Us modern day Americans have lost our touch from nature and have become disconnected with the natural world. We have immersed ourselves in a lifestyle founded upon comfort and have began to destroy the wild Earth we originated from. As we continue to develop the world further away from its original state the environmental issues we face today have only been becoming much worse. While many live in prosperity others struggle to survive daily. Myself and others I know are very privileged to be able to live the life we live. We can do anything we set our minds to and many do not have the ability to do the same. I can travel wherever I want on this Earth, drive to the store and buy whatever I want to eat and drink, and learn about anything that i choose. Although this era we live in is great, there are many complications an American lifestyle causes. We have polluted our planet with trash, changed the global climate and natural cycles important to all life, and as a result caused the greatest extinction and global heating events our planet has ever seen.
Many believe that nature is a place that we escape to from our reality as a means of a break or vacation. How I see nature is very different, I’ve realized that nature isn’t just the woods surrounding our neighborhoods and cities, nature is the neighborhood and city, nature is a part of every molecule in our universe. When looking at a city squirrel do we exclude it from the natural world as being something unnatural? No, a squirrel is wild just as much as a moose or a polar bear is. Although we have constructed our world into a place fit for humans to survive it must be known that these cities and towns are ecosystems just as much as a vast forest. Creatures of all types reside in our cities and most importantly that’s where we live! But many exclude our own species from the natural world and see us as something different. I for one do not share this perspective, we are just as wild as the animals we may see as “wild” animals. We have originated from the same planet with an equal chance for survival. The only difference is that we may think a bit different than other inhabitants of Earth.
The essays and stories I have read for this class have moved me in a way that will change my perspective of the world forever. I have realized that there are so many things in or world we are destroying that we will never be able to get back. Our actions have caused a great deal of suffering to the native creatures of our planet. But there is no return to the primitive way of life for us humans we have come too far. We understand our actions consequences for others that live on this planet, but yet, we do nothing. The rest of the world must wake up and change the ways in which we live in order to preserve the world for all, including ourselves.
T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain is a book about nature and the American Dream. The perspective of this story is told through the lives of the 4 main characters; American Delaney Mossbacher and his wife Kyra Mossbacher, and Mexican Candido Rincon and his lover America Rincon. The story compares views of some Americans to non-American people, mostly illegal immigrants, who are viewed as wild animals. This book shares many ideas similar to other stories that we have read throughout this class. The idea that a type of people are not civilized and live as they do, or viewing wild animals as being unrelated to humans. “They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable.” -John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
The story begins as Delaney hits Candido with his car. “Delaney felt the relief wash over him- the man wasn’t going to die, he wasn’t going to sue, he was alright and it was over. “Can I do anything for you?” he asked, feeling charitable now.” I mean give you a ride someplace or something?” Delaney pointed to the car. He held his fists up in the front of his face and pantomimed the act of driving. “(8) Candido, being an illegal Mexican immigrant, only takes 20 bucks from Delaney, as not to get in trouble, and they part ways. Delaney returns home and tells his wife Kyra of this situation that had occurred earlier that day. “I told you- he was Mexican”. (15) Here in this passage Kyra worries for the man as he might try to sue Delaney or go talk to a lawyer and is alarmed that all Delaney did was give the man 20 dollars, and not alert any officials about the matter. “What are you thinking? Are you out of your mind? DO you have any idea what one of these shyster personal-injury lawyers would do to get ahold of something like this?” (15) This bothers me because neither of the characters Delaney nor Kyra feel any sympathy for the man. Delaney slammed into this man with his car and all he did was give the man 20 dollars. Clearly Delaney felt bad for hitting this man like a coyote that ran in the middle of the road but Candido is a human being just like Delaney and his wife Kyra.
Much of this story carries on this message about illegal immigrants and people that live lives that are dissimilar to the lives of us Americans. But also the message of this story can viewed much deeper, rather than viewing the illegal Mexicans in this book as who they are they can take the perspective of animals in the natural world. Many humans in today’s world do not view ourselves, the human race, as a part of nature. We have disassociated ourselves from our roots and ties to nature. “He flung open the door and shot through the courtyard, head down, rounding the corner of the house just in time to see a dun-colored blur scaling the six-foot chain-link fence with a tense white form clamped in its jaws. His brain decoded the image: a coyote had somehow managed to get into the enclosure and seize one of the dogs, and there it was, wild nature, up and over the fence as if this were some sort of circus act.” (37) This passage is about a coyote coming into the Mossbucher’s property and killing one of their pet dogs. Throughout the story the coyote is an animal that Delaney associates with the Mexicans, and blames the two for being around because of the actions of his neighbors. “This didn’t have to happen. It didn’t. If it wasn’t for those idiots leaving food out for the coyotes as if they were nothing more than sheep with bushy tails and eyeteeth… and he’d warned them, time and time again. You can’t be heedless of your environment.” (39)
Many people in our world today as I have already mentioned have dissociated themselves from the natural world. Their views of themselves and humans are that we are our own type of nature unlike the creatures we find outside of our towns and cities. But what many people need to realize is that as we continue to build or infrastructure and alter the form of the Earth we are invading its habitats and sooner or later they’re going to start crossing over back into our own world.
