Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

By Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Willa Cather

The Plow and the Pen

JOSEPH W. MEEKER

Environmental imagination is not a term that lends itself to precise definition, but most of us recognize it when we encounter its symptoms. It is there in Gary Snyder's lifelong exploration of connections between the human soul and natural systems. If we were discussing Faulkner, we would consider his deep rootedness in the mountains of the rural South. We would find environmental imagination hard at work in the writings of John Muir or Henry David Thoreau, and in the rich naturalism of Loren Eiseley. What such writers share is a profound love of the natural world and an active curiosity about its complex processes. They generally feel that a person cannot know who they are without also knowing where they are and what dynamics govern the natural world around them. Characteristically, they see the natural world as possessing high integrity and value within itself that is not dependent upon people's uses of it. They are also likely to see nature as a source of wisdom and understanding, and as a means through which the human soul can best fulfill itself. They love natural processes, they seek to know them intimately, and they find their best art and thought through immersion in places of natural power.

Clearly, there are many kinds of environmental imagination. The writers I have just mentioned are examples of authors for whom participation in their natural scene is a high priority. There are others who see nature as a challenge to be met, and from them we get novels of adventure and conquest. Still others perceive natural processes as the means for humans to fulfill themselves.

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