Wilderness: Beautiful, raw and bloody.

In Garrard’s Wilderness chapter, an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau explains the wild, dualistic qualities of nature as a sight of beauty while containing notes of dark, primal workings. “..We have not seen pure nature, unless we have seen her thus vast, and drear, and inhuman…Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night.” (Garrard 66) I noticed this duality when reading Washington Irving’s A Tour on the Prairies. When the men begin to chop down the tree with the beehive, the bees hardly seem aware of the impending catastrophe. While they buzz and crawl around the fallen tree they are “little suspicious of impending bankruptcy and downfall.” (Irving 52) The men take all they desire from the tree while competing hives come to reap the spoils as if the comb was granted without any victim; they sought “to enrich themselves with the ruins of their neighbors.” (Irving 53) Later when the men go hunting for buffalo we get to see a more cognitive animal react to being hunted with “every symptom of aversion and alarm.” (Irving 173) While chasing a buffalo in order to shoot it, Irving describes the animal as “a perfect picture of mingled rage and terror.” (Irving 173) With his tail erect, mouth gaping and tongue parched, the buffalo gallops to escape his fate. The buffalo is more aware of the danger it faces and at one point even tries to defensively ram Irving’s horse. Later when Irving finally disables a buffalo, he is moved by the sight of it struggling for its last moments of life. While his hunt began as sport, the “excitement was over, [He] could not but look with commiseration upon the poor animal that lay struggling and bleeding at [his] feet.” (Irving 178) These bee and the buffalo have only a fraction of the capacity of a human to understand the severity that nature works through. There is a distinction between the creatures who understand the wilderness and those who are victim or victor within it. Humans, having removed themselves from the natural pecking order, look upon the wilderness as both a beautiful, sustaining environment yet see the destruction and blood that goes into preserving its ecological balance.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004. 64. Print.

Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies.University of Oklahoma Press 1956

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on September 14, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I agree with Michael that there is a duality to nature, of attraction and fright. After killing a buffalo Irving has a moment where he realizes he is not more important in the universe than the buffalo and realizes it’s life is just as significant as his own. Garrad quotes John Muir in his Wilderness chapter, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers” (68). I feel as though Irving had a moment of clarity similar to this.

  2. Posted by thelorist on September 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I like what you said near the end of this post: “There is a distinction between the creatures who understand the wilderness and those who are victim or victor within it. Humans, having removed themselves from the natural pecking order[…]” This human habit of removing our species from that “pecking order” may in fact be the reason we also create a perceived dual personality for the natural world, of both beauty and a certain darkness. I think the separation you mention catches characters like Irving off-guard when caught up in the excitement of a buffalo hunt or the storming of a hive of bees. Characters who think themselves prepared for these spectacles often are taken by surprise, and lose themselves in the moments they experience immersion, i.e. “The ardor of the chase had betrayed me into a long, heedless gallop” (175).

    Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies.University of Oklahoma Press 1956

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