Later in the story Delaney writes in his column to spread awareness of the coyotes and how they have taken a second one of his dogs. “We cannot eradicate the coyote, nor can we fence him out, not even with eight feet of chain link, as this sad but wiser pilgrim can attest. Respect him as the wild predator he is, keep your children and pets inside, leave no food source, however, negligible, where he can access it… The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry, and unstoppable. (214)
A lesson that Delaney and the rest of the real world need to realize is that we live in ta world where there are many referent players in the game of life. All of these players require different things to survive and once we begin to take those resources from other people, animals, and the natural world, there are negative effects. In this story as Americas thrive and build their wealth by living the American dream there are m any other people who suffer and wish to live the same life as us. Candido is the coyote in this story who is fighting to survive by any means that he can. As we as a human race deplete the world for materials that we require to survive, we are knowingly killing many of the other creatures that live here on Earth that deserve the world just as much as we do.
Gary Snyder’s book The Practice of The Wild contains multiple essays describing his view of the natural world from many different angles. Throughout the beginning and the contents of the book Snyder plays around with the idea of being “wild”, and wildness. When I think of something being wild I think of it as being a wild animal; a non domesticated animal without the ability of sentient thought that us humans poses. These “wild creatures” couldn’t possibly think and live by their instincts that have developed through evolution for millions of years. But who are we to think that we are more evolved and intelligent? These wild animals that live in our world do our Earth no harm and only take what they need to survive. Us humans can only understand what we perceive and what we can see. Animals see too, but perception is the big difference to any kind of thought, so maybe us and “wild” animals are not that different at all. “The world is our consciousness, and it
surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination,
than “you” can keep track of—thoughts, memories, images, angers,
delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious,
are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now.” (23)
At the beginning of the book within the first essay (The Etiquette of Freedom) Snyder compares the term wildness to freedom. Snyder states “To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions
as they are—painful, impermanent, open, imperfect—and
then be grateful for impermanence and the freedom it grants us. For
in a fixed universe there would be no freedom. With that freedom we
improve the campsite, teach children, oust tyrants. The world is nature,
and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the
process and essence of nature, is also an ordering of impermanence.” This quote from the book says a lot about Snyder’s views of the world, and the universe. As he says “For in a fixed Universe there would be no freedom”, he means in a predetermined universe, containing a set destiny for every animal, molecule, or atom, there is no wildness. Wildness is uncertainty and those that are wild live by their instincts. Wildness is a a mother bear coming out of hibernation, hungry, and with young to feed, she knows not where she will eat and how she will feed her cubs, but she leaves the den and searches the vast wilderness for whatever provisions the forest may provide her. Wildness is not waking up and driving to Dunkin Donuts for your morning breakfast. Wildness is “painful, impermanent, open, imperfect”, the wild world is painful, predators stalk prey, there are no regulations and rules, only resourcefulness.
But who are we humans to deny the transition of life from wildness to domestication? We have made lives for our species easy and relaxing. I truly believe that even though we have created large cities and developed technology from resources in nature;that all of what we have created is still nature. “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.” (7) Although many think our world is so far gone and altered it may never return to how it is was; we must realize even though we have changed the world it is still the same world. We haven’t moved anywhere else and sit right where we were thousands of years ago. One must realize that we are not living within our universe, the universe lives within us; within every atom of our bodies, it belongs to the universe. We are only so lucky as to be able to try to understand what we really are. We have created language as a means of attempting to describe the world world around us that we are perceiving. “It is said that about a million and a half species of animals and plants have been scientifically described, and that there are anywhere from ten to thirty million species of organisms on earth.” (176) Scientists and researchers of the “natural world” classify these organisms and all kinds of phenomena within our physical universe. We see ourselves apart from the whole, and do not consider ourselves a part of “nature”, as we try to escape to it. “The physical universe and all its properties—I would prefer to use the word nature in this sense. But it will come up meaning “the outdoors” or “other-than-human” sometimes even here.” (77)
Gary Snyder understands that whether we believe him or not, we are a part of nature. Nature lives within us, and we are all wild beings part of the same universe. We are no different than the rest of the universe, we are the universe.
Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang is a fictional book about 4 characters that are trying to save the environment. Throughout the story of this book Abbey gives the 4 main characters all wild personalities. The actions of the characters within this novel give representation to the “Eco-terrorist” movement throughout the book are extremely radical. The characters bring great destruction to infrastructure and destroy things for fun. Although this book is fictional the message provided from the action of the characters and plot represent environmentalist Abbey’s political point of view.
