Monday, November 29, 2010

Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain, Day #1

1) This is set in precisely the same country as the end of McTeague and yet it depicts the desert very differently. How does Austin imagine the desert as a place for plants, animals and people?

2) This book is one of the classics of environmental literature. What does environmentalism mean to you and how does the perspective of this narrative fit (or not fit) it?


  1. Since there were no comments for this day, I'll go ahead and add one.

    1) Norris' desert and Austin's desert are very different because I think Norris uses it more as a plot element while in Austin's book it is the main character. Plants animals and people are all adapting themselves to create a complex machine that works cleanly and efficiently. Austin looks past the bareness and focuses more on life rather than death.

    2) Environmentalism to me means a myriad of different things. At first extremist groups come to mind like E.L.F., A.L.F, PETA, etc. That doesn't really represent environmentalism to me though. I would like to consider myself someone who is concerned about the environment, but too comfortable with the suburban lifestyle to make much of a difference. For example I am a vegetarian because I don't like how producing meat has become an industry, how animals are abused in that industry, and how it creates unnecessary pollution. However I wouldn't go so far to say I make much of an impact as I drive my car and still throw away bottles. True environmentalism I think is having a healthy respect for nature, and living in sync with it.

  2. I decided to write my paper over this general topic. I thought it was very interesting that Norris describes the desert in very negative, hell-like terms. Yet Austin is fascinated by the desert and thinks that it is beautiful. Norris says that the desert is barren, not meant for plants, animals and most definitely not meant for people. McTeague kept commenting on how awful and unbearable the heat was. But Austin thinks that the desert is livable, you just need to adapt. Many animals, plants and even people can live there but you have to be smarter and more resourceful. I think the Pocket Hunter is an interesting character because he is a human described with many animalistic qualities. He has developed the necessary tools to survive in the desert. So is it not enough to just be a human in the desert? Or do you need to become part animal to because you are more likely to survive?

  3. Environmentalism is an allusive concept. For me, it is a method of living in which people use the environment to it's full potential. It's not always as clear and simple as saying "don't hurt animals" or "recycle, reduce, reuse." In many areas it's important that some animals are prey to other animals. That's why removing the wolf, a top predator, from Yellowstone had such devastating effects.

    However, I feel that this is a more scientific definition of the term. In the terms of literature, and more specifically, The Land of Little Rain, environmentalism is the ability to see wonder and awe in nature. For example, an environmentalist would comment on the shape of a mesa or the actions and reactions of a type of animal and derive meaning from that. An average observer would simply see a tall rock or a bird. It might have an initial awesome power over the observer, but the feeling would quickly fade. I believe that Austin is very much an environmentalist in this work. A way more so that even Thoreau. It's no secret that Thoreau found something powerful about nature, but it was not the core of his narrative. His stream-of-consciousness went beyond the surrounding nature whereas Austin doesn't deviate from nature in her description. In The Land of Little Rain there is no doubt that nature is the main character.

  4. I consider myself an environmentalist, but not the same kind of environmentalist as Mary Austin. She seems fascinated by most everything in nature and uses it as a main character. I am in awe of a lot of nature, but not as much as her. She is at a level of wonderment with nature that rivals Thoreau.

  5. The term "environmentalism" has been interestingly changed in definition over time. Its quite interesting the conflict that it brings up whenever discussed. Its very similar to the word Feminism. Words such as these bring up such argument and disgust.

    When people think environmentalism the thought of green party or conservation are the first things that come to mind. I think negatively because I am instantly annoyed by the thought of all of the people that enjoy telling me what to eat, what to drive, and how to live.

    Another impression or thought that comes to mind would be like the man that enjoys to get out into nature and/or lives in it. Men who hunt, fish, or do anything else outdoors enjoy more of the kind of nature that is representative work

    The description of the dessert is quite interesting as a form of nature. To me it is the last thing I think of.

  6. I think that environmentalism is respecting nature, using it but not abusing it, and preserving it for future generations. My father is a huge hunter and I've grown up around hunting all my life. However, he has always taught me that you have to give back. We were never allowed to kill anything that we couldn't eat and for as many deer or fish he killed, he let two or three go. To me, this is how we are able to use the land, but also preserve it.

    However, I think today environmentalism for the most part is seen through media and other sources as "being green" or driving a hybrid. Environmentalism has been turned into the trendy thing to be.

    I believe Austin has a view on environmentalism that is different. I think that she is truly amazed by nature and all that it has to offer. I get the feeling that she would rather sit out in nature and write about it or just look at it rather than use it for what it offers.

  7. Environmentalism is when a person is conscious about the environment around them. They go out of their way to make sure that they do not harm that environment. This book is about environmentalism because it looks at all of the living things that effect this environment. In this case, it is the desert. The animals do not leave waste. They do kill other things to survive, but they use all of it in one way or another. The people are not so environmentally savvy. She talks specifically about the pocket hunter. While they do try to be conscious of what they are doing, they still harm the environment. But it is a good example of how we can co-exist without bringing too much harm to it. This book is showing what impacts we have on our environments, which does fit, because being conscious about your environment means that you are aware of it and your place within it.

  8. 2) This book is one of the classics of environmental literature. What does environmentalism mean to you and how does the perspective of this narrative fit (or not fit) it?

    Environmentalism means to me awareness of the natural earth as well as taking action to preserve/conserve the natural earth. One perspective that I find interesting in this book is that Austin renames rivers, mountains, etc. because she believes Americans did not have the right to name these places on earth. I think this is an example of Austin's enivronmentalism. She believes that the earth, even a hellish desert, can be used as a place of contemplation, and that it should be its own place, not something taken over by modern man. I think environmentalism can be tricky because I believe it is good to save the earth and not abuse our natural resources, I also believe in the progression of mankind. For example after Hoover Dam was built it became a race in the United States to build as many big dams as we could to manipulate water sources to our liking. While this allowed places such as Las Vegas to survive it also destroyed canyons that can never sustain certain life, or gain back its natural beauty. It is difficult to choose which place should be set for advancement and which places should be set for preservation. Austin seems to think that it is better to live off the land given to one.


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