Saturday, August 17, 2013


Nature's Grand Design

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "A Green Mountain Corn-Field," A Rambler's Lease (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 99-113 (at 104-105):
The import of this apparent wastefulness and cruelty of Nature, her seeming indifference to the welfare of the individual, is a question on which it is not pleasant, and, as I think, not profitable, to dwell. We see but parts of her ways, and it must be unsafe to criticise the working of a single wheel here or there, when we have absolutely no means of knowing how each fits into the grand design, and, for that matter, can only guess at the grand design itself. Rather let us content ourselves with the prudent saying of that ancient agnostic, Bildad the Shuhite: "We are but of yesterday, and know nothing." The wisest of us are more or less foolish, by nature and of necessity; but it seems a gratuitous superfluity of folly to ignore our own ignorance. For one, then, I am in no mood to propose, much less to undertake, any grand revolution in the order of natural events. Indeed, as far as I am personally concerned, I fear it would be found but a dubious improvement if the wildness were quite taken out of the world,—if its wilderness, according to the word of the prophet, were to become all like Eden. Tameness is not the only good quality, whether of land or of human nature.
Id., pp. 107-108:
It is evident, however, that for birds, as for ourselves, the same thing often has both a bright and a dark side. If men are sometimes heartless, and never to be altogether confided in, yet at the same time their doings are in various respects conducive to the happiness and increase of feathered life; and this not only in the case of some of the more familiar species, but even in that of many which still retain all their natural shyness of human society. A clearing like that in which I was now resting offers an excellent illustration of this; for it is a rule without exceptions that in such a place one may see and hear more birds in half an hour than are likely to be met with in the course of a long day's tramp through the unbroken forest. The mourning warbler himself likes a roadside copse better than a deep wood, jealous as he may be of man's approach. Up to a certain point, civilization is a blessing, even to birds. Beyond a certain point, for aught I know, it may be nothing but a curse, even to men.

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