The four main characters personalities within this book are all very different. Although these characters have their differences throughout the book they band together as misfits and bring destruction wherever they see fit. All of the destruction and demolition is not for nothing though, these characters share a common love for the environment and in their own way purge the land the way they see fit.
The first character introduced within this novel is Doc Sarvis, a middle aged man and academic. Sarvis a man with a medical doctorate enjoys the hobby of “highway beautification”. In the very first pages of chapter one Doc Sarvis is found on the side of a highway preparing to burn down a billboard. Sarvis enjoys this hobby because he enjoys being able to drive and enjoy the scenery, billboards are not something he enjoys gazing upon throughout his travels. “With a five-gallon can of gasoline he sloshed about the legs and support members of the selected target, then applied a match. Everyone should have a hobby.” (1) I concur with Doc Sarvis’s appreciation for nature on his drives through the country, I to enjoy the scenery and foliage and billboards and other structures obscure my view I enjoy this quote being at the beginning of the book because it really does well in setting the tone of the book and how it will unravel. The doctor’s political point of view is displayed well through one of my favorite quotes in the book, “We are caught,”Continued the good doctor,” in the iron treds of a technological juggernaut. A mindless machine. With a breeder reactor for a heart.” (64) This quote really says a lot about the book and about the environmentalist movement in general. We are all caught up in the development of the “modern world” where technology rules, and mother nature is dying. Doc Sarvis is the brains of the crew being an educated man and displays his knowledge throughout the book.
The second character to be introduced in the novel is the brute of the bunch. Hayduke, a younger man than Doc Sarvis and whole lot less brains and whole lot more brawn is the second member of the gang. “What’s more american than violence?” Hayduke wanted to know. “Violence, it’s as American as pizza pie.” (156) Hayduke a Vietnam War Veteran was captured by the Vietcong the last year of his four year deployment during the war. Hayduke also loves the environment and enjoys destruction of infrastructure. Hayduke also is a man who loves his beer. “Hayduke opened another can of beer. He was always opening another can of beer. And always pissing.” (103) “He drank another beer as he drove along. Two and a half six packs to Lee’s Ferry.” (25) Hayduke has an appreciation for nature but contradicts his fondness for the environment by littering his beer cans out his car window. “Tossing his empty beer can out the window, Hayduke races North, towards the Indian Country. By now you can tell Hayduke is a bit reckless and this next quote really displays it. “He was indeed a menace to other drivers but justified himself in this way: If you don’t drink, don’t drive. If you drink, drive like hell. Why? Because freedom, not safety, is the highest good. Because the public roads should be wide open to all- children on tricycles, little old ladies in Eisenhower Plymouths, homicidal lesbians driving forty ton Mack tractor-trailers. Let us have no favorites, no licenses, no god damn rules for the road. Let every freeway be a free-for-all.”(33) Although Hayduke’s actions may seem senseless and thoughtful, at the end of the day this “simple minded” savage of a man knows what he’s in it for. “Hayduke thought. Finally the idea arrived. He said, “My job is to save the ****ing wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving. That’s simple right?” (203)
The third character to be introduced in the novel is Seldom Seen Smith. He also differs greatly from the two first men. SMith is a Mormon man with multiple wives who’s fondness for the environment lies with the rivers and mountains. Although not as much of a brute as Hayduke, Smith too enjoys the hobby of “Monkey-wrenching”, or destruction of infrastructure. “The blue death, Smith called it. Like Hayduke his heart was full of a healthy hatred.” (36) Smith’s love for the mountains and rivers is shown in his introduction in chapter three when he plots the destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam. “They stared at it. The dam demanded attention. It was a magnificent mass of cement. Vital statistics: 792,000 tons of concrete aggregate; cost $750 million and the lives of sixteen workmen. Four years in the making, prime contractor Morrison-Knudsen, Inc., sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, courtesy U.S. taxpayers.
“It’s too big”, she said
“That’s right honey,” he said “And that’s why.”
“There’s a way.”
“I don’t know. But there’s got to be a way” (37)
The last character to be introduced in the novel is a women by the name of Bonnie Abbzug. Bonnie and Doc Sarvis throughout the novel share a complicated relationship. Bonnie used to work for Doc Sarvas but they now share an interesting affair relationship. Bonnie is a young 28 year old women who also enjoys the hobby of “highway beautification.” Bonnie is given a hard tine frequently by Hayduke who initially refuse partnership in the gang with a woman. “No ****ing girls,” he hollered. :this is a man’s work.” (69)
Though all 4 of the main characters personalities are very different they all work well together sharing a “healthy hatred” for infrastructure and its detrimental effects on the environment. Reading through this novel as a fictional story is quite enjoyable and highly recommendable but it contains a much deeper message. Edward Abbey’s compassion for nature is displayed in the fictional tale of these characters in the American mid west. Abbey knows that the construction of the modern world and infrastructure has both fragmented and destroyed the natural world. This story is action packed and very exciting which makes it easy and very enjoyable to read. Although the action of these characters may seem a bit radical, and quite illegal; the idea of “Eco-terrorism” is compelling. Instances in real life of “monkey-wrenching” have taken place all over the world where environmentalists have brought about destruction and protest to construction sites.
