Saturday, May 16, 2020

Nature Writing Case Study: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling : Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings : 9780349008233I didn't read this book till recently, and am a little surprised that I passed it over when I was younger, though not that much so because I read few female authors then and wasn't quite as enamored with the natural word back then as I am now (I adored vistas from afar as opposed to getting right in there with them as I do now).

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) is a tale set in northern Florida just after the American Civil War. It's about a family living off the land and all of the pleasures and hardships that come with such a life. More specifically, it's about a young boy learning to cope with loss while using his compassion to care for a fawn whose mother had perished.

I picked the book up in my quest to become a better nature writer. Flipping through the pages I encountered paragraph after marvelous paragraph filled with descriptive gems of the great Earth and her landscape.

One such passage is as follows:

...during the past months, he had learned the value of his father's trick of an unarguing silence...He watched the sun rise beyond the grape arbor. In the thin golden light the young leaves and tendrils of the Scuppernon were like Twink Weatherby's hair. He decided that sunrise and sunset both gave him a pleasantly sad feeling. The sunrise brought a wild, free sadness; the sunset, a lonely yet a comforting one. He indulged his agreeable melancholy until the earth under him turned from gray to lavender and then to the color of dried corn husks. He went at his work vigorously.

In the above extract Rawlings seems to mesh the beauty of the outer world with the beauty of mankind's inner world (his soul, or whatever you choose to call it) when she intimates that he "indulged his agreeable melancholy," an act that could be interpreted as a sort of communion with the mystery of nature. To expand, nature has an unmistakable sense of order, yet the purpose or drive to achieve said order; therefore, man, with his own, alien order in his society, separate from nature, feels left out when he appreciates Mother Earth's beauty but her secret isn't whispered into his ear.

Rawlings also does an excellent job of contrasting society and nature, pointing out the merits of the latter. She writes:

"But in the towns and villages, in farming sections where neighbors were not too far apart, men's minds and actions and property overlapped. There were intrusions on the individual spirit. There were friendliness and mutual help in times of trouble, true, but there were bickering and watchfulness, one man's suspicion of another...He had perhaps been bruised too often (by society). The peace of the vast aloof scrub had drawn him with the beneficence of its silence. Something in him was raw and tender...The wild animals seemed less predatory to him than the people he had known.

Here Rawlings makes a case for leaving society, not out of fear or incompetence, but simply because the family in The Yearling have made a choice that there just might be something better receive from nature's bosom than from man's. Too often we buy in to the belief that society has improved man's lot in life in comparison to nature. Perhaps it's time to question that supposition. Perhaps it's time to return to the garden that we blossomed from, if only for a time.

Rawlings also attempts to pinpoint the Catch-22 that is man's fondness for nature, yet his need to destroy it in order to ensure his survival. In a beautiful paragraph, Rawlings writes:

Jody examined the deer hide. It was large and handsome, red with spring. The game seemed for him to be two different animals. On the chase, it was quarry. He wanted only to see it fall. When it lay dead and bleeding, he was sickened and sorry. His heart ached over the mangled death. Then when it was cut into portions, and dried and salted and smoked; or boiled or baked or fried in the savory kitchen or roasted over the camp-fire, it was only meat, like bacon, and his mouth watered at its goodness. He wondered by what alchemy it was changed, so that what sickened him one hour, maddened him with hunger, the next. It seemed as though there were either two different animals or two different boys.

Of course, this Catch-22 can be superimposed onto anything. For instance, our labors are sometimes lusted after, whether it be acquiring a sought after title to print on a business card, or something far more simple, such as developing a farm that can provide all of one's family's calories. Yet, the reality of toiling in the office or in the dirt can be hair pulling and back breaking. However, once we push through the uncomfortable stage of labor, we are able to reap the attached rewards. So, just like Jody above, we all feel some sort of ecstasy in the chase, pain in the toil, and satisfaction in the remuneration. Perhaps this is a fact of life.

No. Perhaps knowing this is a secret of life. If we decide to set a goal, whether it be material or otherwise, let us embrace the toil that is required to reap the satisfaction at road's end.

AJ Snook's Amazon Author Page
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