Views About Nature

Several impressions struck the earliest Europeans to explore North America. The first was its appearance as a wilderness. Christopher Columbus and other Spaniards who first encountered the islands of the Caribbean were so amazed by their abundant flora and fauna and so enamored by their gentle tropical climate that the explorers believed they had encountered some kind of lost Eden. By contrast, Hernando Cortz and the conquistadores of New Spain did not encounter a wilderness at all, but a thickly settled, intensively farmed valley, punctuated by numerous towns and cities. They had no illusions that they had found a landscape still in a state of nature. The French and English who first settled North America, however, believed they had encountered just such a wilderness. For one thing, the native population was much more sparsely settled than Europeans were in their home continent. Eastern woodland Native Americans engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture. That is, they would burn down a section of forest, plant their crops for a time, and when the soil was played out move to a new section of forest to repeat the cycle. This, of course, meant that large portions of the countryside were either not farmed or in recovery from an earlier farming cycle. In either case, they appeared as if they were not being used or had been abandoned, an appearance contributed to by the fact that the native population was in decline, having been decimated by European diseases. These factors led English settlers to believe that much of the countryside was theirs for the taking. In this, and in their belief that the regions they were encountering were still in a total state of nature, they were mistaken. Even where the forests remained, they had been affected by the native peoples, who often burned off areas to form meadows for animals, making game easier to hunt. Another impression the earliest English settlers had was one of abundance. In this, they were not mistaken. The forests were thick with game throughout the Atlantic seaboard region. The fishing grounds off the coast were so rich that European ships had been sailing thousands of miles to reach them as early as the mid-sixteenth century. Early Puritan chroniclers talk about sea coves so full of lobsters one could walk across on their backs and rivers dense with fish. The thick forests, while a bane to farmers, offered seemingly unlimited building material, fuel, and ship stores. At the same time, however, many early European settlers were terrified by the untamed wilderness at their doorsteps, seeing it as a dangerous landscape, both physically and morally. The wilderness was easy to get lost in and full of predatory creatures, and the climate could kill, especially in the mid-Atlantic, New England, and Canadian colonies. The wilderness was also a terrifying place in moral terms. Unlike contemporary Americans, European settlers especially the Puritans saw a state of nature as a place where the devil lurked. Entering that realm exposed one not only to physical dangers but to the chance that one might be morally corrupted as well. Bolstering that belief was the behavior of the Native American, who appeared to live in a sinful state of nature, where false gods were worshipped, bodies were exposed, and sexuality was freer than was considered moral by Europeans. It would take a century or two before European settlers of eastern North America now citizens of an independent United States would come to embrace nature, seeing in the frontier experience a unique identity for themselves. James Ciment See also: Agriculture; Bartram Family. Bibliography Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill & Wang, 1983. Merchant, Carolyn. The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Whitney, Gordon G. From Coastal Wilderness to Fruited Plain: A History of Environmental Change in Temperate North America, 1500 to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. quotes,desert desert quotes 1024×768 wallpaper Desert Wallpaper … Global summit reveals divergent views on human gene editing … Al Franken quote: My views about God come from my dad. Dad told…

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