Terry Tempest Williams 1991 memoir Refuge is about the struggles of her life and the natural world. This story takes place in Salt Lake City Utah 1971-1976, where a heavy Mormon population dominates their culture. Terry’s struggle throughout this story is her mothers battle against cancer, and the destruction of her favorite place in nature, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The story throughout this book is told during the time of Terry’s mother Diane’s diagnosis with cancer, to 5 years in the future. Throughout the story and this period in Terry’s life the levels of the Great Salt Lake increase substantially. The effects of the rise in the Great Salt Lake relate closely to the events happening in Terry’s family life.
At the time Diane was diagnosed with cancer the family was struck with catastrophe. Diane contemplated her options as to how she was to deal with the cancer, and whether she would receive treatment or not, and which means of treatment she would do. “A hysterectomy as soon as you are ready, if it is ovarian cancer then we’ll follow it up with chemotherapy and go from there…” “I’ll make that decision,” she said. (13%) But this was not the first bout with cancer Diane Williams had faced. “In 1971, when Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the doctors said she had a less than 20 percent chance of surviving two years. (63%)
In the beginning of the story Terry mentions many issues in nature around her as a result of the rise in lake levels throughout the years. This rise in water level eventually floods the Bear River Migratory bird refuge, Terry and her families favorite escape to nature. Many of these birds are forced out of the refuge as a result of the flooding nearly destroying the refuge. But, eventually volunteers aid in the repair of damages done to the refuge from the flood.The story of Terry’s mothers battle with cancer goes along with the control of flooding and the rise in lake surface level. The means of controlling both the cancer and the rise in lake level relate closely to one another. “In the past seven years, Great Salt Lake has advanced and retreated. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, devastated by the flood, now begins to heal”. (5)
The bird refuge is an important place for Terry Tempest Williams because it offers her an escape. When she is at the refuge she is alone with her own thoughts and is able to think clearly and be at peace. “The days I loved most were the days at Bear River. The Bird Refuge was a sanctuary for my grandmother and me. I call her “Mimi”. We would walk along the road with binoculars around our necks and simply watch birds. Hundreds of birds. Birds so exotic to a desert child it forced the imagination to be still. The imagined was real at Bear River.” (9%) “More and More, I am realizing the natural world is my connection to myself.” (30%)
The idea of escaping to nature as a means of finding peace is something I absolutely understand.
The woods of New Hampshire offer me the ability to clear my mind relax while immersed in nature. The beauty and spectacle that is nature is so diverse. I believe everybody in this world at some point will witness a spectacle in nature that makes them think differently about the world. A place i’ve found in nature that shaped the person I am today is the peak of Breckenridge Mountain Colorado. The view of the Rocky Mountains continuing for miles is a spectacle that opened my mind to the vast beauty of the world and is something i’ll never forget.
Within all of the readings throughout this class a reoccurring theme is the control of the natural world. Within this story Terry proposes a theory as to why many in her family and around her are getting cancer. She proposes the testing of atomic weapons in the desert could be a cause of the large number of diagnoses with cancer. “Most statistics tell us breast cancer is genetic, hereditary, with rising percentages attached to fatty diets, childlessness, or becoming pregnant after thirty. What they don’t say is living in Utah may be the greatest hazard of all.” (88%). The control of cancer, whether it is natural or not, and control of the rising lake levels can be looked at in a similar sense. Only so much is known about cancer treatment, and only so much can be understood in the processes of nature. Us humans try to control many different natural phenomena in nature. Cancer can be viewed as an act of nature, we try to treat cancer with radiation, chemo theory, surgery, and different mechanisms targeting the cancer cells. These treatments can be viewed as unnatural. Us humans take unnatural approaches to dealing with issues. In the book many of the ways the people try to control the rising lake levels and flooding problems is the implication of unnatural features to ward away the water, which is quite costly. “This year, the Utah State Legislature appropriated $98 million for flood control. The alternatives state waterfowl managers are reviewing are: wait for the lake to recede, as it inevitably will; try to acquire more habitat, especially newly created wetlands; or reduce the level of the lake.
