CS Lewis has some pointed remarks that challenge the Romantic view, still very prevalent today, that wisdom and knowledge can be found in nature. I gave an example of this, with some cynicism it is true, in the post on ‘Faith in nature and psychic crocodiles’. Lewis says something quite different about what people find in nature:
“If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach. The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call ‘love of nature.’ But it is only a graft. While we are actually subjected to them, the ‘moods’ and ‘spirits’ of nature point no morals. Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, somber desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, ‘Look. Listen. Attend’.” (CS Lewis, The four loves).
Then Lewis goes on and makes a specific comment on the Romantics and their love of nature…
“Nature ‘dies’ on those who try to live for a love of nature. Coleridge ended by being insensible to her; Wordsworth, by lamenting that the glory had passed away.”
Lewis is not saying that nature is evil, or bad in any sense, but the problem arises when we expect of her more than she can give. Nature will frustrate those who make of her a god (or goddess). I have made a similar observation in the paper ‘How the Puritans Killed Chris McCandless” to be published soon. In the experiences of McCandless, Muir and Abbey we see this sense of subtle frustration with nature and its teachings. For us, living in a culture still infused with Romantic values, this warning is still very pertinent.