Why Joseph Went to the Woods

November 1, 2007 | 87 comments
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Joseph Smith went to the woods because he wished to know the truth of his existence. He did not take his longing to a bedroom or closet in his house or to a barn or shed on his family’s property (all good places for soul searching). In a forest grove, he dropped to his knees, laid out the seeds of his desire to know, and watered them with fervent prayer.

The season was right, the desire fertile, and the light … That is, after Joseph wrestled his bout with darkness, supernal light broke through, warmed the seeds bearing Joseph’s desire to know and split them wide. Eternal purpose, truth, and life took root on Earth in a way it had not done for centuries.

Joseph’s choice of forest as staging ground for putting his Big Questions to God suggests he trusted solitude and the stimulating qualities natural environments offer. Somehow – perhaps in ways difficult for us to imagine because potential Sacred Groves are harder to come by than they were in Joseph’s time – nature might have facilitated the emergence of the modern church. Whatever else, the Sacred Grove provided everyone involved, including its Creators, geopositioning for the gospel’s restoration. Joseph Smith’s account of what happened to him when he went to the woods to pray bears many labels. Among them should be that it’s one of the world’s most striking moments in nature literature.

Through Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Mormonism stakes its claim in the grand tradition of finding God in the wilderness. Couple this claim with our belief in eternal progression, add the central role repentance plays in our lives, and we really have quite the lenses for gazing upon the grandeur of the Mystery. With our growing LDS scientific and cultural communities, LDS literary nature writers ought to abound. In fact, given the LDS belief that there’s a mustard seed god in each of us, one would expect more Mormon writers to be chronicling its growth in the creation. So … where are our records of discovery?

A while back, I wrote another post wondering where the LDS nature writers are. Stephen Carter, who among other things writes for the satirical gazette The Sugar Beet, offered these delightful (to me) remarks:

May Swenson, the nature poet, is a relative of mine. Which explains why my dad was reading a book of hers one day. According to my mom, when he was finished he commented, “May’s just too in love with this world to see the next.”

I think that comment says a lot about why so few nature writers come out of the Mormon tradition. I know a lot of Mormons who don’t think twice about environmental stuff because they believe Jesus is going to come with his very own Super Fund in just a little while now. So why worry?

And then there’s the idea Joseph Smith put forward that the world, in its perfected state, will resemble a big ball of glass. It seems that the majority of the ideology popular among Mormons these days leads us to be suspect of this world. After all, Satan has control over it, right?

And, the telestial kingdom is supposed to resemble this world. Meaning that there are at least two spheres more exalted that this one.

There’s also the idea that, as gods, we’re going to be big real estate developers in the sky, with no constraints put on our creative abilities. Which doesn’t lead one to think about resource management.

Sheesh, I hadn’t realized how much stands in the way of Mormons being environmentally minded. Much less potential nature writers.

Possibly, Mormons are having more spiritual experiences in nature than they report because they feel shy about calling them “spiritual.” In response to my Times and Seasons post, A Walk into the Moon, “Darrell” made the following comment:

… I had a night class in Portland and drove home up the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side. There is a turn-off just a few miles from my home called Cape Horn. I pulled off the road, exited my car and watched the moon as it reflected off the Columbia River. The river far below, the mountains, the trees, Beacon Rock (off in the distance) were all “aglaze”… I watched a barge glide through the water, lights glowing even in the bright moonlight. It was almost a spiritual experience. I offered a prayer of thanks for being in this place in this time in my life.

Questioned about what would have made this moment a fully spiritual experience for him, Darrell replied:

I definitely understated the experience. You are right it was spiritual, I should not have used the word “almost.” Perhaps I was comparing it to some of the experiences that I have had in the temple. However, more than once, as I have hiked through these woods and mountains and among waterfalls, I have felt as close to God as within the walls of the temple.

Like any good language, good nature literature has power to invoke the sacred. For some, reading nature writing produces restorative effects similar to those of actually being out in nature, prompting peace or inspiration for how to solve spiritual and practical problems. At the very least, decent literary nature and science writing informs, thereby raising consciousness. So, in my quest to understand the role nature writing could play in Mormon literature, I have some questions for our Times and Seasons readers:

1) Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?
2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?
3) What in Mormonism provides your spiritual grounding for caring about the well being of this planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it?
4) Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?
5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?

Given the setting for Mormonism’s opening scene and its progressive doctrines, Mormons are in a unique position to produce world-class literary nature and science writing. The fact we don’t appear to be doing so suggests a serious case of talent-burying.

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87 Responses to Why Joseph Went to the Woods

  1. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Many thanks to Stephen Carter and to “Darrell” for granting permission to use their language in this post and for going through post previews with me.

  2. Eve on November 1, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Wow, Patricia, every one of those questions deserves its own post! But to attempt some of them briefly:

    (1) I love nature and science writing, and I especially love poetry about the natural world.
    (2) Although I believe in and try to practice principles of prudence, respect, and conservation, I’m ambivalent about much contemporary environmental discourse. I find the tones of self-righteous disdain that environmentalists sometimes adopt and their occasional tendencies toward pompous finger-wagging both alienating and insufficient to the complexities of their topic. (Of course, I’d hasten to add that environmentalists are far from alone in these unfortunate habits.)
    (3) For me both a sense of the divine origin of the universe and the thrifty practicality of the pioneers inform my environmentalism, such as it is.

    Offhand I’d say your most difficult question is (4). All of my life I’ve been drawn to the natural world. I’ve had many experiences of the sort Darrell describes above, but I’m not sure to what extent I want to call them spiritual. To what extent is the aesthetic the spiritual? To what extent is a passion for language, ideas, or the natural world spiritual? In one sense, yes, such experiences are deeply spiritual. In another sense, to me they don’t seem spiritual in quite the same way that certain other religious experiences are. But I’m not satisfied with my own answer; this is a question I’d have to think about much longer to answer well.

    And I’ll take a pass on (5), since I don’t have even a preliminary answer to that one.

  3. Wilfried on November 1, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Thank you, Patricia. A quick comment as to your second question, i.e. disengagement from the nature/environment discussion. My experience taught me that in the international church — compared to the Wasatch front – the interest for environmental issues seems much more pronounced. I presume it has to do with the profile of many converts: quite often these are people who were already engaged in good causes, in search of ideals, sensitive to issues that can improve themselves and the world. They embrace Mormonism within a sphere of ultimate confirmation of what they have been searching for, but at the same time remain loyal to their former social and environmental ideals. I remember Dutch anthropologist Wouter Van Beek analyzed it once as a movement towards “Green Mormonism” in the Church in the Netherlands.

  4. roland on November 1, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Hey – I’m an LDS Nature Writer! From the title of the ariticle I didn’t realize that Patricia was writing about me. Wow.

    I’ve been blogging on American family outdoor recreation sites, etc, for over 10 years now at http://www.maintour.com

  5. Chino Blanco on November 1, 2007 at 9:23 am

    1) Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?

    What is it with the members of the New York Times editorial board and their obvious affection for E.B. White? In other words, even if I could, how to avoid such lovely essays as this as long as the International Herald Tribune is the only rag in town for us expats? Read, yes. Write, no. Care? Only as it serves to embellish an otherwise flinty frontier character.

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?

    Latest actual discussion involved incapacitating parking lots … to that extent, yes. Re mainstream discussions, not so much.

    3) What in Mormonism provides your spiritual grounding for caring about the well being of this planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it?

    My parents, particularly Dad.

    4) Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?

    Yes, but apparently there are orders of magnitude.

    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?

    A conscious abrogation of context.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on November 1, 2007 at 9:29 am

    “Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?”

    Define “nature writing.” I read a great deal of pastoral, counter-cultural and agrarian literature, both fiction and nonfiction. I consider that to be nature writing of the highest order. But many other greens look askance at such writing, thinking that in nonetheless falls into the anthrocentric trap of assuming that human communities and production are a good complement to the natural world. Of course, I think that is a correct assumption to make, and so I think those people are wrong and have a misguided sense of the environment.

    “Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?”

    To the extent that I believe the most pressing issues facing our society are best summarized in terms of moral reform and socio-economic justice, rather than outright environmental protection or repair, I suppose I do. However, there’s plenty of overlap there (changing our food economy, adopting a slower and less materialistic style of living, etc.).

    “What in Mormonism provides your spiritual grounding for caring about the well being of this planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it?”

    I’m actually doubtful that orthodox Mormonism provides as much explicit green inspiration or counsel as some of my more environmentally inclined friends believe it does; certainly there’s a whole lot more in the revelations about making sure no one ever goes to bed hungry than there is about making sure no river is ever polluted. That being said, I do tend to believe that the temple narrative provides very explicit condemnation of overhunting or disrupting the natural rhythms of animal and plant life unless absolutely necessary; I have a friend who “converted” to vegetarianism after an experience in the temple, and that seems like a completely justifiable response to me.

    “Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?”

    Yes, but not as many as I have had while listening to a fine piece of music, or reading a great book, or viewing a masterful work of art. I wonder if I should feel bad about that?

    “What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?”

    Where human communities fit in.

  7. Chino Blanco on November 1, 2007 at 9:59 am

    “May’s just too in love with this world to see the next.”

