Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Mill

During the taming of America, the people took a different path to building towns than most others. For instance, they used a grid, where others went with the flow of the land. Also, European towns were build around a church. When traveling from miles away, the first thing a traveler would see was the steeple for the church. However, American towns had mills at the center of their towns. I don't agree with theis decision; however, I can see where many other people would think it logical. The mills were used to help give them food, lumber, etc. It makes sense for them to want to be closer to this place. For instance, if they were too far away from the mill, then their food might spoil.
However, while this might be logical, it seems like a step away from God. God was the center of their life. He was their source of hope, strength, and happiness. Now they are focused more in the material world. God is shoved off to the side along with the church. This can be seen in many western movies. When they show the towns in these movies, they rarely visit the church. Instead, one of the main scene settings is the bar. The town's people frequently go to bars to drown their troubles in whiskey rather than visit the church to pray. Some of the towns didn't even have churches. Giving the impression that God was replaced by the mill.
In Second Creation, Nye is telling about the influences man made when entering the New World. This one seemingly small change of placing the mill at the center of the town, seems to have a strong effect on civilization. Though the mill is not necessarily at the center of our towns today, its effect of having moved God from the center of people's lives can still be seen in today's society.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoreau on Preserving Nature

Where Nye's Second Creation is more of an academic retelling of history, Thoreau gives a different account of that history in his Walking. His work is more personalized. It is difficult to read his work because he jumps around so much; however, this style of writing goes very well with the message he is trying to convey.
Thoreau says that we need to experience nature while we can. Looking around today, there are not very many local forests to get lost in. The world has been explored, mapped out, and reorganized. Every day more nature is being destroyed to make room for homes, amusement parks, hotels, factories, etc. How many trees can one find in New York City? Thoreau is saying that while this reconstruction is not a completely horrible thing, we do need to treasure nature.
He talks about going on a walk just to see nature. While one is on this walk, they must just pay attention to nature. Forget about work, school, etc. This walk is just between the individual and nature. If the person's mind is constantly busy with other thoughts, then he is not giving nature the attention it deserves. The walk would be meaningless. Also, the walk should be pointless. The individual must not start from point A for the purpose of getting to point B. He should wander around, explore. Don't try to map everything out.
It seems as though Thoreau wants us to let go of the order mankind has created, and just go with the flow of nature, just for a time at least. Today not very many people do this. We start from point A and rush to point B missing everything in between. We miss the smells of flowers, the shapes of the clouds, the chirps of the birds, the soft glow of the moonlight, etc. We're too busy with out daily lives to notice these things that are not always going to be there. One day those flowers will die. The clouds will blow away. The birds will fly south. The moonlight will fade. In the end, all we could say is that we made good time on the freeway.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Symbolism & Ownership

In class, we discussed the symbols of the "Old West," including the axe and the log cabin. Both were surprising to me. Along with many others I am sure, I would have thought that the rifle would replace the axe. However, I can see how an axe would be more fitting.
This was a time when the settlers were coming into America and settling. They had to make homes for themselves, barns for their animals, etc. While a rifle would protect them, the axe would give them their living.
There was also some discussion of the log cabin, though I'm not so sure I understand the full significance of it as a symbol. I could somewhat understand it because of the popularity of the time. The log cabin was what they had to live in. They did not have the material for brick houses or such. They had wood and a lot of it. They had to clear away trees to make room for their homes, and I could see it as convenient to just turn those trees into homes instead of just piling them up somewhere else.
One interesting concept brought up in class was what some believed qualified people for ownership of land. Among the beliefs of John Locke was that of owning whatever one put labor into. The settlers came to share this belief. I must agree with them to an extent. If you work on something then you have placed your mark, so to speak, upon it forever. You share some ownership because you helped bring it into existence or helped to improve it. However, if you sell it, it is no longer yours.
The settlers decided to take the land from the Native-Americans with this belief as one of their justifications. The settlers believed that the Native-Americans were not using the land to its fullest. Therefore, under this belief (which may or may not have been shared by the Native-Americans), they claimed ownership of the land when they began the back-breaking work on the land, creating factories, railroads, etc. Looking at this, I find it a little ironic. Before the settlers came, the land was flourishing. It was a jungle and the people (the Native-Americans) lived in harmony with the land. However, once the settlers arrived, they started chopping down trees, burning forests, etc--killing the land. They changed the land completely from the jungle it once was and put it on the path to the world we see today with its ever-diminishing forests.