hay’s dilemma

writing in ‘the nature writer’s dilemma’ (the nature reader, pages 5-8), what is hay’s dilemma regarding nature writing? whether to include the human.

although he teaches a class called ‘nature writing’, i find this essay dense, elliptical, uncommunicative, hard to read. maybe it’s just me; i’ve been out of academe too long; maybe it’s my brain-injury that prevents sense; read it over slowly, twice. maybe three or four times.

a narrow view of nature places it ‘out there’ and humans separate from and above it–this is the common view and underpins not only our culture but also our politics, our science, our philosophy, our religion. through such a view we’ve co-opted ecology, environment, conservation. we see the world as filled to overflowing with natural resources for the taking.

a wider but unpopular view holds humans as a part of nature, not separate, not above. what then if the writer subscribes to the unpopular view? the writer is no longer a communicator of cultural norms but a prophet, a cassandra, and he or she may die with few if any hearing. this, then, is the modern-day nature writer’s dilemma: to be heard vaguely by many, or deeply by few.

i have a further dilemma regarding hay’s dense essay: move on or read again? i choose to read again, and write–both means of further exploration of my understanding of what hay is trying to communicate. now it deepens, and the search for the human in nature becomes an inner search, for my values in nature, because really it’s all about me–now, i’m on familiar turf.

this inner search, perhaps, is what hay is really after: ‘i will stick with my confusion and the mystery of things, as if human domination never existed’, he concludes. for the search leads through ‘confusion and the mystery of things” to answers, and more questions, no doubt. dilemmas to solutions, then more dilemmas, more solutions, and so on….


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