    The “next-world” seems like an awfully 20th-century notion … Didn’t Mormonism spring from an agrarian world, propelled by an impulse to create a better urban world here and now? Even with all the fun details of the next-world that got bandied about back in the day, wasn’t The Work itself quite down to earth?

  8. Nick Literski on November 1, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I’m not sure that Joseph going into the woods on his family farm really says much to us about any special impact of nature on spiritual experience. From the text, we can see Joseph wanted to be alone. We know that the large family was living in a small cabin at the time. It seems like going into the woods had more to do with privacy/solitude, than it did with “nature.” In fact, those woods were the family “factory,” so to speak, from which they produced maple syrup.

    Today we relate differently to nature, and seek it as an escape from our “civilized” surroundings. To enter a natural habitat is to inhabit a different world than that to which we are accustomed, much like entering a temple. It elicits particular feelings in our generation, but I think it’s a mistake to read those into Joseph’s 1820 experience.

  9. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:06 am

    # 2, Eve, said: Although I believe in and try to practice principles of prudence, respect, and conservation, I’m ambivalent about much contemporary environmental discourse. I find the tones of self-righteous disdain that environmentalists sometimes adopt and their occasional tendencies toward pompous finger-wagging both alienating and insufficient to the complexities of their topic. (Of course, I’d hasten to add that environmentalists are far from alone in these unfortunate habits.)

    Environmentalists/nature writers are far from alone in these unfortunate habits. I dislike nature writing where writers use wildly accusatory, belittling, or even downright you’re-not-fit-to-live tones as much as I dislike any other kind of writing that uses such language to shift focus away from some important matter worthy of discussion.

    Some up-and-coming nature writers are taking care to present their cases in more approachable prose and poetry. Their sadness at losses and exploitation slips through, but in ways that provoke people to think, not run to battle stations.

    To what extent is the aesthetic the spiritual? To what extent is a passion for language, ideas, or the natural world spiritual?

    Excellent questions.

  10. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:16 am

    # 3, Wilfried: They embrace Mormonism within a sphere of ultimate confirmation of what they have been searching for, but at the same time remain loyal to their former social and environmental ideals. I remember Dutch anthropologist Wouter Van Beek analyzed it once as a movement towards “Green Mormonism” in the Church in the Netherlands.

    Wilfried, I’d love it if you could you provide some examples.

  11. Chino Blanco on November 1, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Re #8, I think that, for 19th-century Americans, the temple may have represented a “different world than that to which we are accustomed” …

    But, for us, now, how is it significantly different than the Metropolitan Museum of Art? “Us” meaning those of us who will never read Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

  12. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:29 am

    # 5, Chino Blano: Read, yes. Write, no. Care? Only as it serves to embellish an otherwise flinty frontier character.
    Hm, flinty frontier character. Such as?

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?

    Latest actual discussion involved incapacitating parking lots … to that extent, yes. Re mainstream discussions, not so much.
    C.B., “incapacitating parking lots” ???

    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?

    A conscious abrogation of context.

    I’m not following your point. Do you mean something like avoiding agendizing nature writing or using natural images or the language in nature writing to channel people in particular directions?

  13. BrianJ on November 1, 2007 at 10:31 am

    What Nick said. It was a tiny cabin.

    Also, why should we expect Mormons to produce “world-class” anything”?—there aren’t that many of us in the world. I’m not convinced that there is any “serious case of talent-burying.”

    1) Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?
    Not really. I read and write science, but not literary science.

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?
    No. But I apparently approach it differently than you (to be clear: “differently”, not “better than”).

    4) Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?
    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?

  14. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:47 am

    # 6, Russell: But many other greens look askance at such writing, thinking that in nonetheless falls into the anthrocentric trap of assuming that human communities and production are a good complement to the natural world. Of course, I think that is a correct assumption to make, and so I think those people are wrong and have a misguided sense of the environment.

    I agree that human communites and production are not only good complements but “natural” complements to whatever else is going on in the world. But like other natural processes, they can run amok.

    Environmental philosophies and language that call for the extinction of the human species to restore order and beauty to Earth indulge in wasteful thinking and emotionally exploitative language. Language is part of the natural environment.

    To the extent that I believe the most pressing issues facing our society are best summarized in terms of moral reform and socio-economic justice, rather than outright environmental protection or repair, I suppose I do. However, there’s plenty of overlap there (changing our food economy, adopting a slower and less materialistic style of living, etc.).

    So you know, I see nature writing and enviromental rhetoric as a facet of moral reform and socio-economic justice. I’ve mentioned in other posts, or in comments to other posts, that I see the exploitation and harm we do in the natural world as an extension of the harm and exploitation we engage in with each other.

    “What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?”

    Where human communities fit in.

    Yes, but what value would this information have to you personally?

  15. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:54 am

    # 7, Chino Blanco: “May’s just too in love with this world to see the next.”

    The “next-world” seems like an awfully 20th-century notion … Didn’t Mormonism spring from an agrarian world, propelled by an impulse to create a better urban world here and now? Even with all the fun details of the next-world that got bandied about back in the day, wasn’t The Work itself quite down to earth?

    My response on the original post to this part of Stephen’s comment was that it could just as easily be turned around: “[Blank] is too in love with the next world to see this one.”

    At any rate, seems like this world and any existence before or after it are one Eternal round.

  16. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 11:03 am

    # 8, Nick L.: I’m not sure that Joseph going into the woods on his family farm really says much to us about any special impact of nature on spiritual experience. From the text, we can see Joseph wanted to be alone. We know that the large family was living in a small cabin at the time. It seems like going into the woods had more to do with privacy/solitude, than it did with “nature.” In fact, those woods were the family “factory,” so to speak, from which they produced maple syrup.

    I don’t think we can prove that his going into the woods says much about any special impact of nature on spiritual experience any more than we can use Christ’s choosing Gethsemane proves the same, or his going up into the mountains to pray, or Moses’ burning bush experience, or Thoreau’s going into the woods to live deliberately, etc. etc. I’ve had powerful spiritual experiences in college classrooms and I’ve had them out in nature. For me, they complement each other.

    That said, I’ve written more on the possible connection between Joseph’s choice of wood over … anything else … here.

  17. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 11:08 am

    # 13, Brian J.: What Nick said. It was a tiny cabin.

    Yes, been there, seen that.

  18. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 11:14 am

    My thanks to everyone who has commented so far for your constructive and instructive insights. I expect to learn a lot from the discussion here.

  19. Chino Blanco on November 1, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Hey Patricia,

    1) Oh, I don’t know, maybe like this character?

    2) Sorry, just a snippet from a recent fireside chat … no place to park, cars got no place to go …

    5) I’m onboard with where Russell and Nick are going with this … as much as I try (and I trust you know I’ve tried), the narrow slice of rock-hugger lit I’ve surveyed leaves me wondering how the appeal works if the reader isn’t already cozily esconced in a world that I’m actually not all that familiar with … i.e., middle-class America … For all my airs, I’m from an agrarian/working-class background … I have a hard time respecting near-death in the wilderness when it’s part of a planned outing …

  20. Ardis Parshall on November 1, 2007 at 11:17 am

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?

    Yes. I have no direct contact with wild nature (I think you’re not really talking about manicured city parks and backyard gardens?) and my spiritual connection with the great outdoors is like my spiritual connection with Darfur or the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific — these are things that on some level I suppose I ought to be concerned about, but they’re so physically remote and the likelihood of my having any impact on them, or they on me, is drowned out by more immediate concerns that I can be directly engaged with.

    For me, the outdoors that you write about is the playground of the rich, and off limits to me. I’d either have to have the vehicle and the oil (and the hiking gear and camping outfit and leisure time) to get there, or I’d have to live in a rural area and would need the vehicle and the oil to get to where I can make a living. The expensive equipment needed to reach the natural world is beyond my means. And that includes nature as near as the mountains I can see through the haze of city exhaust out my window.

    I no longer read about Paris and Boston, for the same reason.

  21. Darrell on November 1, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Over and over in the scriptures we see prophets going into high mountains to commune with God. In some cases they were physically transported there by the Spirit. The Savior went into the wilderness after his baptism to be with his Father. The transfiguration took place in a \”high mountain apart.\” Could all of these spiritual experiences have occurred in a house, a tent or just outside the camp? Of course. But there seems to be much significance to going into a \”high mountain apart.\” Much of our scripture is \”nature writing\” –revelations given while the revelators were out in nature, seeking the solice of nature.

  22. Chino Blanco on November 1, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Or simply escaping the thick haze that apparently blankets Utah.

  23. Darrell on November 1, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Ardis, I find your statement #20 very sad. Though I do understand where you are coming from. I have been blessed to live in a rural environment most of my life (except for several months in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland). I have found that environment does play a huge role in attitude. For example, I have recently moved from the high desert country of Eastern Washington (lots of sage brush, dried grass, and rocks) to the lush greenery of the Columbia Gorge of Washington/Oregon. Though I don’t generally litter, I will admit that, when I lived in the desert I would occasionly throw a McDonald’s wrapper or two on the side of the highway. I would not dream of doing that here. It, somehow, seems much more wrong to defile the land here–although I recognize that there should be no difference. Environment does play a huge role in attitude. I am beginning to understand why there are so many “tree huggers” in Oregon, whereas before I had little to do with them.

