Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

By Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

The Creative Ecology
of Walnut Canyon
From the Sinagua to Thea Kronborg

ANN MOSELEY

From the time of Aristotle through the romantic period, art has been viewed as an imitation of nature. However, a closer study of the relationship between art and ecology, or the study of the relationship of human beings and other organisms to their natural environment, suggests that the relationship between art and nature involves the process of creation as well as its physical manifestations through cultural and artistic artifacts. The creative impact of culture, nature, and art as manifested through both space and time is clearly illustrated in the ecology of Walnut Canyon, Arizona, as reflected in the canyon itself, in the history of its people, and in its fictional representation as Panther Canyon in Willa Cather's novel The Song of the Lark.

As Cather describes it, the canyon is an “abrupt fissure” (297, see fig. 1) in the earth in northern Arizona with walls that are “perpendicular cliffs striped with even-running strata of rock” (see fig. 2) for the “first two hundred feet below the surface”:

From there on to the bottom the sides were less abrupt, were shelving and lightly fringed with piñons and dwarf cedars. The effect was that of a gentler canyon within a wilder one. The dead city lay at the point where the perpendicular outer wall ceased and the V-shaped inner gorge began. There a stratum of rock, softer than those above, had been hollowed out by the action of time until it was like a deep groove running along the sides of the canyon. In this hollow (like

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