- You shall find a fuller satisfaction in the woods than in books. The trees and the rocks will teach you that which you cannot hear from the masters. [Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter CVI, to Master Henry Murdach.]
- The mountains are calling and I must go. [John Muir, Letter to Sarah Galloway, from Yosemite valley, September 3, 1873.]
The natural environment is essential to the survival of the human or any other species. It is so important and its narratives are so rich that I have divided our treatment of it into several sections. The first includes narratives about people who have expressed an appreciation for nature.
The city is interesting; but the tactual silence of the country is always most welcome after the din of town and the irritating concussions of the train. How noiseless and undisturbing are the demolition, the repairs and the alterations, of nature! With no sound of hammer or saw or stone severed from stone, but a music of rustles and ripe thumps on the grass come the fluttering leaves and mellow fruits which the wind tumbles all day from the branches. Silently all droops, all withers, all is poured back into the earth that it may recreate; all sleeps while the busy architects of day and night ply their silent work elsewhere. The same serenity reigns when all at once the soil yields up a newly wrought creation. Softly the ocean of grass, moss, and flowers rolls surge upon surge across the earth. Curtains of foliage drape the bare branches. Great trees make ready in their sturdy hearts to receive again birds which occupy their spacious chambers to the south and west. Nay, there is no place so lowly that it may not lodge some happy creature. The meadow brook undoes its icy fetters with rippling notes, gurgles, and runs free. And all this is wrought in less than two months to the music of nature's orchestra, in the midst of balmy incense. The thousand soft voices of the earth have truly found their way to me--the small rustle in tufts of grass, the silky swish of leaves, the buzz of insects, the hum of bees in blossoms I have plucked, the flutter of a bird's wings after his bath, and the slender rippling vibration of water running over pebbles. Once having been felt, these loved voices rustle, buzz, hum, flutter, and ripple in my thought forever, an undying part of happy memories. [Helen Keller, The World I Live In (1907), chapter V, “The Finer Vibrations”.]
- Georgius Everhardus Rumphius, TheAmbonese Herbal (Yale University Press, 2011): Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3; Volume 4; Volume 5; Volume 6.
- Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Foundon the Pacific Coast Trail (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012): “a breathtaking adventure tale and a profound meditation on the nature of grief and survival”.
- Robert D. Kaplan, Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World (Random House (2017). “ . . . the shape of the river constrains the pilot’s course.”
- Bernie Krause, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places (Little, Brown & Company, 2012). “Krause’s term for this symphony is ‘biophony’: the sound of all living organisms except us.”
- James Attlee, Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight (The University of Chicago Press, 2011): an idiosyncratic but engaging ode to the moon
- Victoria Johnson, American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright, 2018): “A biography of David Hosack, the doctor who assembled one of America’s first botanical gardens.”
- Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (Penguin Press, 2018): “. . . an account of fixing up a farm in Cornwall, Conn.”
- Nick Pyenson, Spying on Whales: The Past, Present and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures (Viking, 2018): “. . . a travelogue to chasing whales, both living and extinct.”
- Karen Berger, Great Hiking Trails of the World: 80 Trails, 75,000 Miles, 38 Countries, 6 Continents (Rizzoli, 2017).
- Robert Llewellyn and Joan Maloof, The Living Forest: A Visual Journey Into the Heart of the Woods (Timber, 2017).
- Will Hunt, Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet (Spiegel & Grau, 2019): “A book can often have its greatest impact by rethinking familiar terrain, forcing readers to reconsider their entrenched preconceptions.”
- Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019): “You know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below. . . . an epic exploration and examination of darkness and the caverns underground that have captured our imaginations, pulled us downward, housed our dead and allowed us to bury our most violent secrets.”
- Bathsheba Demuth, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019): “Demuth rightly approaches the region not as a barren place through which human history progressed but as a complex ecosystem on its own, in which humans play just one part.”
- Terry Tempest Williams, Erosion: Essays of Undoing (Sarah Chichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019): “Most of the pieces here focus on Williams’s political and environmental resistance to such marauding, including her acts of civil disobedience, their fallout, and her sustained grief and anger over the despoiling of the natural world.”
- Kathleen Jamie, Surfacing (Penguin, 2019): “ . . . poet Jamie (Sightlines) meditates on the natural world, lost cultures, and the passage of time.” “Jamie’s crisp language places you in a near-meditative state.”
- Patricia Schultz, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: The World As You’ve Never Seen It Before (Artisan, 2019): “ . . . a new, glossy coffee-table edition of the 2003 book by Patricia Schultz. . . . The most notable feature of the book is the absence of people and current events.”
- Florence Wheeler, The Nature Fix: Why Natures Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017): “Scientists Examine the Benefits of Forests, Birdsong and Running Water”.