  24. Kaimi Wenger on November 1, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Great questions, Patricia.

    I’ve certainly had spiritual experiences in nature. These need not come in moments of pure solitude on an unspoiled plain somewhere, I think. I can hear God’s voice when I look at the ocean (even though it’s filled with swimmers, and boats, and far too much trash). I can see God’s hand in the clouds and sunlight, even from my backyard in the city, or from the freeway. And the moon and stars follow me wherever I go. Yes, they’re more magnificent, out in the desert. But they’re pretty damn cool from a back yard, too. We can have our own Walden Ponds, if we look for them. (Not unlike Adam G.’s vision of a private chapel.)

    At the same time, there are things that make me question the real compatibility of nature devotion with conventional Mormon thought and practice.

    For one, there is certainly a type of nature worship that is the province of the rich and bored. I’m thinking of the climbers in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, who pay $70,000 to be escorted to the top of Everest. Ardis is right to point out that nature has itself become a commodity of sorts. Of course, there are opportunities to interact with nature in our own backyards. But the annoying presence of nature snobs has tainted the idea of nature, for many people.

    Another possible clash comes from the high priestess of Mormon nature writing herself, Terry Tempest Williams. Let me try to say this sensitively. TTW is great, of course — she combines much about her Mormon background with her intense love of nature, and creates a wonderful amalgam that shows one way that nature and Mormonism can interact.

    She’s also problematic, not least because she’s not exactly the world’s most orthodox Mormon. I think that it’s easy for orthodox LDS to read her writing and say to themselves, “so that’s what happens if you go too far down the nature path.” Her less-orthodox Mormonism plays just one role in her writing, but I think for many church members that’s the crucial part.

    In fact, I recently wondered whether to give a copy of Refuge to a ward member, a friend who had a family member dying of cancer. I had just this conversation in my head. “Will she like the imagery, the discussion of mortality — or will she be freaked out by the Heavenly Mother discussion or the throwaway lines about drinking champagne?”

    And of course, the nature loved by TTW and others at times seems contrary to other ideas commonly expressed in modern Mormonism. We hear repeated talks about clean, pressed shirts for worship — Sister Beck; President Hinckley. And the fact is, nature is dirty. There are no clean, pressed shirts on extended campouts. There often isn’t much in the way of showers, either.

    That’s my take. There’s a lot to love about nature, and a lot of ways that it could become more a part of the everyday spiritual communion of members, I think. But there are real hurdles to the more widespread acceptance of this idea.

  25. Kevinf on November 1, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    I personally struggle with a celestialized earth that is a glass sphere. If there are no mountains, rivers, canyons, and deserts in the CK, I will be disappointed.

    Kaimi, I’ve read “Refuge” and a couple of other works by Williams. She doesn’t hide her Mormon roots, but I don’t find that the Mormon culture defines her, and so I view her as a Mormon writer who writes about nature, not about the Mormon aspects of nature.

    I struggle with why loving nature and the natural world is viewed as “elitist” by some. While I love the wilderness, I also love just walking to the city park on the waterfront of Lake Sammamish near my home refreshing. The farms and fields of the Bear Lake valley are one of the treasured vistas of my youth. I get excited about seeing the flickers return to the cedars in my front yard each spring, a more certain sign than the robins.

    I guess that I just love the outdoors. This summer, my wife and I were able to combine a trip with one of our sons and his new wife to a new home in Arizona with a quick road trip back to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Goblin Valley. It was pretty easy to enjoy the scenery, but it only took a little extra time to get out of the car, grab a hat and a bottle of water, and take a short walk and just bask in the hot, dry air for an hour or so. I’ll never climb Mt. Everest, but I can always use a Saturday, and climb to the top of Mt. Si, some 2000 feet above the Snoqualmie Valley.

    There is a tension between the ordered and orderly life of the gospel, and the disorderly messy world of nature. I can’t go out for a hike without expecting to get a little dirty. I envy the early saints for their open air meetings at the old bowery. Yeah, I know, I complain about the air conditioning not being adequate at church in the summer. I think it is the closed spaces that make heat or cold uncomfortable. I have great remembrances of youth conference testimony meetings under the trees in a high mountain meadow, and I have had some great spiritual experiences in the outdoors, but they came pretty much the same way they always do. I was praying, or fasting, or performing my duties and serving.

    If the Celestial Kingdom is indeed a glass sphere, I hope it’s small enough that I can throw it in my pocket and take it with me outside.

  26. Adam Greenwood on November 1, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    At least for me, exemplary people and the communion of the Saints are much more the occasion of spiritual experiences than the natural world is. I have had spiritual experiences in nature but I think the solitude was more responsible than the nature, and solitude is an experience that you can obtain outside nature much more easily now than in Joseph Smith’s time and place.

    That said, though I generally think nature and the heavens are an inferior source of spiritual presence, the absence of good and evil does allow the Spirit to help you experience things like beauty in a way you can’t in other settings.

    I’ve never met anyone else who felt this way, but for me my most spiritual experiences of nature involve fields, gardens, and other places where nature and the works of man meet. I felt God very near when I was mucking around in a stream to make it more suitable for trout.

  27. Darrell on November 1, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    “If the Celestial Kingdom is indeed a glass sphere, I hope it’s small enough that I can throw it in my pocket and take it with me outside.”

    Kevin, I hope you are right there. I see it as home base while I go skiing down the rings of Saturn or hiking up the nose of the Horsehead Nebula.

  28. Russell Arben Fox on November 1, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Patricia,

    “I agree that human communites and production are not only good complements but ‘natural’ complements to whatever else is going on in the world. But like other natural processes, they can run amok.”

    Oh absolutely; you’re correct there. And when human work runs amok, it can damage the natural world in a much more pervasive way than is the case when natural work runs amok. But that still doesn’t, I think, eliminate the need to be positively insistent upon the goodness of that complementarity of human production and natural rhythms, if only because so very, very many people (I would estimate easily 80% or more of the people reading these words right now) live without any real knowledge of or involvement with or consciousness of their dependence upon that human production. Ours is, thanks to wealth among other things, a deeply unreal and unrealistic society, in which far too many voters feel more of a connection with an Ansel Adams photograph than with milking a cow. It’s stupid to allow the political facts on the ground to drive our assessment of nature and our allegiances in its defense (Wendell Berry, the modern saint of agrarianism, was a mutual friend and admirer of Edward Abbey, who on some level in his writings really seemed to actually hate farmers and anyone else who would dare disturb the land), but still, one must respond to the world as it exists.

    “I see nature writing and enviromental rhetoric as a facet of moral reform and socio-economic justice. I’ve mentioned in other posts, or in comments to other posts, that I see the exploitation and harm we do in the natural world as an extension of the harm and exploitation we engage in with each other.”

    I know; I didn’t mean to imply that moral reform and socio-economic justice weren’t on your radar screen. Again, I’m responding primarily to the way these issues get set up and prioritized in the dominant political parties and interest groups of today.

    “[W]hat value would…information [about the place of human communities in a more ecologically concerned world] have to you personally?”

    I’m a political thinker and teacher of political science; knowing how to better discuss the balance between socio-economic development (particularly within rural communities) and environmental preservation betters my ability to reach out and hopefully enlighten my students in regards to these issues. Plus, I actually read books on political ideologies for fun.

  29. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    # 19 C.B.

    Fun article. Kind of a “Survivor: Pioneer Trek” type of episode, with food-finding prowess counting for a lot, even at times transcending group hierarchy.

    5) I’m onboard with where Russell and Nick are going with this … as much as I try (and I trust you know I’ve tried), the narrow slice of rock-hugger lit I’ve surveyed leaves me wondering how the appeal works if the reader isn’t already cozily esconced in a world that I’m actually not all that familiar with … i.e., middle-class America … For all my airs, I’m from an agrarian/working-class background … I have a hard time respecting near-death in the wilderness when it’s part of a planned outing …
    Maybe the problem lies in our needing another kind of nature literature and a different kind of language, a more engaging kind of language across the board, regardless of subject.

    I’m not particularly impressed with or engaged by a lot of nature literature myself, nor any other kind of literature or language that digs in rather than “gets across.” But I do like this world and consider good language about nature a satisfying way to explore what is going on here on Earth.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on November 1, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Adam,

    “I’ve never met anyone else who felt this way, but for me my most spiritual experiences of nature involve fields, gardens, and other places where nature and the works of man meet.”

    That’s me, to a T. I lived for five years in Utah, and could never get into the mountains, the deserets, the high plateaus. I respect and even on some level admire the people who can get into the groove of pure nature, empty of human beings, but that’s never been me. I love viewing the stars, and I can get caught up a majestic vistas as much as the next person, but in the end, give me woods with strolling pathways, streams with wooden bridges, parks with hedgerows and flowers, hills with stone fences, fields with wheat and timothy grass. Give me the Shire.

  31. Kevinf on November 1, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    More often than not, at least in the nature writing I have read, the writers generally experience nature in solitude. For example, Edward Abbey in “Desert Solitaire” pretty much figures any one intruding on his domain as a park ranger in Arches NP before paved roads was a nuisance. I have usually found that my most enjoyable experiences in nature have been in the company of others, good friends, family, a troop of noisy Scouts.

