focused maybe more on how things are (or were).

    The thing that causes the most difficulty for me here is that you don't really explain how/why this definition is useful (which is what the prompt called for). I guess implicitly you're arguing that we should define nature in terms of conflict, because that is the correct stance, and we should have more of a railroader's vision than Abbey's vision. Why? Presumably because of the security we get thereby (which goes to your first paragraph).

    I get all of this, but too much of what you're doing is vague and implicit: if you to side with the values of 19th century railroads, you should do so clearly and implicitly, and really drive home what you have to say about the *value* of our current relationship with nature.


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