- Philip D’Anieri, The Appalachian Trail: A Biography (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021): “No one had authored the path – but also everyone had.”
- Barry Lopez, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays (Random House, 2022): “. . . if these essays have a unifying theme and express a single mandate, they are about the redemptive importance of paying attention to the planet and to the other beings with which we share it. Attentiveness works as an antidote not only to distractedness but to the fatal unseriousness of modern life.”
- Adam Nicolson, Life Between the Tides (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): “. . . For centuries, . . . the shoreline has been ‘one of the most revelatory habitats on earth.’ Foundational tenets of taxonomy, paleontology and evolution ‘first emerged from studying what was happening to animals and plants between the tides.' . . .”
Documentary and Educational Films
National Geographic Wild series and other nature documentaries:
Technical and Analytical Readings
Naturalistic or naturalist intelligence is sure to be correlated with an appreciation for nature. It is defined as “Ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature”. “Those who are skilled at naturalist intelligence are good at categorizing information and recognizing patterns.” Identification of naturalistic intelligence has spawned curiosity about education and training in biology and other naturalist fields. “Learning Desire Is Predicted by Similar Neural Processing of Naturalistic Educational Materials”.
Functional brain imaging reveals that people hear differently in naturalist settings than in artificial settings. Observations of neural activity suggests that the brain responds particularly to naturalist tasks. However, the research into this aspect of intelligence is relatively sparse, leaving us to wonder why.
- Franz Marc, Der Wasserfall (1912)
- Frederic Edwin Church, El Rio de Luz (The River of Light) (1877)
- Gustave Courbet, The Calm Sea (1869)
- Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevadas (1868)
- Gustave Courbet, The Beach at Palaves (1854)
- Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rainbow (ca. 1835)
- Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Rocks in Amalfi (1828)
- Thomas Cole, Scene from the Last of the Mohicans (1826)
- Thomas Cole, Kaaterskill Falls (1826)
- Carl David Friedrich, Moonrise Over the Sea (1822)
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Grand Cascade at Tivoli (1760)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High”
- John Denver, "Sunshine On My Shoulders"
- Fawn Fritzen, “Green Island Serenade”
- Franz Schubert (composer), Naturgenuß (Delight in Nature), D. 188 (1815) (lyrics)
It may indeed be phantasy, when I
Essay to draw from all created things
Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.
So let it be; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.
So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.
[Samuel Taylor-Coleridge, “To Nature”]
- William Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey”
- William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “To a Sky-Lark”
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Invitation” (1822)
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”
- Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”
- Walter de la Mare, “Silver”
- Robert Frost, “Blueberries”
- Robert Frost, “Hyla Brook”
- Robert Frost, “Putting in the Seed”
- Robert Frost, “Rose Pogonias”
- Robert Frost, “The Vantage Point”
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Imanuel Ehrenhardt”
- Edgar Lee Masters, “William Jones”
- Seamus Heaney, “Postscript”
- Navarre Scott Momaday, “The Earth”
- John Keats, “I Stood Tip-Toe Upon a Little Hill”
- John Keats, “O Solitude! If I Must With Thee Dwell”
Wallace Stevens, “In the Carolinas”
- Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West” (analysis)
- John Greenleaf Whittier, “What the Birds Said”
- William Blake, “The Echoing Green”
- Andrew Marvell, “The Garden”
- John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Worship of Nature”
- E. Cummings, “O sweet spontaneous”
- Pablo Neruda, “Horses”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Richard Strauss, Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64 (1915), depicts a day in the mountains. It is “. . . a vivid musical portrayal of a climbing party's alpine ascent and descent. All of the action in Strauss' Alpine Symphony takes place within one day . . .” It was “inspired by an alpine expedition as a teenager (during which he'd lost his way), and written with an awesome view of the peaks from his villa in Garmisch.” “The sunrise grows out of a quiet, rumble which depicts night - and in a mighty crescendo, opens the day - a similar awakening to that in ‘Zarathustra,’ in fact. And, along with the day the climbers begin their ascent, which is so clearly rendered in the music. After hiking for a while they enter the wood - via a sudden tempo change - and encounter the mysteries therein, beautifully exhibited by the...well, the mysterious music.” “In the Alpine Symphony, Strauss wrote that 'this represents moral purification through one’s own strength, liberation through work, worship of eternal, magnificent nature.'” Top recordings were conducted by Strauss in 1941, Knappertsbusch in 1952, Böhm in 1957, Mravinsky in 1962, Kempe in 1966, Karajan in 1980, Karajan in 1985, Maazel in 1998, Thielemann in 2000, Schwarz in 2001, Bychkov in 2010 and Jansons in 2017.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 3, “A Pastoral Symphony” (1922): musically, the work evokes an idyllic landscape, as suggested by the title. However, the composers’ intent was something else entirely: “'It’s really wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night in the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset. It’s not really lambkins frisking at all, as most people take for granted.'” Still: “Vaughan Williams was indeed inspired by landscape, but not English landscape; rather, the landscape of wartime France.” We can hear it for the composer’s appreciation of what was being ruined. Top performances are conducted by Boult in 1953, Previn in 1971, Handley, Bakels in 1994, Norrington in 1997, Haitink in 1998, and Elder in 2014 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4).