    Nature completely separated from human life is interesting, but I’d take a group of friends and family over solitude just about any time.

    Adam, some of my fondest memories of nature are from summers in my childhood, working on my Grandfather’s farm in Southern Idaho. Magic places, magic stories. My kids missed out, unfortunately.

  32. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    # 20, Ardis: I have no direct contact with wild nature (I think you’re not really talking about manicured city parks and backyard gardens?)

    Actually, those count. Noticing a squirrel in one of those manicured parks counts. Being aware of redtail hawks and peregrine falcons nesting on ledges on tall city buildings counts. Cursing the smog counts. Trying to avoid hitting a garter snake when you’re mowing the lawn or driving through town counts. Feeling angry that a fox has eaten your cat counts. Getting a mamogram probably engages the nature discussion in one way or another.

    So on and so forth.

    … but they’re so physically remote and the likelihood of my having any impact on them, or they on me, is drowned out by more immediate concerns that I can be directly engaged with.

    My feelings exactly about … hm, a lot of things.

    For me, the outdoors that you write about is the playground of the rich, and off limits to me. I’d either have to have the vehicle and the oil (and the hiking gear and camping outfit and leisure time) to get there, or I’d have to live in a rural area and would need the vehicle and the oil to get to where I can make a living. The expensive equipment needed to reach the natural world is beyond my means. And that includes nature as near as the mountains I can see through the haze of city exhaust out my window.

    Well, I’m on the poorer end of the middle class, the equipment I have, what little there is, is the result of twenty-five years of collecting and some big gifts from friends. I moved where I live now because caring for my daughter disallowed my going to, as Scott Momaday puts it, places that have had great importance in my life.

    But I engage in my teaching with the same intent to experience something new and unknown and frightening and lovely. I read scriptures with a mind toward exploration and encounter with the unknown and to push myself toward the next leap of faith. I look on spectacular language with the same wide eye I gaze upon a drop-dead gorgeous sunrise.

    Nature provides me with opportunities to exercise, work out thinking, and mingle with other species. Among other things.

    But really, it’s all nature.

  33. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    #24 Kaimi: I’ve certainly had spiritual experiences in nature. These need not come in moments of pure solitude on an unspoiled plain somewhere, I think. I can hear God’s voice when I look at the ocean (even though it’s filled with swimmers, and boats, and far too much trash). I can see God’s hand in the clouds and sunlight, even from my backyard in the city, or from the freeway. And the moon and stars follow me wherever I go. Yes, they’re more magnificent, out in the desert. But they’re pretty damn cool from a back yard, too.

    Agreed, though progress being what it is, there may well be new kinds of communities coming that re-imagine the city backyard and the overhead city skyscape. I should not like to think we’ve hit our high point in architecture and community planning.

    At the same time, there are things that make me question the real compatibility of nature devotion with conventional Mormon thought and practice.

    Or maybe the compatibility of conventional nature thought with conventional Mormon thought and practice?

    For one, there is certainly a type of nature worship that is the province of the rich and bored. I’m thinking of the climbers in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, who pay $70,000 to be escorted to the top of Everest. Ardis is right to point out that nature has itself become a commodity of sorts. Of course, there are opportunities to interact with nature in our own backyards. But the annoying presence of nature snobs has tainted the idea of nature, for many people.

    Yes, these kinds of Rolls Royce behaviors are problems whenever and wherever they manifest. But I’m wondering about better prospects for nature writing than most of what’s out there, prospects Mormons can participate in and feel anxiously engaged in. Instead of engaged in anxiousness, I mean.

    Another possible clash comes from the high priestess of Mormon nature writing herself, Terry Tempest Williams. Let me try to say this sensitively. TTW is great, of course — she combines much about her Mormon background with her intense love of nature, and creates a wonderful amalgam that shows one way that nature and Mormonism can interact.

    She’s also problematic, not least because she’s not exactly the world’s most orthodox Mormon. I think that it’s easy for orthodox LDS to read her writing and say to themselves, “so that’s what happens if you go too far down the nature path.” Her less-orthodox Mormonism plays just one role in her writing, but I think for many church members that’s the crucial part.

    I might be taking a workshop from her in three weeks. I’ll give her your regards.

    In any pioneering effort, be it in literature or civilization, we should expect that those that do the work after the trail has been blazed do things differently and hopefully take the cause to the next highest levels. We should not settle in literature anymore than we should settle anywhere else. IMO. IMVVHO. Being the spiritual traveler that I am.

    But there are real hurdles to the more widespread acceptance of this idea.

    Yep. Thanks for listing some.

  34. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    # 26, Adam: At least for me, exemplary people and the communion of the Saints are much more the occasion of spiritual experiences than the natural world is. I have had spiritual experiences in nature but I think the solitude was more responsible than the nature, and solitude is an experience that you can obtain outside nature much more easily now than in Joseph Smith’s time and place.

    Communion is good; I like communion, too. The human landscape is just as important, and often more so, than the natural landscape, though I probably don’t see the delineations you do.

    Before my daily schedule became so completely unpredictable, I taught for years and years in the church. The scriptures, especially the Old Testament, presented a wilderness of meaning to me, and I went adventuring into it with a gusto equal to my treks out the backdoor and off into the desert. My deep affection for the Old Testament when I’m roaming it is probably equal to my sense of engagement when I’m out in the canyons. I loved my students in Sunday school classes; scriptures are shadows without people to meet with over them. Some of the work I’ve done with my Native American students has proven to be exhaustingly spiritual in nature, and that without a scripture in sight, except where they’ve changed me.

    That said, though I generally think nature and the heavens are an inferior source of spiritual presence, the absence of good and evil does allow the Spirit to help you experience things like beauty in a way you can’t in other settings.

    “Absence of good and evil.” Do you mean, the absence of people?

    If that’s what you mean, and I’m not sure it is, then yes, when I’m out on my own, which is most of the time not by choice but by circumstance, I do experience beauty and peace in ways I can’t in other settings. But! There are times in nature when you find yourself face to face with serious stuff that requires moral and physical acuity.

    I’ve never found myself in any serious difficulty, just a few close encounters which came off well for who knows what reasons. But my experience overall is that the same judgment whereby I judge “in other settings” I judge by “out there,” and perhaps, at times I’m judged by them when I’m out there, too.

    Funny story: Twenty some years ago I went hiking with a group into a southern Utah canyon. I wanted to change from jeans into shorts, so I went into some bushes to do that. I draped my jeans over one arm and bent to step into my shorts and heard the unmistakable buzz of a rattlesnake. I stiffened like a board then slowly looked around. There, just behind my left foot, was a small rattler. It hadn’t coiled but was lying there looking back over its “shoulder” at me with an expression of posture that suggested I had been rude. Good thing, because I was in striking distance. (I know this because I’ve handled hundreds of snakes.) I turned slowly, talking to it, apologizing, the whole time slowly stepping into my shorts and backing away.

    The snake never threatened me, just warned that I’d trespassed. Once I felt fully dressed, I let the adrenaline have its way with me and tore out of there.

    I reported the incident to the other hikers by way of saying they ought not to go into those bushes. One member of the group said, “That’s what you get for mooning a rattlesnake.”

    … but for me my most spiritual experiences of nature involve fields, gardens, and other places where nature and the works of man meet. I felt God very near when I was mucking around in a stream to make it more suitable for trout.

    Actually, I think I can get behind that. My garden is such a place. A work in progress on my part and the work of wild elements. While not quite a peaceable kingdom, it is on all levels a place of reflection and wonder at the Creation.

  35. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    # 25, Kevinf: If the Celestial Kingdom is indeed a glass sphere, I hope it’s small enough that I can throw it in my pocket and take it with me outside.

    You made me chuckle. Thanks.

  36. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    # 27, You, too, Darrell.

  37. Adam Greenwood on November 1, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    #30, Amen.

    “Absence of good and evil.” Do you mean, the absence of people?

    If that’s what you mean, and I’m not sure it is, then yes, when I’m out on my own, which is most of the time not by choice but by circumstance, I do experience beauty and peace in ways I can’t in other settings. But! There are times in nature when you find yourself face to face with serious stuff that requires moral and physical acuity.

    Good point about the moral and physical acuity (and good story about mooning the snake). A good deal of what people learn from nature is in nature’s rough edges.

  38. quandmeme on November 1, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Wait, didn’t he just go to the woods because he had so many siblings and there was no solitude in the house?

    *ducks*

  39. CS Eric on November 1, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I become a little bit more of an environmentalist every time I attend a session of the temple. The world we are given to take care of was glorious and beautiful when we got it, and I think taking care of it includes keeping it as glorious and beautiful. Why so many types of trees, flowers, birds, butterflies, etc., except to beautify and give variety to the earth. I also like Slartibartfast from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, who is particularly proud of his work on the Norewgian fjiords in designing the Earth.

    That said, I think there is a huge difference between active environmentalists and environmental activists. I would much rather be in the former camp than the latter.

  40. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    # 31, Kevinf: More often than not, at least in the nature writing I have read, the writers generally experience nature in solitude. For example, Edward Abbey in “Desert Solitaire” pretty much figures any one intruding on his domain as a park ranger in Arches NP before paved roads was a nuisance.

