Journeys into the wilderness test far more than the physical boundaries of the human traveler. Twentieth century wilderness authors move beyond the traditional travel-tour approach where nature is an external diversion from everyday life. Instead, nature becomes a catalyst for knowing our internal wilderness and our universal connections to all living things. In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain, and Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild, “nature” mirrors each narrator: what the narrators ultimately discover in the wilderness reflects what needs they bring to it. Their points of view, expectations, and awareness all determine their experiences of the wild and “self.” Ultimately, however, each work reveals that the experience of nature need not be restricted only to “self-discovery,” but may well expand to an understanding of the spiritual “family self.”
Atwood’s psychological novel describes the return journey by its narrator from a self-centered, urban existence to the Canadian wilderness of her youth, where she finds the meaning of family and her role in it. Though not overtly psychological, Mary Austin’s intense devotion to the life and people of her desert community suggests these have become replacements for her own, unsuccessful attempts at conventional family life. Finally, Gary Snyder’s kinship with nature exemplifies a life integrated in all aspects—a union that merges the practical, psychological, and spiritual into what may be called the “cosmic” family.
Birth of Family
Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing describes the heroine/narrator’s phy...
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...our experiences: the progress of our consciousness. This progress resolves issues of the self and one’s individual past, heals our psychic pain, and releases us from powerlessness and fear. By accepting the wilderness in ourselves we will understand the wilderness in each other and our connectedness. Nature functions as catalyst, as guide, as test, as teacher. Then opening the spiritual window to grace, we ultimately realize the possibility of being fully human.
Atwood, Margaret. Surfacing (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1972).
Austin, Mary. Stories from the Country of Lost Borders. Ed. Marjorie Pryse (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987).
Pryse, Marjorie. "Introduction" to Stories from the Country of Lost Borders by Mary Austin. (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987).
Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990).
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