Perhaps if us humans didn’t try to control natural phenomena with unnatural treatments we wouldn’t be expending so much energy and resources on the issue. As with flooding; instead of spending billions of dollars around the world each year to ward away floods, and repair after them, maybe we should just move away from the problem. I understand that not much could be done when cancer is in your body, but if we avoided the chemicals that give us cancer and different diseases more people would be healthy. Like in Linda Hogan’s Silent Storm; the large hydroelectric dam project was for the production of renewable energy. But as a result of the project many species of fish were forced out of their ecosystem because of the fragmentation the dam had caused. Another example of the control of nature is in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The different pests that destroy our crops had to be controlled with pesticides. But as a result these chemicals leached into our fresh water, and ran downhill into other ecosystems killing and mutating many different species, including ourselves.
Control of the natural world is a difficult issue to tackle because we only understand so much. It is impossible to predict the outcome of many different things because we quite simply have not done it yet. Unnatural treatment to natural things will undoubted result in negative consequences. All of the writings we have studied in this class, Writing In an Endangered world, talk about issues in controlling the natural world. We live in an “Endangered World” simply because we have made all of these unnatural changes to the natural world.
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan is the story of a young girl discovery who she is. The main character Angel grew up from a past of abuse and to others is very visible from her scars, particularly a large one on her face. Throughout the story Angel finds peace from her dark past and finds means of moving forward in her life, “Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing”.
Solar Storms ties along nicely with other readings from this course with a message found between the lines about the environment. The main characters within this story are of Native American decent and have a close relationship with the land and water. These people have lived upon the land and focused their own few of religion based from the land, its animals, and the processes of nature.
The abuse Angel has suffered came from her mother, who too has been abused in her past. Hannah, Angels mother, abused her daughter Angel both physically, and by neglectful abuse. Hannah’s abusive relationship with her daughter Angel is a result of an abusive past of her own. In the first pages of the book the author states from Angels perspective …”for my mother had been taken over by some terrible and violent force. It inhabited her, flesh, bone, and spirit” (22)
Because of the neglect of Angels mother Angel was forced to move from foster home to foster home. Angel never found a family and grew up on her own. Only once she was seventeen was she able to connect with another family member. This family member is Agnes Iron, Angels great grandmother. They write letters to one another and eventually meet. Agnes helps Angel connect to her Native American roots. She learns respect and and a deep connection to nature. Agnes was a very influential person to Angel in discovering who she was and building a sense of pride in herself.
Angel meets others too who were related to herself, such as Bush and Dora-Rouge. Bush is not entirely related to Angel but knows her family well. Years prior to the main plot of the story Bush took Hannah, Angel’s mother in. Bush saw Hannah’s scars and knew she came from and abusive past, like Angel. Dora-Rouge is Agnes’s mother, or Angel’s great grandmother. Dora-Rouge is a small fragile old woman but has deep ties to nature. She posses a special skill where she can dream of the location of special herbs and plants. All of these 3 very influential people gave Angel knowledge and pride in their Native American heritage, and Angel becomes self-fulfilled.
Throughout the novel Angel begins to learn more about who she is and where she came from. The main characters of this novel have spiritual ties to nature and the land. Angel soon comes to understand reasons why nature and the land are so important. These main characters take a long journey throughout the novel and throughout their journey Angel discovers much, not only about herself, but the world. As these 4 travel back to their homeland the main conflict and message of the novel is revealed. In their journey they venture to a river blocked by a hydroelectric dam. The construction of this dam was the work of European settler decedents. From the perspective of the 4 women these men had destroyed the land and killed their god. This is especially an interesting thought from the perspective of Native Americans who’s religion is founded upon the Earth and nature.
Environmental writers Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry’s world famous writings were written decades ago, but the truth they spoke still remains today. The writings found within this blog about Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry; relate closely to one another, and aim towards the future. Silent Spring and The Unsettling of America, both focus on agricultural issues, and cultural issues within the modern world. Although both of these books were written a few decades in the past (Silent Spring, 1962- Unsettling of America, 1977) the issues and facts still remain true today.
Carson’s Silent Spring and Berry’s Unsettling of America both focus on issues within agriculture. Agriculture is the foundation of any culture. Without food how can any population survive? With the rapid growth of our species population, and the demand for more food and advanced technology, us humans must alter our environment and collect more resources. The ways in which we have farmed for our food have changed dramatically within the last century. Within The Unsettling of America Berry states during his upbringing farms were “generally small”, family owned farms, “They were farmed by families who lived not only upon them, but within and from them”(39). As the human population has grown in size people have moved from the small town farm lands to living within cities and suburban neighborhoods. Less people are focused on where their food comes from, and more worried about materialistic objects. Now that less people are involved in the production of their ownfood, the farmers and producers of food were forced to produce at an impossible rate. This is where modern science comes into play; with the creation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These chemical creations undoubtedly do their job at helping farmers produce massive amounts of food; but have consequential effects on the environment and ourselves.