American composer Ferde Grofé is best known for his Grand Canyon Suite but he composed several other works in the same vein:
- Grand Canyon Suite (here are links to complete performances conducted by Ormandy and Hanson)
- Death Valley Suite
- Hudson River Suite
- Mississippi Suite
- Niagara Falls Suite
- Koechlin: The Jungle Book (Livre de la Jungle)
- Schumann, Liederkreis (song cycle), Op. 39 (1840), capturing the Romantic ideal of landscape
- Finzi: Earth & Air & Rain, Op. 15
- Kernis, Newly Drawn Sky, presents musical images as from within a city.
- J.L. Adams, Inuksuit
- Higdon, Sky Quartet (1997, rev. 2000): in this work for string quartet, the movements are “Sky Rising”, “Blue Sky”, “Fury” and “Immense Sky”.
- Gotkovsky: Le Chant de la forêt (Song of the Forest), for chorus and wind orchestra (1989)
- Shostakovich, The Song of the Forests, Op, 81 (1949)
- Schumann, 9 Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op. 82 (1851)
- Delius, Florida Suite (1887) (as edited by Beecham)
- Fry: Niagara Symphony (1854)
- In Richard Strauss’ opera Daphne, Op. 82 (1937), a young woman is obsessed with nature, to the exclusion of everything else.
- Bax, Enchanted Summer (1910)
- Dvořák, In Nature’s Realm Overture, Op. 91, B168 (1891)
- Harrison, Solstice (1950)
- Händel, Care selve, aure grate, HWV 88
- Raga Miya Malhar (Malhar), a Hindustani classical nighttime raag aping nature’s vagaries, it is performed especially in the rainy season (performances by Paluskar and Koparkar).
- Raga Pahadi: based on folk melodies and originating in the Himalayan mountain region, “the raga is like a lover, unruffled in union, serene in separation, powerful enough to achieve eternal union, but resigned to the painful parting ordained by destiny.” (performances by Banerjee and Chaurasia)
- Tarkiainen, The Earth, Spring’s Daughter
- Carl, Symphony No. 5, “Land” (inspired by a trip from the Great Plans to the Rocky Mountains)
- Harmon, “Earth Day Portrait”
- Collins, “Hymn to the Earth”
- Hovhaness, Symphony No. 66, Op. 428, “Hymn to Glacier Peak”
- John Luther Adams, “Canticles of the Holy Wind”: “a hypnotic and ethereally beautiful invocation of wind, sky and birdsong through human — but wordless — voices.”
- Bernard Rands, Canti del Sole (Songs of the Sun) (1983)
- Bernard Rands, Canti Lunatici (Songs of the Moon) (1981)
- Xiaogang Ye, Sichuan Image, Op. 70 (2013) (approx. 47'), “consists of 29 brief and atmospheric pieces composed to accompany a filmed travelogue of the scenic province in Western China.”
- Ottorino Respighi, Deità Silvane (Woodland Deities), P. 107 (1917) (approx. 16 minutes), is a cycle of five songs, whose English titles are The fauns, Garden music, Aegle, Water, and Twilight.
- Ben Shirley, High Sierra Sonata (2020) (approx. 19’), was inspired by Shirley’s visit to the Sierra mountains in 2019.
- George Winston, “Forest”
- Jacques Burtin, “Le Chant de la forêt” (Song of the Forest)
- Rich Halley Trio, “Mountains and Plains”
- Harris Eisenstadt, “Old Growth Forest”
- Brian Eno, “Deep Blue Day”
- Fergus McCreadie, “Forest Floor”
- Uakti, “Aguas de Amazonia” (Waters of Amazon), music composed by Philip Glass
Novels and stories:
- Paul Tremblay, Growing Things and Other Stories (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2019): “does what we expect the work of our best writers to do: reflect our world from a surprising perspective so that we might better see its beauty and contradictions, its comforts and aches. In these 19 stories, Tremblay doesn’t just hold a mirror up to reality, but live-streams it, projecting the whole spectrum of our modern anxieties so vividly it feels as if we’re watching in real time.”