2017-09-03 / Opinion

Nature comes to us through the power of words


No matter where I happen to be at any given moment, no matter what I might be doing or even just thinking about doing, the fact is inescapable: nature will somehow play a role in it, if only as backdrop or setting.

Even if I distance myself from the lushness that surrounds me here and the wildness that creeps out of these woods when I’m not looking, it is simply not possible to arrive at a place, either figuratively or literally, that is totally devoid of nature’s influence, be it overwhelming or simply minimal.

Her ways are myriad, and it is a challenge to find some small thing that does not have some connection to the natural world. Even sitting here at my desk, I am hard-pressed to find something, anything that can honestly be said not to have an organic origin. The scraps of paper that I scribble notes on, the chair I occupy, the fruit I had for breakfast with my cereal, the cotton shirt I’m wearing, and the coffee in my cup all come from materials supplied by nature.

This is, of course, common knowledge, but it seems that nature has insinuated herself elsewhere, too, and that is in the very words that line the pages of just about every book I read.

Short of dry pieces of rhetoric accompanied by bibliographies equally lacking in nature’s influence, I think it safe to say that if I were to attempt to purge many books of their references to her, there’d be few words left upon their pages. It’s also nearly impossible to write anything remotely interesting without assigning nature a few lines here and there.

Like an impish face grinning from a hedgerow, nature usually sneaks in to set the scene for lovers in romance novels, comes at adventurers from all sides as they make their way across daunting terrain or treacherous seas, or extends a tender hand to soothe a protagonist overcome with grief at the loss of a loved one.

Nature’s palliative powers reach us from the pages of novels and poetry books as surely as they do from flower boxes and woodlands. And it is the rare authors that don’t give her some due within the pages of their books.

In my not always productive attempt to keep up on the classics, I’ve lately been painstakingly moving through Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” a series of epic poems that depicts the author’s journey through the three stages of the afterlife accompanied by the poet Virgil.

This is meaty stuff, so I have no choice but to take my time, reading and rereading certain passages until their meaning is revealed or at least clarified a little. To say that this work is replete with symbolism and metaphor is putting it mildly.

But one theme has remained constant throughout: that humans and nature are closely intertwined, not only biologically but spiritually as well.

As did many classical writers, Dante employed dozens of different motifs taken from nature to illustrate his meaning. Verdant fields, swiftly moving streams, dense forests, rough mountainous terrain, and wild animals are but a few of the props that he used to make it easier for the reader to relate to the complex text.

Translated many years ago from Italian into the more sophisticated English of the time makes reading this particular edition as much of a challenge as reading the King James Version of the Bible.

Dante’s is certainly not the only work to employ motifs from nature in his literary art. Pick up any novel and it is sure to tell the story of a human endeavor set against a natural background. A great deal of poetry has its roots in nature as well, for what is poetry but a reflection, in fewer well-chosen words, of our own journey through the many stages of our own lives?

In the end, even if I’m not able to be outside in nature’s actual embrace, what I read brings her, for the most part, to me, and I am still able to relate to and connect with her in that way.

On rainy days, when I am housebound, it’s a thrill to open a book to where I left off and be drawn into a world, be it fact or fiction, wherein nature and her wonders are happened upon and always with joy.

As motif or metaphor, as setting or backdrop, or merely as a balm to the soul, the words that depict nature, that paint pictures of her for us, reaffirm the indelible bond we share. And what a source of beauty and meaning she is, of which we are, each and every one of us, emanations! 

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