Carson’s Silent Spring does well in educating the reader about the use of pesticides, and also tells of the delicate balances in nature that we humans have effected greatly. Carson explains that these chemicals we have inputted into our environment do not stay at the farm. When it rains these chemicals runoff into our fresh water supply, and more importantly enter the nonhuman environment. These chemicals kill organisms and also cause dangerous mutations that can spread over generations. Since the time of the release of this book many of the dangerous chemicals written about in Silent Spring have since been forbidden to use, because of their known negative effects. Although we have partially moved away from the use of toxic chemicals we still face many agricultural problems.
Carson also discusses in Silent Spring the delicate balances in nature. The geologic processes and cycles of elements around our planet have taken millions of years to form. Our planet has never seen a species adapt and become so intelligent as us. We can alter our world and its resources and turn it into a place where our standard of living is incredible. As we change the form of our planet we have eliminated many species by taking their homes and changing them. Scientist predict that today’s modern world will send our planet into the sixth mass extinction period.
“Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time. The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.”
Wendell Berry also expresses his concerns and knowledge about agriculture, and its effects on culture and the natural world. As stated above the standard of living for our species has improved greatly. We no longer are living in caves gathering and hunting food. We are working class Americans who go to work and buy our food. Us humans do not test our mortality as predators fighting for a meal. In fact our culture has changed so much we even dread going to work and try to escape it.
“The Growth of the exploiters’ revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hand work. We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from” (12)
I completely agree with this idea. Let’s face it, work sucks, who doesn’t want to sit back with their feet up instead of labor? I too am privileged to live on this continent and live the way we do. Although our standard of living and means of living could be described as “immature”. We take so much and give nothing back to our planet. Now lets switch gears and look at the standard of living of the people on the opposite side of the spectrum. Many people on our planet live without materialistic objects and get only what they need to survive. Whether this is their choice or not, it can be viewed in a worldly sense as “mature”. These people travel miles by foot for water and their food sources are very scarce. They don’t contribute to green house gas emissions, and they certainly do not spread chemicals into the environment. If the nonhuman organisms of our planet had a sentient mind capable of understanding this; I think they would appreciate the mature humans on our planet that only take what they need. The people of our continent live in a world of pleasure and amusement and it is great I cannot deny. But for the sake of our future and the future of generations to come, we must become more mature. This crisis is a crisis of culture and boils down to every individual within it.
As we send our planet further out of balance it will be even more difficult to straighten it out and return Earth to its delicate balance. I feel lucky to live during this time, to witness the greatest change and mark in human history on our planet.
” I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction.”
Wendell Berry: The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture
The Unsettling of America, written by Wendell Berry, does very well in describing the problems with modern day “agriculture”, and the disastrous effects they have had on our world. Within this book Berry states the issues of modern day practices of agriculture, and how they have created environmental and economical crisis and it has become a problem of “character”.
Within this book Wendell Berry speaks of the changes in agricultural practices that have had negative impacts on many different things. The movement away from traditional forms of agriculture to newer techniques that involve less human work and participation have had negative effects on both employment, and soil quality; which has brought about many different consequences. The input of newly developed agricultural tools has created these problems. One of the biggest problems, Berry states, is the use of large tractors that provide many different functions, has replaced the demand for human labor on the farm. These large tractors also compact the soil leaving less pore space in between soil particles which greatly limits soil gas exchange, movement of microorganisms, and overall makes soil quality poor for crops being grown.
Another issue of modern agriculture that Berry touches upon briefly, that I am quite familiar with, is the problems with field plowing and its affect on soil quality. European settlers that came to our land started an agricultural trend that is field plowing and has since not changed. The main issue with field plowing is the mixing of top soil with lower horizons of soil. The top horizon layer of soil is high in organic material and contains nutrients required for plant growth. Lower horizon layers of soil contain less organic content and more inorganic parent material (rocky sediments). Mixing of different layers of soil eliminates that nutrient rich top soil layer which consequently greatly lowers soil quality. Looking at this from a geologic temporal scale, it is important to know the formation of new soil takes thousands of years. This limits plant growth in these plowed areas to vegetation that requires less nutrients, directly effecting biodiversity and biological growth.
An additional indirect result of this is the input of fertilizers and other soil enhancing materials, such as manure, into the soil. The addition of synthetic fertilizers and manure into soil has created many problems both in the natural environment and for human health. Fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen and other nutrients do not stay on the farmland where farmers spread them. The chemicals and nutrients in these fertilizers runoff with rain and enter bodies of water and give unnatural levels of nutrients to both invasive plant species and other native species. You may think that this would be great for the environment but actually the excess levels of these nutrients cause a phenomena known as “eutrophication”. Eutrophication occurs when high levels of nutrients are present in a set environment. These excessive levels of nutrients provide unnecessary amounts to algae and other plant masking organisms. These organisms out compete other organisms and dominate that ecosystem, thus degrading levels of biodiversity. Input of manure into farm land also has a “runoff” effect. The chemicals within manure also cause many different health issues in humans such as salmonella and e coli.