    See now, here’s one of the funny things that can happen with nature literature that creates a vortex of misunderstanding. E. Abbey wasn’t alone when he was living the Desert Solitaire life. What I understand is that his wife and kid were there with him, though he writes like they weren’t.

  41. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    # 38, quandmeme: Wait, didn’t he just go to the woods because he had so many siblings and there was no solitude in the house?

    *ducks*

    Chicken.

  42. Darrell on November 1, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    “Wait, didn’t he just go to the woods because he had so many siblings and there was no solitude in the house?”

    Not necessarily. As far as I know, Joseph did not go into the woods to seek forgiveness of his sins that Sept. night when Moroni appeared to him three times. Moroni also did not seem to be worried that his visits would disturb the other people in the house. I feel that for the first vision, Joseph was drawn to nature but it was not necessary for him to be there for the vision to occur.

  43. Kevinf on November 1, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Patricia,

    I’ve read Desert Solitaire several times, the first time in college in a class taught by Levi Peterson, and never, never, was there any inkling of a family in all that. That is astounding! It’s also interesting that Thoreau in Walden would follow the train tracks to get to town.

    I’ve read some other examples of nature writing, and usually had that sense of mostly being alone. With no one to share it with, the experience is, to me, not as satisfying. I know I occasionally drive my family nuts with my Audubon Field Guide to Birds, and my life list, but they humor me anyway. Not to mention that one should not venture into the wilderness, alone, ever. Too many people get into serious trouble hiking alone.

  44. Ardis Parshall on November 1, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    First cousin to Desert Solitaire is Alfred Lambourne’s Our Inland Sea, about his year of living in solitude on one of Great Salt Lake’s islands. Only thing is, he never did more than make occasional day trips to the island. His building of his cabin, his watching of the seasonal changes, his cold nights, his painting in the sunrise — all imagined. With illustrations.

  45. Bob on November 1, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Patricia: You are so much quicker to forgive than me. I want to say to posters: “Your view is wrong!”, but I cool and think “Your view is different”. In my prime, I could backpack for 4 or 5 days alone, not seeing anyone for whole days at times. Nights are a haunted house., you feel so helpless, and the animals are in full control.
    I conceive of Nature and God as two different things, One is Natural, the other Supernatural. Each is bigger than my understanding, but I don’t see one in other. But that gives me one edge..I can see, touch, smell, and hear, Nature, but not God. But when I see Nature in it’s full size and power, I have some understanding what seeing a God would be like. Time and space truly become endless for awhile.
    The fist thing that came to my mind regarding a ‘spiritual/supernatural experience’ was an one morning when I got up for an early start. Like others have written, I have looked at a star filled night, and tried to find the Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter, etc. but usually ended there. But this morning, this dawn, all the stars had left, only the Zodiac was left in it’s prefect form in the morning sky.
    “What ingredients…”? Me/I, It/Nature, Time/Space/Endlessness.

  46. greenfrog on November 1, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    1) Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?

    Yes, reading: Walden is one of those every-few-years reads for me. Desert Solitaire was a revelation. Refuge was a homecoming. Muir’s journals fun for browsing. Mary Oliver a spring from which I only sip, but to which I return frequently. Perhaps off topic (?) I read everything readable about evolution — my favorite of recent reads: The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner.

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?

    Not really, but then I’m probably at the eco-nut fringe of T&S readers.

    3) What in Mormonism provides your spiritual grounding for caring about the well being of this planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it?

    I love the idea articulated by Joseph Fielding Smith in Answers to Gospel Questions, among others, that Mormonism identifies as an element of God’s plan not just human-specific interests, but that every living creature fulfilling the measure of its creation and having joy. That point, alone, suggests to me that our understanding of God vastly greater, more complex, and more interrelated to the details of the natural world than I typically tend to think as I commute from one part of an urban landscape to another. Indeed, that sense is part of what inspires me to spend extended periods gazing at turkey vultures kiting on breezes, red-spotted toads hopping through hot sand, and lightning-torn junipers, just to see what there is to understand about them. If God’s purpose includes their fulfillment and joy, perhaps a part of my life is usefully devoted to seeing God’s purpose in the details of their existence.

    Also — and perhaps less Mormonly — I just don’t feel altogether different and separated from those things. I think, instead, that we’re all of a piece, and as I try to understand what the contours and dimensions of that Piece are, I tend to find myself interrelated to those things and beings in interesting ways.

    4) Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?

    Yes.

    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?

    Clear perception and accurate, specific articulation. To the extent that nature writing is imprecise and fuzzy in its focus or its execution, it is false and prone to mislead, either the writer or the reader or both.

  47. Eve on November 1, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    For one, there is certainly a type of nature worship that is the province of the rich and bored. I’m thinking of the climbers in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, who pay $70,000 to be escorted to the top of Everest. Ardis is right to point out that nature has itself become a commodity of sorts. Of course, there are opportunities to interact with nature in our own backyards. But the annoying presence of nature snobs has tainted the idea of nature, for many people.

    Observations like this are making me realize what vastly different assumptions and conceptions underlie the word “nature.” I’m realizing that when I say, “I love nature,” 75% of what I’m thinking of is the nature interwoven in my daily suburban life–the trees that line my street, the irises and the linden and the Japanese maple in my front yard, the stunning views of leaves I get from various classroom windows on campus, and the stretch of the local community trail I’ve found is a great place for stargazing. I definitely enjoy hiking and camping trips that take me further into the wild, but I’m realizing I don’t see the kind of extreme and expensive nature adventuring described above as quite natural, somehow. Real nature seems in some way close to home–although I would definitely acknowledge that for many urban dwellers the nature that is close to home has, unfortunately, become a luxury commodity.

    This conversation is also making me realize that I probably see the category of nature writing in my idiosyncratic terms. I was thinking primarily of Wordsworth and some 20th century writers I love like Loren Eiseley, but I’d probably consider Horace’s Odes, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Milton’s Paradise Lost (just to pick stuff I’ve been assigned in recent semesters) as nature writing. At least, the depictions of the natural world are much of what I find so compelling about them.

    Patricia, way back up the thread you mentioned some (contemporary, I’m assuming) nature writers who aren’t obnoxiously combative. Any in particular you’d recommend?

  48. MLU on November 1, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    I like this post and I enjoyed all the responses. I could read a lot more along these lines.

    1) Do you read, write, or care in any degree for literary nature and science writing?
    My first two books relied quite a lot on my experiences in nature, though I don’t think anyone would have thought of them as “nature writing.” My own somewhat dorky life is partly attributable to too much reading of Thoreau at a young and impressionable age. For many years, nature writing was the genre most important to me.

    2) Do you feel disengaged from the nature/environment discussion?
    Yes. I moved on and rarely pay attention to “environmental” writers. Being in nature and thinking about it still matters to me (I did a 2-week stint in the “River of No Return Wilderness” last summer) but I decided that environmental writers were not helping build the kingdom I wanted to live in. The trend seemed to be away from seeing people in the image of the Creator and toward believing that granting any innate dignity to humanity was “specism”, a constant readiness to blame “the Judaeo-Christian tradition” for all the ills of the planet, a resurgence of pagan forms of nature worship, etc. etc. Just not interesting to me. . .

    3) What in Mormonism provides your spiritual grounding for caring about the well being of this planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it?
    Prophets seeking mountain tops to commune with God–I never feel closer to the creator than under a clear sky in the Rocky Mountains. Something Nibley said about heaven being the pattern for this world, and my sense at Mollman Lakes in the Mission Mountains that heaven couldn’t be much better. The very Christian sense that God’s mind can be read, in part, in the most subtle designs in nature–all nature, not just wilderness.

    4) Have you had spiritual experiences in nature?
    Many.

    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?
    A sense of metaphor–all this is a semblance of all that we are to know.

  49. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    #43 Kevinf: I’ve read Desert Solitaire several times, the first time in college in a class taught by Levi Peterson, and never, never, was there any inkling of a family in all that.

    His family wasn’t there all the time, but they were there quite a bit. I understand that he was very proud of his young son, who would have been there off and on with his mother. But pride in progeny notwithstanding, when Abbey framed his narrative of that time in his life, neither the boy nor his mother made the cut.

    In workshops I’ve attended, I have heard a few nature writers intentionally or unintentionally advocate dishonesty and manipulation, but others have asserted that you should tell it like it happened because one way or the other the audience will find out.

    Of course, there are readers who don’t care that something an author asserted happened or didn’t happen. They only care if it’s a good story or not. I touched on this in my Quothing the Raven post back when.

    Me — I go with my teachers who tell me to write it like it happened, so if I say I’m alone, I’m alone. If I say a hummingbird flew down and probed between my fingers with its beak, that’s what happened. If I say a tarantula crawled partly up onto the toe of my hiking boot, it did (my most recent wild zone encounter). The wonders of nature are so mind-altering one hardly needs to embellish or invent. Just pay attention.

  50. Bob on November 1, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    #47: I know this is to Patricia’s, but let me quickly say there are at least two kinds of Nature writers: The Naturalist like Patricia, Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey, etc. They write about the sweetness of Nature. Then there are those who write about Man challenges/Vs Nature. Guys like Melville, Hemingway, John Wesly Powell, Steinbeck. etc. The first group watches Nature from outside the fence, the others jump over the fence.

