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Kyle Keith
Frinq Sustainability 124A-001
Date: 10/22/13
Exploring our Identity Relative to the Landscape
Its rather easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rat race of modern life. It can become
second nature, maybe even necessary at times, to switch into auto pilot mode in order to grapple
with the unrelenting demands of our class schedules or professional deadlines. Often as a result,
we tend to tune out the beauty all around us every day. I recently happened to find myself
standing outside on a perfectly clear, crisp night gazing up at the stars with childlike amazement.
I stopped to appreciate the view above me, and in that moment felt profoundly connected to
everything and everyone around me. I felt an affinity for not only the physical environment all
around me, but all the people and animals alike with whom I am sharing this amazing adventure
known as life here on Earth. Leslie Marmon Silko would tell me that what I am feeling is
connection to the landscape. According to Silko (1997), The land, the sky, and all that is within
themthe landscapeincludes human beings (p. 2).
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines landscape simply as a portion of territory that can
be viewed at one time from one place (n.d.). Dan Flores elaborates on this definition in The
Spirit of Place and the Value of the American West. He proposes that spirit of place is rooted in
human interaction with local environments, and that place essentially means space
(landscape) plus people (Flores, 1998, p. 32). I believe Silko (1997) would agree with this
estimation, as she claims that the official dictionary definition:
Does not correctly describe the relationship between the human being and his or her
surroundings. This assumes the viewer is somehow outside or separate from the territory

she or he surveys. Viewers are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders they stand
on (p. 2).
It begs the question then, what is the prevailing western view of our relationship with the
landscape in contemporary society? In a passage from Mans Place in the Universe, John Muir
(1916) asks the reader to ponder:
Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of
creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not
essential to the completeness of that unit the cosmos? (para. 5).
This differs from the standard belief throughout most European cultures over the past several
centuries that the natural landscape is nothing more than a storehouse of resources and supplies
put here for human consumption. I believe Leslie Marmon Silko (1997) would disagree strongly
with that view, however she does state unequivocally that ultimately survival in any landscape
comes down to making the best use of all available resources (p. 5).
According to Silko (1997), the Pueblo people consider themselves part of the ancient,
continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of other stories (p. 3). This rich history of
oral narrative, or storytelling, allows the collective memory to pass through successive
generations to transmit culture, worldview, and strategies for survival. Silko describes how the
Laguna people still follow the same route, according to the Migration story, that their ancestors
followed from the Emergence Place. These stories remain as remnants from a ritual that retraces
the Creation and Emergence of the Laguna culture (Silko, 1997, p. 5). As a result, the continued
use of that same travel route creates a unique relationship between the mythic world and the
everyday world. (Silko, 1997, p. 5) It gives the landscape a deeper overall significance.

The Pueblo people firmly believe that survival is only sustainable through
interdependence with the landscape. They depend highly on the aid and charity of the animals
and only due to that interdependence could humans survive. Silko goes on to suggest that not
until they could find a viable relationship to the physical landscape they found themselves in
could the Pueblo people emerge as a distinct culture with a stable population and survival rate
(Silko, 1997, p. 6). She also speaks with great reverence of the elders view of interdependence,
noting that they looked at the world very differently. As far as they were concerned, a persons
appearance and possessions didnt matter as much as their behavior. Instead, value was found in
the individuals interactions toward other people, animals, and the Earth. To elaborate, she goes
on to say that the Pueblo elders also valued health very highly, and found it beautiful (Silko,
1997, p. 12). Health was considered foremost in achieving balance and harmony in the
individual, and by extension, a healthy person was thereby at peace with not only themselves, but
also with the landscape around them. Emerson echoes these values in Nature: Addresses and
Lectures. He states: The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly
adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His
intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food (Emerson, 1849, p. 25).
Leslie Marmon Silko (1997) would summarize the essence of landscape as the land, the
sky, and all that is within them, including human beings (p. 2). She recounts that the Hopi
elders are grateful to the landscape for aiding them in their quest as a spiritual people. She paints
a picture for the reader of the bare, yet beautiful vastness of the terrain and how nothing at all
that lives there is ever taken for granted. According to Silko (1997), they treat each ant, lizard,
and lark as being imbued with great value simply because the creature is there, simply because
the creature is alive in a place where any life at all is precious (p. 7). If you extrapolate that idea

it would suggest that Earth is, in fact, a place where all life is precious. Dont each and every one
of us then possess amazing inherit value simply because we here? We are alive.


Emerson, R.W. (1849). Nature: Addresses and Lectures. Boston & Cambridge: James Munroe &
Flores, D. (1998). Spirit of Place and the Value of Nature in the American West. In a J.E.
Sherow (Ed.), A Sense of the American West: An Anthology of Environmental History.
(pp. 31-38). New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press.
Landscape. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-
Muir, D. (1916). Mans Place in the Universe. In A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Retrieved
Silko, L.M. (1997). Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life
Today. New York, NY: Touchstone.