The newfound technological advances in agriculture are a result of human population growth. More people demand more food than before, and farmers are the producers of this product. Berry states that during his upbringing many of the farms from where he lived were “generally small”. Berry says “They were farmed by families who lived not only upon them, but within and from them.” (39) But, with rapid population growth output of food is at a rate never seen on our planet before. The demand for more food brought about a shift from small family owned farms, to large corporate economic giants. Berry argues that even some of the most conservative organisations, such as the Sierra-Club, have moved away from the roots of their organisations towards further economic dominance. Berry states that many of the conservative organisations have put investments into other non environmentally friendly organizations such as strip mining companies, industries that pollute the land and air, and pesticide corporations. These conservatives will argue that “sacrifice” is required for our “standard of living”. This goes along with the quote I began this post with. Living within a country with a “standard of living” as high of quality as we have it absolutely requires “sacrifice”. But, the main point the Berry is trying to convey here is that this is a problem of character, not character of an individual, but as a community.
Overall the production of greater quantities of food are necessary to be able to feed the population. The means by which we alter our environment and put it and ourselves at risk brings forth the question/ problem Berry forces us to see as a problem of “character”. We must feed our people but at what cost? In order to flourish further as a species much must be done in the ways we grow and produce our food.
Gary Snyder’s book Turtle Island is a book of poems filled with both environmentalism and Buddhist Zen. The language Snyder uses within Turtle Island was at first difficult for myself to interpret exactly what he was trying to convey in each poem. Snyder’s poems contained many messages within themselves; but also left the interpretation open for the reader. Snyder, prior to writing Turtle Island, practiced Buddhist spirituality and spent much of his time in nature. Within his poems this background is clearly evident. The contents of this blog are quite simple; I will include 2 of my favorite poems within Turtle Island, and interpret them from my own perspective; as well as talk about the title of the book and the introductory.
But before diving straight into the book and the poems found within I would like to talk a bit about the title, Turtle Island, and also about the introduction to the book. The title of this book Turtle Island is a title to the country that we Americans live in. Turtle island, or the newfound land which is present day U.S.A, was a title given to this land based upon the idea of this land mass being a single organism; a “serpent, or turtle”. This single organism composed of water sheds, life communities, and different plant zones, was not originally “North America”, made up of arbitrary state and county boundaries separating one another by a political line on a map. This land used to be full of untouched nature giving life to the natives that used to live here that respected our land and only took what they needed to survive. I rather enjoy the idea of our country being a large turtle with us on its back, rather than political U.S.A./ North America. In a sense we are still living on the back of that huge turtle; we have scoured its shell for resources, and redefined its composition with artificial roads, and concrete forests.
Before dawn the coyotes
weave medicine songs
dream nets – spirit baskets –
milky way music
they cook young girls with
to be woman;
or the whirling dance of
striped boys –
At moon-set the pines are gold-purple
Just before sunrise.
The dog hastens into the undergrowth
Comes back panting
Huge, on the small dry flowers.
Drums and echoes
Across the still meadow
One man draws, and releases an arrow
Misses a gray stump, and splitting
A smooth red twisty manzanita bough.
Manzanita the tips in fruit,
Clusters of hard green berries
The longer you look
The bigger they seem,
This poem Manzanita by Snyder does much more then define a time early in the morning. Within this poem it is evident that Snyder is in nature listening to all of the sounds in nature. These sounds that he is hearing are not just noises of animals, but calls it “milky way music”. This line speaks to me greatly in a sense that the sounds by everything in nature are beautiful. While i’m in the woods or wherever I am the sounds of nature put me at peace. Whether its the sound of water crashing over rocks through a creek, or the sound of the wind running through the trees and their leaves, or one of my mothers favorites, the sound of waves breaking at the beach; All of these sounds were being produced far before us humans were around to type about it, and will continue far after we’re gone. In the last stanza of this poem Snyder writes…
“Manzanita the tips in fruit,
Clusters of hard green berries
The longer you look
The bigger they seem,”
I believe Snyder is conveying a message about the mind and perception within these final lines. When you really begin to observe something at every detail you begin to see how complex and special it really is. The berries on the manzanita bush are yes, essentially regular old berries; but, Snyder is bringing attention to the fact that these berries are in clusters, they are green, these berries are food for animals and also make reproduction of the manzanita plant possible. These berries give life to new manzanita plants and other hungry creatures. “The longer you look” at something “The bigger they seem”. Other than putting your eye balls an inch away from these green berries getting a closer look making them look bigger; the “longer” you observe them, and think about their function in the world, you begin to realize that they are very important and more than just regular old berries. This concept absolutely applies to much much more than manzanita berries, it applies to everything.