  51. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    # 44 Ardis: First cousin to Desert Solitaire is Alfred Lambourne’s Our Inland Sea, about his year of living in solitude on one of Great Salt Lake’s islands. Only thing is, he never did more than make occasional day trips to the island. His building of his cabin, his watching of the seasonal changes, his cold nights, his painting in the sunrise — all imagined. With illustrations.

    Sounds like Alfred had a Fantasy Island. How did he present this piece to the public? As an imaginary sojourn or an actual one? And what do you know of the public’s reactions?

  52. Abish on November 1, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    The idea of real nature, vs. man-made nature is an issue for me. I don’t recall ever considering so deeply as some apparently have, about trees, the moon, rivers…I’m just grateful when I can drive up to the mountains and meditate. Alone time is good, but being alone in nature, with wild animals, no fresh water, no “facilities”, count me out. man-made nature works for me. God hears my prayers clearly in nature or the temple or in my bed. Nature is isolating and we aren’t an isolated ppl. We want to share the plan of happiness and it includes folks being with other folks.

  53. Bob on November 1, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Patricia, I do believe Fiction can be good Nature writing, if the nature is true, and it is made clear the story is just a vehicle to tell that truth.

  54. Bob on November 1, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    #52: I think man is part of Nature. He just builds bigger dams than the beaver, but each for his own reason.

  55. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    # 45, Bob. You are so much quicker to forgive than me. I want to say to posters: “Your view is wrong!”, but I cool and think “Your view is different”.

    This isn’t really much of an argument piece. I wrote this piece to find out what other people think so that I can learn something new. Do you remember what it was like to learn something new, Bob? :)

    Besides, I know that since there’s always so much more going on than I’m aware of, I’m always wrong. If I’m less wrong than someone else on an important matter, I’ll assert my less-wrong points. If it’s not a very important matter, I’ll focus my energy elsewhere.

    Nights are a haunted house., you feel so helpless, and the animals are in full control.

    Wow. They let you live.

    I conceive of Nature and God as two different things, One is Natural, the other Supernatural. Each is bigger than my understanding, but I don’t see one in other. But that gives me one edge..I can see, touch, smell, and hear, Nature, but not God. But when I see Nature in it’s full size and power, I have some understanding what seeing a God would be like. Time and space truly become endless for awhile.

    Bob the mystic! Whoda thunk it? I’m impressed. If I’m following you, I think I’ve felt that very condition you describe in the last line, but I often feel it as a kind of edgelessness, where I can’t tell where I end and the cottonwood tree and the sky begin.

    “What ingredients…”? Me/I, It/Nature, Time/Space/Endlessness.

    Interesting. You’re full of surprises, Bob. I’d say this comment rates three-and-a-half pennies.

  56. Patricia Karamesines on November 1, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    All: This is a fun discussion, but now I need to prepare for tomorrow and get some sleep. I’ll be back in the a.m.

  57. Ardis Parshall on November 1, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    51: He published his “experiences” with his beautiful illustrations (Lambourne was both a painter and poet) as Our Inland Sea in a volume that is collectible today. Organizations like Friends of the Great Salt Lake like to quote from it, and lines show up superimposed on beautiful photos as posters.

    Although Lambourne acknowledges in his preface in not quite unmistakeable language, but not too veiled, either, that his sojourn was imagined rather than objectively historic, I find that most people who know his book are unaware of that. Biographical sketches and GSL histories refer to his sojourn as if it had actually happened. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” He captures what people feel, or what we imagine we’d feel, in such circumstances, or makes us *want* to feel that way, or whatever it is. In other words, he moves and inspires readers with a love of nature — which is probably a goal of most nature writers, no?

  58. MLU on November 2, 2007 at 12:28 am

    . . .living
    as he did amid life vaster than Earth, visions
    sheering through the brevity of flesh with unerring
    trajectories that spoke to him of Light
    the sun blocked with its puny burning.
    “In the Shadow of the Sun”

    Much contemporary nature writing is thoroughly materialist, which can be blindness of the “having eyes cannot see” variety. I do feel quite a lot of nostalgia for the times when I looked forward to a new piece by Barry Lopez or a new issue of Ii>Orion, and I would surely buy any book of nature writing by an LDS author that didn’t curry favor with the “right” people by, for example, criticizing Brigham Young.

  59. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 10:33 am

    # 46, greenfrog: Perhaps off topic (?) I read everything readable about evolution — my favorite of recent reads: The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner.

    No, it’s not off topic. I consider writings about evolution to be our attempt, sometimes a poor attempt but still an important attempt to make, to imagine the decisions other species (and ours) have made to change. We’ve only scratched the surface on both evolutionary changes and on the general nature of change itself.

    I love the idea articulated by Joseph Fielding Smith in Answers to Gospel Questions, among others, that Mormonism identifies as an element of God’s plan not just human-specific interests, but that every living creature fulfilling the measure of its creation and having joy. That point, alone, suggests to me that our understanding of God vastly greater, more complex, and more interrelated to the details of the natural world than I typically tend to think as I commute from one part of an urban landscape to another…

    This is a great idea that somehow I’ve missed in my church readings. Or maybe I read it but was distracted at the time and it slipped by me (that happens a lot). How do you integrate the idea of every creature fulfilling the measure of its creation with evolution, which one might take to suggest a movement beyond measure? That is, as I understand the phrase, “measure of its creation” is taken to mean an allotment of existence or assigned state within which one has a range of movement, from bottom of the barrel to full up. Evolution, on the other hand, can be taken as an open-ended process, like eternal progression is.

    Also — and perhaps less Mormonly — I just don’t feel altogether different and separated from those things. I think, instead, that we’re all of a piece, and as I try to understand what the contours and dimensions of that Piece are, I tend to find myself interrelated to those things and beings in interesting ways.

    Relation is another circumstance of being whose surface we’ve just barely noticed the shine off of, let alone scratched. Relation, change, irony, language, consciousness — these are the fields of movement. We’re barely paying attention yet.

    Clear perception and accurate, specific articulation. To the extent that nature writing is imprecise and fuzzy in its focus or its execution, it is false and prone to mislead, either the writer or the reader or both.

    I’ll remember that.

  60. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 10:48 am

    # 47, Eve: Observations like this are making me realize what vastly different assumptions and conceptions underlie the word “nature.” I’m realizing that when I say, “I love nature,” 75% of what I’m thinking of is the nature interwoven in my daily suburban life–the trees that line my street, the irises and the linden and the Japanese maple in my front yard, the stunning views of leaves I get from various classroom windows on campus, and the stretch of the local community trail I’ve found is a great place for stargazing. I definitely enjoy hiking and camping trips that take me further into the wild, but I’m realizing I don’t see the kind of extreme and expensive nature adventuring described above as quite natural, somehow. Real nature seems in some way close to home–although I would definitely acknowledge that for many urban dwellers the nature that is close to home has, unfortunately, become a luxury commodity.

    Observations like this are helpful since they enlighten me as to what the possibilities are.

    The last sentence, though — there’s something fatalistic about it. As I said to Ardis, I’d hate to think we’ve reached the apex of our architectural and community planning. I know many ways exist for us to integrate nature into urban settings, we’re just not thinking about that yet, or wanting it enough, or perhaps we just don’t understand that it can be done, accepting the “there has passed a glory from the earth lament” as an inevitable truth.

    I don’t think it follows that because aspects of our relation with nature appear to have evaporated in the heat of population growth and the ways we’ve chosen to develop our communities that our opportunities to have that interaction are gone forever. I don’t ascribe to the sentimental “return to the Garden” notion some have. I think we can do better than the Garden, that the Garden wasn’t enough, and that God knew it wasn’t enough for us. Innocence is not nearly as important as intelligence in the Plan, and intelligence is still an emerging phenomenon, or at the very least, it’s something we don’t fully understand. Yet.

    Patricia, way back up the thread you mentioned some (contemporary, I’m assuming) nature writers who aren’t obnoxiously combative. Any in particular you’d recommend?

    Let me think about this a little and I’ll get back to you. Maybe not terribly soon, but I will.

  61. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 10:57 am

    # 39, CS Eric: I become a little bit more of an environmentalist every time I attend a session of the temple.

    Thank you for bringing the temple ceremony and its importance to the table. I think it important that temples reflect upon, not just in narrative but often in physical ways, like murals, nature’s roles and reasons.

    … I think there is a huge difference between active environmentalists and environmental activists. I would much rather be in the former camp than the latter.

    Yes, there can be a huge difference. I myself am still trying to find out where I fit in.

  62. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 11:05 am

    # 50, Bob: #47: I know this is to Patricia’s, but let me quickly say there are at least two kinds of Nature writers: The Naturalist like Patricia, Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey, etc. They write about the sweetness of Nature. Then there are those who write about Man challenges/Vs Nature. Guys like Melville, Hemingway, John Wesly Powell, Steinbeck. etc. The first group watches Nature from outside the fence, the others jump over the fence.

    Bob, I think your “fence” here is a bit too easy of a dividing line. Maybe you need to read my book and hunt around for some of my other writing before the next time you ride out to do any repair work on that fence line.

