Nature… by Peter Coates

Overall I found this book to be quite dense. However, there were a handful of things that I was interested enough in to pull out and think about a little more.

When Coates is talking about interpretations and representations of ‘nature’ in history he quotes Chief Luther Standing Bear who says:

We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as “wild”. Only to the white man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Not until the hairy man from the east came…was it “wild” for us (10).

This quote is from the 1800s and its amazing to think that this time period is when Native Americans started thinking of the great plains as ‘wild.’ It is especially poignant when you think that 28 states achieved statehood in the 1800s. It’s just mind boggling that while most of the people of the United States were on the path to industrialization, those that had been around since the beginning were regressing back to seeing the land as ‘wild’ because people were encroaching on their previously open lands.

Chief Luther Standing Bear

Ch. 2:
When thinking about ancient Greece and Rome, gods and goddesses typically are high on the list of things that pop into your mind. ‘i hadn’t really considered, however, that most of the shrines and temples to these deities were built in beautiful, natural places. Places like Mount Olympus and other mountain tops were used to honor the deities and were considered to be sacred places. It makes sense that the most beautiful places that people could think of to use when honoring the gods and goddesses were in nature (30).

Mount Olympus

Ch. 3
When Coates is talking about forests during the Middle Ages, the first thing I thought about was my last Economic History lesson. Dr. Spall told us about a person hired by the holder of the forest, usually a very powerful lord or even the king, that was in charge of walking around the entire forest. This person, the perambulator, walked the entire perimeter of the forest and counted his steps. The amount of steps tells him how big the forest is. He then comes back after a few years and does the same thing. The moral of the story is that the amount of steps is supposed to be the same, and if its not, the tenants of the land have encroached on the forest and taken too much land. The lord or king would not be pleased. While their intentions were more for power and status, it still remains that forests were preserved and deforestation occurred relatively slowly (45).

Maps of forests in England

Ch. 4:
In Chapter 4 they talk about how nature is typically referred to in feminine terms. “Mother Nature” is a perfect example of that. Coates talks about Merchant and how she talks about “ancient strictures against mining as a violation of the earth’s living body, a rude rifling of her bowels, rupturing of her veins and revealing of her inner secrets.” This makes something as common as mining sound like a mortal sin with the use of evocative words making nature not only human, but female. It is interesting that we still refer to nature in such terms today.

Picture of a Uranium mine in Australia

Ch. 5:
British write, Frances Trollope, wrote that the Ohio River because of its convergence with the Mississippi River plus Louisville, KY would have been perfect “were there occasionally a ruined abbey, or feudal castle” which would “mix the romance of real life with that of nature.” What struck me was that from a British perspective human structures add to nature, not detract from it. I think that most people would think the opposite, that human influences take away from the beauty of nature. I think that is why I enjoy visiting national parks so much. There is little to detract from the true beauty of all that nature has to offer. My viewpoint contrasts with what Abbey talks about in regards to how much the national parks have altered their surroundings to make things more accessible. When I’m somewhere like that, so close to nature, I see past those modern conveniences and focus on what is important (104).


I took these two pictures last spring break in Mississippi at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

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