The Uses Of Light
It warms my bones
say the stones
I take it into me and grow
Say the trees
A vast vague white
Draws me out of the night
Says the moth in his flight-
Some things I smell
Some things i hear
And I see things move
Says the deer-
A high tower
on a wide plain.
If you climb up
You’ll see a thousand miles more.
As with all poetry and much of Gary Snyders work, each poem has their own meaning. In this poem The Uses Of Light, a literal and physical sense of the poem can be seen. Snyder tells of “the uses of light”; plants use it for photosynthesis to grow, the moth and deer need the light to see around themselves, and the stones are warmed by the light just like you and I on a sunny day. But the most interesting part of this poem, as with the last poem as well, is at the final stanza.
A high tower
on a wide plain.
If you climb up
You’ll see a thousand miles more.
This final stanza can be interpreted in a physical sense of line of site. If I were to gain elevation my 360° perspective of my surroundings will increase indefinitely, unless something tall is in the way. Rather than this interpretation, I have interpreted the end of this poem in another way. Climbing one floor in the tower is a personal gain of both knowledge and understanding. The wide field is the cosmos and everything in the universe. As an individual climbs the tower much more can be seen, understood, and perceived. Those who climb further up the tower understand the world better, gain different points of view, and perceive things differently within the world and universe. I believe the light within this poem does not translate to any other form than physical light. We as seeing human beings can see the world around ourselves and perceive from a basis of what we saw, and how our mind interpreted the physical sighting. “Seeing is believing”
Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island contains many more poems that have their own unique theme or message. Within his work his appreciation for the natural world and universe can be found. His poems can be interpreted in many different ways and apply to much more than just the physical world. I look forward to reading more of Snyder’s work and appreciate the differences in perspective i have gained while reading Turtle Island.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is a globally famous book that has led the worldwide environmental moment further towards success. During Carson’s lifetime Silent Spring had sold over 1 million copies before she died in 1964 at 56 years old. Rachel Carson was a originally an English major in her early college education; but her interest in the environment changed her focus to marine biology. It is evident through Silent Spring that Carson had a background in writing because of the exceptional level of flow and content within Silent Spring as well as it’s ability to be read and understood by all.
Silent Spring is an interesting title for a book about the detrimental uses of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the environment. During one of last weeks class sessions we were discussing Silent Spring and what the title meant. Normally with the coming of Spring, transitioning from Winter, wherever one lives the sounds of migratory birds, the peeper frog, and other animal sounds can be heard. These animal sounds we hear year and year again with the coming of Spring help us feel the transformation of the seasons. Silent Sping, as I have already stated, is a book about the use of dangerous chemicals in the environment. Carson states in Silent Sping that these inorganic chemicals such as arsenic, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and organophosphates; have contributed to killing many different species, other than the intended “pests”, as well as posing extremely dangerous health risks for humans as well. The leaching of these chemicals into the soil, running off into water, and direct applications of the chemicals to plants and insects, have had many unwanted and overlooked responses. The input of dangerous pesticides into our environment has killed many species of birds, fish, and have also given humans horrific illnesses and diseases. These chemicals as well as killing many species of life have also made changes to species DNA creating dangerous and deadly mutations. Now going back to looking at the title Silent Spring; one could perceive Carson had this title in mind because dangerous pesticide chemicals would bring an end to the return of many species; as well as those migratory, and dormant creatures that we hear returning in the Spring time.
During the time of the release of this book (1962) many were outraged against Carson. Many scientists and individuals doubted the knowledge and truth of this female scientists claims within Silent Spring. The pesticide industry was very frustrated as well with Carson’s claims, all of these chemicals being released and inputted into the environment were making our Earth unfit for all types of life.
Within Silent Spring Carson also discusses the delicate balance in nature that has taken millions of years to form. “Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time. The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.” The process of evolution, as theorized by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, takes millions of years to bring forth positive genetic change for species to adapt to their ever changing environment. The entire world, even though it is extremely diverse, has all worked together to form a delicate balance for all that reside within it. Man-kind’s intelligence has grown to a dangerous level that has allowed us to bring forth immense change to the natural world. With the increase in production and industrialization the natural world has suffered because of the inputs and alterations humans have made. Man-kind s growing at an alarming rate, and our planet eventually will not be able to sustain our projected population size in coming years. Carson’s quote that I have placed above does well in informing us that nature has taken so very long to find its perfect balance; and us humans who work at a “heedless pace” are not giving nature the time it requires to fall back into balance.
Although written a little less than half a century ago Silent Spring does well in addressing some of the biggest environmental problems that present day mankind has encountered. The issues within this book are all very real and ongoing today. Many disagreed with Carson’s viewpoints and statements but at the end of the day all of these problems affect every individual human and life form on our planet. Silent Spring has done well in kick starting the environmental movement by giving the audience important factual knowledge and speaking out against those that disagree with her own view points.
literature and environmentalism at keene state college