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Intimacy and the Earth

Hannah's picture

 From a distance, I could only see one color green when I approached this field. It wasn’t until I got up close when I realized there were flowers in the field and it took a while for me to count over a dozen different species of plants hidden in plane sight in a field I had walked by many times but only now stopped to lay in. During a course I took this semester called “ecological imaginings”, we read a number of texts discussing ecological and environmental issues. An idea that was brought up during our discussions and that I connected with and feel is important to share is the idea of intimacy with the land being the key to the health of our environment. Terry Tempest Williams’ An Unspoken Hunger, Timothy Morton’s “Ecology without Nature”, and Thomas Berry’s “The Dream of the Earth” are texts we read during the course that touched on this concept each in their own unique way. Morton illustrates how we can be cognitively intimate with nature, Berry suggests ways in which we could be more intellectually intimate with the earth, and Williams shows us how becoming physically intimate with the land will fix our relationship with the environment.

             Timothy Morton’s “Ecology without Nature” suggests the importance of being intimate with our environment in our minds. Morton writes that having the concept of “nature” separates us in our thinking from the land, plants, and animals. Naming these things and putting them in the category of “nature” detaches the environment that we live in from what we think of as “nature” by idealizing it. He suggests that if the concept was forgotten, than everything we experienced on earth would be more integrated; causing us to connect better with plants, animals and the things we know think of as “nature”. That abolishing the idea of nature would make us more cognitively intimate with the land.

            Thomas Berry’s “The Dream of the Earth” also approaches this idea but through education. The intimacy he speaks about is obtained through knowing the land better by learning more about it. Berry proposes that we modify the educational system and require students to take seven ecology courses explaining our world from its beginning during college. Berry believes that knowing all the facts about our earth and the intellectual intimacy that will arise from knowing all about it will help us to be smart about our decisions regarding the environment and help us to care more about this planet we live on. 

            Williams’ book An Unspoken Hunger was my favorite text we read together as a class. In her story “Stone Creek Women”, Williams’ goes swimming in a creek and discovers the true personality of the waterfall as a woman. By being physically intimate with her land and taking time to swim in its water, she gets to know and care for that place. Connecting with the waterfall in this way is the kind of connection with land that will make us want to protect and care for it. Williams’ love of the land causes her to take action to protect it. In her story “A Patriot’s Journal” Williams protests nuclear weapons testing in Nevada, clearly demonstrating that her intimacy with the land motivates her to actually take action.

            Out of these three intimacies, Williams’ physical intimacy with nature is what I believe will benefit us most in the years to come as we try and figure out how to deal with increasing global crisis such as global warming and mass extinction of species. Although I knew about the species of grasses dying, and had read about the negative effects of this on the environment, my afternoon spent laying in that field of wildflowers was when I actually reacted to the news and when I actually felt the personal need make sure this field kept its beautiful diversity. Our relationship with the earth really should be a physical, intimate relationship. The connection that is obtained by spending time outside and interacting with plants, animals, and the land in general is what will lead us to remember why we love it. Once this love is rediscovered, the natural tendency for us to protect and care for what we love will direct our actions.

Works Cited



1. Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006.


2. Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.


3. Williams, Terry Tempest. An Unspoken Hunger. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.





mtran's picture

What benefits us "most"?

Hannah, I agree with your argument physical intimacy with nature is beneficial to us in dealing with global environmental crisis. But I think it is also important to emphasize the equal roles of intimacy built with academic understanding and mental perception of nature. After all we cannot develop a physical intimacy with nature unless we are mentally attached to nature or have a deep understanding of the environment. And like you said, physical intimacy alone would not make any difference unless we are informed of the need for change.