What is “Nature”?


The Truth of Nature

            Nature – or the physical features of the earth – has arguably been one of the hardest terms to define. As recalled by William Cronon in his essay “Trouble with Wilderness,” Bill McKibben argues that “as a result of unintentional human manipulation of the atmosphere […] nature as we once knew it no longer exists” (Cronon 13). Changes in our atmosphere make it extremely difficult for scholars in many practices to create a concrete definition of nature. However, commonalities between the many definitions scholars create do exist. For the most part, there is this acknowledgement of nature as being something in its original state, and that nature cannot, arguably, be constructed by humans. The latter is what I, alongside Cronon, find trouble with. Nature can be nature even if humans have altered it. If nature was only what was originally present, it would make up a small part of what we see today.

Scholars such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Noel Perrin have explicitly chosen to detach human influence from their definitions of nature. In 1849 Emerson writes “nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf” (28). Perrin, in his essay “Forever Virgin: The American View of America,” which was written in 1986, writes that nature is “everything that exists on this planet (or elsewhere) that was not made by man” (14). Emerson writes his definition during a time that was not bombarded by terms such as climate change and global warming, which can account for his belief that space, the air, rivers, and leaves are not affected by humans. It would be extremely difficult to find an area of the world that has not been touched by man.

The problem with believing that nature is only out in the “wild” is that it detracts our focus from the effects we are having on the nature we live in. Writer and poet Gary Snyder writes: “In the case of nature, because [some] are still under the illusion that it isn’t seriously there, they indulge themselves in this moral and political shallowness” that no longer addresses the conservation issues that need to be focused on (353).

Nature is not just something that you resort to when you want a vacation or a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Nature consumes us on a regular basis. Accepting that we affect everything around us will be the first step in recovering what McKibben perceives we have lost over time. Also, there is a need to accept that what is made my man is also nature for the sake of the environment we live in and are trying to preserve.



Works Cited

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”. ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995. PDF File.

Emerson, Ralph W. “Nature”. James Monroe & Company. 1836. PDF File.

Perrin, Noel. “Forever Virgin: The American View of America”. 1986. PDF File.

Snyder, Gary. “Is Nature Real?”. 2000. PDF File.

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