Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present

By John Gatta | Go to book overview

9

Reclaiming the Sacred
Commons

The Gifted Land of Wendell Berry

Exotic nature writing need not display disdain or indifference toward life on the writer s home ground. But it invariably expresses the reactions of an itinerant observer. Another significant strain of American environmental writing presents the settled resident s account ofa particular locale. Familiar instances would be Henry Thoreau's Walden, or Edwin Way Teale's book A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm(1974). Instead of recounting his solitary trip into some majestic wilderness, Teale tells of settling with his wife in a quiet corner of northeastern Connecticut. There, toward the close of his career as naturalist writer, he devotes himself to sauntering with “Nellie” through the ordinary but companionable fields and woods of a former farm.

In present-day America, the voluminous prose writings of Wendell Berry epitomize this home watching brand of environmental literature. Like other works considered in this chapter, Berry's nonfiction also denies the Romantic solitary s view of nature as a functionally private arena of self-transcendence. That human community should be viewed as an integral member of nature s ecological “household” is a persistent theme of Berry's writing and also figures conspicuously in Gary Snyder's vision of bioregionalism. In fact, all the writers discussed in these final chapters perceive a need to deepen our culture's sense of environmental reverence. And they generally understand this virtue of reverence to embrace a spiritual component, as well as a concern for social justice across the common landscape of North America. It is sometimes assumed that serious literature of the postmodern era must deny all transmaterial

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