2. Susan Fenimore Cooper — Nature, the Home and Naming

Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Rural Hours expresses a great deal about the relationship between humans and nature, and nature and the home, and very gradually provides implicit suggestions about the ethical behavior of humans toward nature. Her elaborations include interesting sentiments concerning possession which have not been the focus of previous writings we have encountered in this class, including the phenomenon of naming, in particular. Cooper provides a generally objective account of the winter season and its characteristics in her writing, every now and then breaking into more lengthy, subjective matters, such as an ode to the Christmas season – a season which, she softly suggests, is not only a time of family and religious observance, but also a time to consider blessings, like the many utilities afforded to people by nature. The holiday brings the idea of home to the forefront of the text, drawing a spiritual connection between domestic life and natural gifts. These, we can infer, would include the provisions derived from the wildlife Cooper details for pages and pages beforehand, such as down and eggs from Eider-Ducks (257), fur coats made from the fur of buffalo, fox, rabbit and wolf (286), and even maple or hickory wood for fires, which are deemed preferable to coal (296). Nature and its provisions are closely tied to the idea of home, according to the relationships Cooper establishes in Rural Hours. Without saying so explicitly, she ties natural resources tightly to daily life, acknowledging the presence of natural products in everything from home furnishings to holiday season decorations. Though she does not hinge her writing on a predominant environmental message, certain opinions shine through the text here and there and achieve the same effect. For instance, Cooper describes a “greedy” kind of person who would “steal” eggs from the Eider-Duck (257), and suggests that the growing population of the American Deer is a positive change, adding that it is likely “thanks to the game laws[…]” (289). This is important to draw from Cooper’s writing, because the notion that humans and nature and the home are kept in harmony by economical use of the land and wildlife constitutes the foundation of this text. Because nature, according to this text, operates as a resource and an object of beauty, it is implied that humans are entitled to its use but responsible for its sustainment. At the same time, it isn’t necessarily owned. This idea comes to surface when Cooper discusses naming, questioning the odd convention of inappropriate and inconsistent naming of places or landforms, especially naming natural objects after people, which, in her opinion, is especially a habit of “the English or the Yankees” (303). In part, the American home, in the sense of a national home, is more accurately defined by its original or natural names, given by Native Americans, such as in the case of “[…]Alabama, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc, etc” (300). This is an idea that is of great importance to Cooper, but not terribly significant to other writers so far. But after all, is it not human convention to give names to our communities of residence? Neighborhoods, apartment complexes and other districts within the boundaries of the smallest towns often take on a name that describes the immediate land. Cooper not only recognizes this as a part of defining the land as home, but argues that naming the land for its own features is more appropriate than naming it for its human features, establishing her stance on the matter by saying, “Consider a mountain peak, stern and savage[…]and say if it not be a miserable dearth of words and ideas, to call that grand pile by the name borne by some honorable gentleman just turning the corner[…]this connection between a mountain and a man, reminds one rather unpleasantly of that between the mountain and the mouse” (305).

Cooper, Susan Fenimore. Rural Hours. Ch./Art: “Winter” p.252-357. pub. University of Georgia Press 1998

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