Discuss: False Idyll
Interesting article and good food for thought. Some big questions are raised.
I agree that seeing nature as wholly beneficent is inaccurate. That said, I tend to disagree with the notion that the sacredness we see in nature is largely a consequence of the taming of nature. For example, the interaction with the bear that the lady had at the end of the essay was very sacred to her, and clearly not a tame experience.
Sacredness aside, I think the author makes a good point that the taming of nature has resulted in people being able to access nature more easily (e.g., don’t have to bring bear spray in many areas) and that certainly has influenced people’s views of and experiences of nature.
What a fascinating and challenging article. Thanks for giving us many things to think about!
Interesting and thought stimulating article. I would use awe inspiring, and humility generating, but sacred is OK. Life is a great engine, and all we can do is bear whitness, and acknowledge how the complexity of it all sustains us, what ever the force that drives it is, it is. For the first 190,000 years or so the constant challenge and variablity of the environment, of the Pleistocene, created whom we are today. We have only had 10,000 years of the Holocene to grow lazy, complacent, and little challenged. Little wonder so many of us feel at home and comfortable in wild places, it is where our genes still are. We just can’t percieve the awesome complexity and interconnectedness of life and place living in the environments we have created for ourselves. Where many of us feel truly alien. Paul Sheppards, ” Home to the Pleistocene”, is probably the best place to explore these ideas. Joseph Campbell is also a good place to begin.
I guess there is a shallow nature appreciation movement that seeks solace in a denatured wilderness. But I don’t run across it very much. Most of the true devotees of wilderness and its sacred qualities I’m aware of know that a wilderness without predators is no wilderness at all. It’s not wilderness if there’s no chance you could wind up as dinner. And that is the very essence of its sacredness.
It’s true that the Romantic movement appreciated a tamed nature, but it replaced fear of predators with the sublime, a more sedate form of fear (or awe, as they called it). And then you have Muir, pursuing the sublime on Mt. Ritter, and exulting over nearly falling to his death. And from there you have Doug Peacock exulting in moving through bear country in Yellowstone’s back country. Nature is not where you go to find relaxation, but to feel fully alive.
You’ve done a great job of describing this spiritual experience, both in your own stories and the story of the woman and the bear. It just seems wrong to deny that it IS a spiritual experience.
On the subject of mitigating the cruelties of nature, the wild horse example shows how absurd this impulse can be when taken to extremes. But I couldn’t help thinking about Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Star Thrower,” in which he lauds exactly this impulse, silly though it might be.
I think that the author and many other readers may enjoy the literary genre of Naturalism. Naturalist literature portrays nature as cold and uncaring about the plight of humans within it. It was prominent in the late 19th Century. Humans are depicted as very small and relatively powerless in comparison to nature. It can be quite pessimistic at times, but the quality of writing in most cases is usually high. This article reminded me of the short stories “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. I read them a few years back, but they were quite good. I’ll have to go back and read them now.
Very few men can speak of Nature … with any truth. They overstep her modesty, somehow or other, and confer no favor. They do not speak a good word for her … The surliness with which the woodchopper speaks of his woods, handling them as indifferently as his axe, is better than the mealymouthed enthusiasm of the lover of nature. Better that the primrose by the river’s brim be a yellow primrose, and nothing more, than that it be something less.
While it’s true, technically, that “Nature” can become an idol, the fear that any sense of the sacred in the world is idolatry is an annoyingly Calvinist concern. Many of us are perfectly capable of experiencing the world sacramentally without confusing “Nature” with God. In the future, please consider that not everyone is a Calvinist or, for that matter, a Romantic.
Just as the mention of Janus suggests, this article continues our notion that there is a duality, and because of it, a disconnect. And as this article addresses this disconnect, the point is again missed.
The idea of “right” and “wrong” in our current world view is forever tied into notions of the sacred and profane, ambivalent and nurturing, wild and subdued. I agree that an awareness of our perspective on this duality is important, but to say it is a definition of the human experience in relationship to our natural world is only defining the duality. We are not separate, however, and I think that that is what we are realizing in those feelings of the ‘sacred wilderness’. It resonates because we are not separate from it.