  63. greenfrog on November 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I love the idea articulated by Joseph Fielding Smith in Answers to Gospel Questions, among others places, that Mormonism identifies as an element of God’s plan not just human-specific interests, but that every living creature fulfill the measure of its creation and have joy. That point, alone, suggests to me that our understanding of God should be vastly greater, more complex, and more interrelated to the details of the natural world than I typically tend to think as I commute from one part of an urban landscape to another…

    This is a great idea that somehow I’ve missed in my church readings. Or maybe I read it but was distracted at the time and it slipped by me (that happens a lot). How do you integrate the idea of every creature fulfilling the measure of its creation with evolution, which one might take to suggest a movement beyond measure? That is, as I understand the phrase, “measure of its creation” is taken to mean an allotment of existence or assigned state within which one has a range of movement, from bottom of the barrel to full up. Evolution, on the other hand, can be taken as an open-ended process, like eternal progression is.

    (In the quoted passage I’ve tried to correct some of the gazillion typos and unsignalled, midsentence grammatical shifts that I included in the original.)

    I tend to think the subjective experience and change over time of the individual (whether human or dog or Preble’s Jumping Mouse) to be an entirely different process from the objective evidence of variation and selection of individual traits across generations. While I agree that there are parallels, I think that the parallels are metaphorical, rather than literal, and I try to keep in mind when I lay the two side by side, that I am reasoning by analogy — a useful, albeit dangerous, act.

    How do you integrate the idea of every creature fulfilling the measure of its creation with evolution, which one might take to suggest a movement beyond measure?

    I understand “fulfilling the measure of one’s creation” to be both an acknowledgement of the potential for improvement of the individual subjective existence of every sentient being, as well as an acknowledgement of the nature of the limits of physical embodiment. Each body/mind is capable of development and expansion that other body/minds, definitionally differently configured, are not. Think, for instance, of the different sonic capabilities and experiences of a humpback whale, a California myotis bat, a red-fronted macaw, and a Tabernacle Choir second alto. As I think about it, I suppose the phrase also embeds the recognition, present elsewhere in LDS theology, of pluralistic concepts of salvation (e.g., D&C 88′s discussion of many kingdoms, each defined and governed by the laws that the inhabitants of that kingdom accept, etc.) in that each specifically configured sentient being attaining joy from the inside of the constraints of its particular body/mind may climb to a different pinnacle than each other differently configured sentient being’s attainment of joy. (The latter is a new thought — I’m not entirely sure of it’s soundness.)

    That is, as I understand the phrase, “measure of its creation” is taken to mean an allotment of existence or assigned state within which one has a range of movement, from bottom of the barrel to full up. Evolution, on the other hand, can be taken as an open-ended process, like eternal progression is.

    Funny — I tend to think of evolution as a fascinating explanation of the relationships among and the occurrence of the different forms of life on earth, but I don’t think of it as bearing directly on the subjective experience of a sentient being created in a particular amalgam and pattern of materials. I also don’t tend to think of the process of evolution by natural selection as pointing or unrolling in a particular direction of complexity or development or goodness. I tend to think of it more like the orbit of the earth around the sun or photosynthesis — a process that, when understood, enables lots of other interesting and useful understandings, but not something imbued with subjective purpose, goal, or mission, either from the sentience of its own fabric or from another who controls it.

    I’m not sure if I’ve responded usefully to your question.

  64. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    #62: Alright, I ordered the book and will enjoy the read from what I have read. To obtain my degree in Anthropology/Archeology, I had to do a 3 wk. field study in the Hopi area, so this should be a fun read.
    The “fence’ I had in mind, is that point where one enters Nature’s world to the point they put their life on the line, or bet the life in a fight against Nature: predator Vs predator (man vs Animal). man vs river, man vs mountain, man vs South Pole, etc.

  65. Eve on November 2, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    The last sentence, though — there’s something fatalistic about it. As I said to Ardis, I’d hate to think we’ve reached the apex of our architectural and community planning. I know many ways exist for us to integrate nature into urban settings, we’re just not thinking about that yet, or wanting it enough, or perhaps we just don’t understand that it can be done, accepting the “there has passed a glory from the earth lament” as an inevitable truth.

    I actually didn’t intend any fatalism whatsoever, or even any observations or predictions about the future; I meant only to make an observation about the present (namely, that I realize many people don’t have access to nature in the suburban forms in which I often experience it). I certainly wasn’t trying to say that the situation is irreversible or irredeemable, merely that it exists.

    I don’t think it follows that because aspects of our relation with nature appear to have evaporated in the heat of population growth and the ways we’ve chosen to develop our communities that our opportunities to have that interaction are gone forever….

    I’d wholeheartedly agree.

  66. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    #55: “Edgelessness”. No, the opposite. Like a man walking on the Moon. a sense of a capsuled self, a visitor viewing a place beyond understanding, unclear if he is welcome guest.
    I like new (if it’s old style) When I go out to dinner with my wife, she reads the menu looking for the new. Me, I read it until I come to meatloaf, and order.

  67. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    # 63 gf: I also don’t tend to think of the process of evolution by natural selection as pointing or unrolling in a particular direction of complexity or development or goodness.I tend to think of it more like the orbit of the earth around the sun or photosynthesis — a process that, when understood, enables lots of other interesting and useful understandings, but not something imbued with subjective purpose, goal, or mission, either from the sentience of its own fabric or from another who controls it.

    When I look at my students’ hands, with tapered fingers so like feathers, but grasping pencils or books or tapping keys on a keyboard, and then the turkey vulture’s or hawk’s or, frequently enough, golden eagle’s wings, primaries fanned to grasp flight, then the Corey’s shearwater’s great wings finning the bird below the surface of the sea as it swims for a bait ball, I think, wow, decisions have been made, are being made. Where will they lead. What have they lead us to. What now.

    That’s more along the lines of what I mean by an open ended process. Process is perhaps the wrong word, strongly suggesting, as it does, a sequence of events completed in order to reach a goal. Maybe “an open ended impetus,” where we understand “impetus” to mean “increased activity in response to a stimulus,” would be better.

  68. greenfrog on November 2, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    “…an open ended impetus…”

    “decisions have been made, are being made”

    Exactly. The decisions are made from a con-text-ure by sentient beings exploring their talents and constraints. The impetus of evolution is simply the press of life itself, expanding into a niche first one way, then another, then another, like a puzzle solver, working in four dimensions at once.

  69. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    # 64 Bob: The “fence’ I had in mind, is that point where one enters Nature’s world to the point they put their life on the line, or bet the life in a fight against Nature: predator Vs predator (man vs Animal). man vs river, man vs mountain, man vs South Pole, etc.

    and # 55: No, the opposite. Like a man walking on the Moon. a sense of a capsuled self, a visitor viewing a place beyond understanding, unclear if he is welcome guest.

    OK, let me see if I’ve got this. You’re in it for the contest, the grizzly-wrasslin’ match. The how-far-can-I-take-this push past perceived limits, where, when the obstacle is surmounted and the guy comes out on top. Or the guy ventures into the great unknown to face space grizzlies of uncertain proportion and character and wrestles them there to win his place in the new world. Man-against-nature stuff.

    Anything else is fluffing nature’s petticoats.

    Boy, I feel like I’ve already had this discussion … somewhere …

    Blogging sometimes resembles Groundhog Day, Internet-style.

  70. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    # 48, mlu: I decided that environmental writers were not helping build the kingdom I wanted to live in. The trend seemed to be away from seeing people in the image of the Creator and toward believing that granting any innate dignity to humanity was “specism”, a constant readiness to blame “the Judaeo-Christian tradition” for all the ills of the planet, a resurgence of pagan forms of nature worship, etc. etc. Just not interesting to me. . .

    So if nature writers, or a nature writer, did construct narratives of experience in nature that did help build the kingdom you wanted to live in, you might be interested? Narratives that allowed mankind a place of dignity and acknowledged human instrumentality in the shaping of a more … what, what kind of kingdom do you have in mind, if you don’t mind saying here?

    5) What ingredients do you think meaningful nature writing should include?
    A sense of metaphor–all this is a semblance of all that we are to know.

    This is totally awesome. I agree with Aristotle about metaphor. But now I have another questions for you: What do you make of nature stories that aren’t true (in the sense they didn’t actually happen) but are metaphorically true in that by virtue of rhetorical figure they point us toward greater truth?

  71. Kevinf on November 2, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    One recent book I read and enjoyed was “A sense of the Morning” by Brendan Hopes. Another, slightly different, was “North to the Night”, by Alvah Simon, about wintering over North of the Arctic Circle in a sailboat, and a house cat for companion. It starts off more as nature writing, but towards the end, turns a little more into survival literature. Mostly factual, but I had serious doubts about his story of an encounter with a polar bear towards the end. I think in real life, the bear would have eaten him.

  72. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    # 57, Ardis:

    Thanks for expanding on your original comment about Lambourne. This information is valuable to me.

    He captures what people feel, or what we imagine we’d feel, in such circumstances, or makes us *want* to feel that way, or whatever it is. In other words, he moves and inspires readers with a love of nature — which is probably a goal of most nature writers, no?

    Maybe, though not being familiar with Lambourne’s work, I can’t say if he’s flirting with sentimentality or not. The fantasy aspect of his whole project suggests he might be. Where nature writers indulge in sentimental journeys into natural environments, they lose me.

    Now, raw wonder — that’s a different matter.

  73. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    #64: “You’re in it for the contest” Not me! I’m the guy afraid of the dark (#45). This is the OTHER kind of Nature writer (#50): Hemingway against his bulls, Melville against his white whale, Steinbeck in his ‘Old Man and the Sea’, Powell against his river, Hillary against his mountain, Peary against his North Pole.

  74. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Bob, # 73:

    I’m not sure those stories qualify as nature literature except where we might include the man writing the stories to be a part of nature. In many of those stories you cite — bulls, white whale, the other big fish in Old Man and the Sea — nature is the face of the metaphor, but human character in story — epmphasis on huMAN — is actually wrestling himself.

    By “in it for the contest” I didn’t mean that you like to engage in the contest (though your comments here suggest sometimes that you DO at least dabble in engaging in the contest), but that the nature writing you read, you read for the contest.

  75. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    # 58, mlu:

    Thanks for this comment, too, and for linking to your poem. Look for an e-mail from me (under the name Patricia Gunter). If you don’t mind, that is.

  76. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    # 65, Eve:

    Sorry to use the word “fatalistic,” you’ve cleared up my misunderstanding. Thanks.

  77. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    #74: ” I’m not sure those stories qualify as nature literature…”. My thinking is stolen from Barry Lopez, Wallace Stegner, and “Nature Writing” (Norton Books). All of the above writers are are part of the “Nature Writing” anthology.

  78. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    #74: “The nature writing you read, you read for the contest. Not true. I have said, in the 60s & 70s, I read them all: Abbey, Leopold, Teale, Muir, Thoreau, Burroughs, Carson, Lopez, Berry, McPhee, Dillard, Ehrlich, etc.

  79. Eve on November 2, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Patricia, no problem at all.

    Kevinf, thanks for the recommendations.

    Thanks for such an enlightening discussion. But now I’m afraid I must be off to indulge my tragic and irresistible compulsion to fluff nature’s petticoats.

  80. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    # 77, Bob. Okay. I give up. Where’s the meatloaf on the menu in # 78?

  81. Ardis Parshall on November 2, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    72: Well, you’re right, Lambourne does cross over into sentimentality, by today’s standards. But his book was published in 1909 when just about anything seems sentimental by today’s standards. I’ve learned to read past that, just as you learn to read past what would be unbearably convoluted sentence structure and odd vocabulary by today’s standards.

  82. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    #80: The Meatloaf is always at the bottom, next to the Bread Pudding.

  83. MLU on November 2, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    #70 Gee, Patricia, why don’t you ask some hard questions? what, what kind of kingdom do I should note that I live nowhyou have in mind, if you don’t mind saying here?

    Wendell Berry comes closest. His Christianity comes more to the fore as he ages, and with all his love of wilderness his most important metaphor is the garden–or, for him, the farm. He sees the generations of humanity taking care of themselves by taking care of their places and the creatures there. . .he finds the “great chain of being” to be still interesting, not having been completely superseded by random motions of material evolving in meaningless patterns. . .Though I think the Iraq War made him go a bit bonkers, falling in love with his own rhetoric to the point he was not quite coherent, though it’s had that effect on lots of people.

    I sort of quit paying attention to nature writers, to a large degree, for the same reason I quit writing poetry or giving readings–the audience for that sort of writing didn’t feel like a community I was ever going to be a part of. They weren’t “my” people–didn’t love the things I loved or hate the things I hated.

    What do you make of nature stories that aren’t true (in the sense they didn’t actually happen) but are metaphorically true in that by virtue of rhetorical figure they point us toward greater truth?

    I probably don’t know what you mean, exactly, but I can say that I think people live in myth more than they live in objective reality and that far from being a failing this is both unavoidable and the source of our salvation–nearly the entire meaning of life.

    This will be hard to say briefly: truth is something we make by remembering and keeping promises. The promises we make are stories we intend to be true, as when we say “I do.” We see a vision of a world not here that we want to create by our living. And then we do it. Being true to marriage vows is the pattern, but it’s a pattern that runs through life.

    (This doesn’t conflict with the scientific view of truth, which is at bottom a faith that the world will “keep a promise” and behave today as it has always behaved before).

    Stories that are not literally true but that contain the vision of how we want the world to be are the real stuff of life. Really.

    The “Kingdom of Heaven” is such a story–the best of the genre, I think.

  84. Patricia Karamesines on November 2, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    This is what I’ve learned so far from this thread.

    That some readers, like Eve, like nature and science writing and poetry about the natural world as a matter of course. Many participators on this thread don’t like environmental rhetoric that paints over peoples’ images in the landscape or otherwise exhibits self-righteous disdain toward the human quotient in the natural equation.

    Chino Blanco wishes to see nature writing that exhibits conscious abrogation of context, a statement I’d like explained a little further.

    Russell considers pastoral, counter-cultural and agrarian fiction and non-fiction to be nature writing of the highest order. Any theory of nature writing would have to include such themes in order to interest him. Furthermore, the human element as it manifests itself in human communites and human production must be present because he believes that the most compelling issues emerge not in privileged acts of outright environmental protection but in moral reform and socio-economic justice. However, where important language overlaps between conservation/nature ethics and moral reform, inspiring people to change their behavior for the better, useful ground might form.

    Furthermore, Russell sees orthodox Mormonism focusing its calls to action upon caring for the poor (people), etc., not upon saving nature, though he allows how the temple narrative contains some direction for how mankind ought to behave toward other creatures. He has had some spiritual experiences in nature but has had more reading or listening to well-wrought human expression. Any useful nature writing would have to chronicle, support, or explore the development of human communities. It would have to be “positively insistent upon the goodness of that complementarity of human production and natural rhythms…”

    Some of this thread’s readers, like Kaimi, dislike extreme, Krakauer-type nature literature where people having an abundance of money and time turn nature into an exclusive country club. For Kaimi, the “annoying presence of nature snobs has tainted the idea of nature …” Ardis’s comment “For me, the outdoors that you write about is the playground of the rich, and off limits to me” intersects Kaimi’s complaint.

    Furthermore, Kaimi remarks that unorthodox Mormon nature writers who appear to undermine orthodox beliefs give orthodox Mormons good reasons to disengage from the discussion: See — “… that’s what happens if you go too far down the nature path.”

    Like Russell, Adam G. sees people as necessary movers and shakers in environmental discourse, though his interest rests mostly with “exemplary people and the communion of the saints.” When wilderness does engage him, he sees it more as a function of the solitude, which is void of good and evil. Also like Russell, wilderness as a thing in itself doesn’t interest him; spiritual experiences occur in cultivated environments where human presence is most manifest, such as gardens, fields, and “other places where nature and the works of man meet.”

    Kevinf also prefers nature experience — both actual and, I’m guessing, literary — to acknowledge the presence of people and human relations: “Nature completely separated from human life is interesting, but I’d take a group of friends and family over solitude about any time.”

    CS Eric makes an interesting statement that stewardship involves keeping the Earth as glorious and beautiful as it was when people arrived on the scene. Many environmental groups, he says, aren’t actually interested in doing that.

    For greenfrog, nature writing must be well written. If it doesn’t contain “clear perception and accurate, specific articulation,” it runs the risk of making matters worse. Bad writing misleads both writer and readers.

    mlu says that nature writers overall are not helping build the kingdom he wants to live in. Like Russell and Adam, he wishes the innate dignity of people restored to them, he wants writing that makes it possible to view people in the image of the Creator. Furthermore, because what we know can only be a semblance of the whole picture, good writing must show a sense of metaphor. Reflecting Kaimi’s remarks about Terry Tempest Williams, mlu says he would “surely buy any book of nature writing that didn’t curry favor with the ‘right’ people by, for example, criticizing Brigham Young.”

    Bob reads just about anything but eats meatloaf when presented with the opportunity.

    Abish also wants people back in the picture. He sees nature as isolating and says that goes against human nature and the plan of happiness.

    If anyone wishes to add to/correct this summary, feel free.

    Thanks to everyone who’s participated so far. I appreciate your willingness to do so for whatever reasons you had.

  85. Bob on November 2, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    #84:A good and fair Summary. At the end, I closed my eyes, and it seemed I had eaten…. a good meatloaf.

  86. comet on November 2, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    I do find the natural forms in “nature”–plants, trees, rock formations–a different, productive kind of stimulation than my accostomed cultural environment. Are they any more spiritually provocative than what I can experience in cultural settings? Maybe not, but not less.

    The idea of a world or universe with man and woman decentered (slightly..my human bias, I guess) seems right, not only intellectually but also spiritually, based on fair readings of the temple narrative, scientific accounts of complex natural systems and my field training in east asian cultures.

    I

  87. Patricia Karamesines on November 5, 2007 at 11:17 am

    This is my last post here at Times and Seasons. Thanks for reading my posts over the last four months, I’ve learned a lot, especially from your comments on this one. Your contributions have been valuable. I’m closing comments here so everyone can feel free to go, including me.

    May you turn, and find the leaf you sought.
    May you turn, and meet the child’s wide eye.
    May you turn, and beauty strike your mind.
    May you turn, and beauty press your heart.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.