Nature’s Connection: Perspectives on Susan Brind Morrow and Cormac McCarthy, essay contributed by Gavin House.


There is a sort of dichotomy present in the way that we speak on the relationship between man and nature. We speak of nature as being some outside system that we interact with out of some obligation to our forebearers, to the fact that we were once reliant on it. I think that this dichotomy that we’ve created is a display of our naivety.

In her notes for Wolves and Honey, Susan Brind Morrow paints an almost metaphysical idea of bees and their importance in our existence. Morrow says that “[we] can only imagine the [importance], the value of sweetness before sugar – sweetness almost an intoxicant to them.” It’s not clear whether Morrow is talking about bees or humans, but I think that we can draw some meaning from the fact that this uncertainty exists at all. In this article by The Guardian, bees are said to get drunk off of fermented nectar, and the honey they create from this fermented nectar retains its intoxicating properties. The article further implies that this may have influenced the creation of mead. To me, this symmetry between drunken bees and the creation of mead display that we and nature aren’t so separate after all; our fates intertwine, and our existences are an integral part of one another. There is on last quote from Morrow’s notes that I’d like to share, that I believe really drives this point home: “they used to call it Reincarnation. Now they call it genetics. Immortality – it’s in this pattern.”

Reincarnation is a term that has many meanings to many people. Susan Brind Morrow, I believe, presents reincarnation from more of a Hindu perspective: though the body is temporary, the soul of a man, a being, is an inalterable fixture in the universe. Life is cyclical, and souls are past from man to man and man to animal, preserving this soul through connection. Morrow draws a connection between reincarnation, genetics, and immortality. I think this is a beautiful way to imagine our existence, our world. We find that nature does have this sort of cyclic pattern: our climate changes and animals are born and die, giving way for their ancestors to one day thrive. And what a pleasure it would be to fully realize what some could consider this simple truth of nature, that through our lives and connection with nature, we are immortal. As a counter example to Morrow’s line of reason, Cormac McCarthy, true to form, presents a more cynical view on our perception of reality. From The Crossing, the second novel within the Border Trilogy, McCarthy touts his perception of immortality:

“[As] the kinfolk in their fading stills could have no value save in another’s heart so it was with that heart also in another’s in a terrible and endless attrition and of any other value there was none. Every representation was an idol. Every likeness a heresy. In their images they had though to find some small immortality but oblivion cannot be appeased” (McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994, p. 413).

Where Morrow conveys that the soul and life are immortal through our connection with nature, McCarthy instead portrays life as fleeting, immortality unobtainable due to the fickle heart of man and his inability, unwillingness perhaps, to preserve the soul of his brother through remembrance.

All the Pretty Horses by McCarthy is a book with a lot to say. The story follows John Grady Cole, a sixteen-year-old boy from San Angelo, Texas that runs away to Mexico to live his life as a cowboy. On an excursion into the mountains to catch wild mares, an old vaquero tells John Grady His philosophy on the horse, telling him that “the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal. He said that if a person understood the soul of the horse then he would understand all horses that ever were” (McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, 1992, p. 111). Though the vaquero is speaking obviously about horses, I think that McCarthy is really getting at a different point; if we were to able to understand the essence of nature, of all creation, we would understand, on the lowest level, all things. The vaquero goes on to say that man can’t be understood, but I don’t know that I believe him. If it is true that nature contains a common essence and we accept that the existences of man and nature are intertwined, then through an understanding of nature alone can we know the soul of man.

Though Susan B. Morrow and Cormac McCarthy seem to disagree on humanity and its relationship with nature, I don’t believe that they would disagree over nature’s importance. Morrow made note that “85% of fruit [and nuts like pecans] depend on bee pollination.” Along with this, in her notes from circa 2002, she wrote that “bee scientists have never been more important than they are now.” Again in McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, the old vaquero speaks on the horse “John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish […] but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing” (McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, 1992, p. 111). Here, I think both authors show an appreciation of nature not merely as a utility to man, but rather as an ideal deserving of reverence as a thing in itself. The authors’ words are those of preservation of nature, of the sanctity present in these natural institutions.

To conclude, I’d like to share an excerpt of T.S. Eliot’s “A Dedication To My Wife” that was written on the front of one of Morrow’s notebooks:

“No peevish winter wind shall chill

No sullen tropic sun shall wither

The roses in the rose garden that is ours and ours only”

Though McCarthy and Morrow may disagree on the soul of man and his condition, I think that they both share a similar reverence for nature and its beings. I think we would be wise to partake in this appreciation for the natural world, and to recognize our place in it as another of its beneficiaries and members. Like the rose garden, man and nature are persistent, and through this persistence and connection to nature alone will man know immortality.


Works Cited

McCarthy, C. (1992). All the Pretty Horses. New York, New York: Random House.

McCarthy, C. (1994). The Crossing. New York, New York: Random House.

Morrow, Susan Brind. (1925-2002). [Notes for Wolves and Honey]. Sowell Collection (Box 13, Folder 8). Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Lubbock, TX.

Gavin House, our guest contributor, is a senior Computer Science student at Texas Tech University, and was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas.

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Beyond the Llano (April 15)

Robert MacFarlane reviews Horizon by Barry Lopez, and check out Lopez’s recommendations for books about traveling the world.

Bill McKibben’s Falter is out tomorrow April 16.

ASLE has announced the finalists for the 2019 ASLE Book Awards.

At LitHub, Lydia Millet, Nathaniel Rich, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff Vandermeer and others discuss the role of fiction in addressing climate change.

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Beyond the Llano (March 5)

Debra Gwartney’s memoir I Am a Stranger Here Myself – winner of the 2018 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize – was published March 1.

Montana-based author Bryce Andrews recommends Five Books about Coming of Age in Rough Country, including William Kittredge’s Hole in the Sky.

Sowell Conference participant Nancy Dinan will have her first book published in the summer of 2020.

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Beyond the Llano (Jan. 28)

The new short film Grizzly Country features Doug Peacock reflecting on the importance of Grizzlies, habitat, and his commitment to wild causes.  Wyoming Public Media interviews Peacock about the film.

Barry Lopez talks to Publisher’s Weekly about his newest book Horizon out in March.

Poet Mary Oliver died January 17. Rick Bass looks at The Life-Changing Words of Mary Oliver.

Stephen Graham Jones teams up with comic book artist Delicia Williams in the new anthology Sovereign Traces Vol. 1 that pairs up Native American writers and cartoonists.

Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders is a finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize for excellence in literary nonfiction.

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Beyond the Llano (December 11)

Rick Bass and Annick Smith have received the 2018 Montana Governor’s Arts Awards.

At the Pacific Standard, an interview with writer and public lands activist Amy Irvine about her book Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness.

“No other poet wrote about birds as often—or as well—as John Clare.” Read an excerpt from Stephen Moss’ Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names.

“The Western is the unfortunate casualty of a double definition: it is at once a living world and a species of genre fiction.” Rae DelBianco curates a reading list of Women Rewriting the West.

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Beyond the Llano (November 26)

At the New Yorker, How Cli-Fi Forces Us to Confront the Incipient Death of the Planet, a review of the latest addition to Amazon’s “Original Stories” series “Warmer”.

“If firefighters, climatologists, and California’s governor are correct, these infernos are only a taste of the destruction California will face in the coming years.” National Geographic looks at the California’s record fires. See also the 4th National Climate Assessment for other impacts of climate change around the U.S.

Finished David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree? Find and support other science journalists at The Open Notebook.

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Beyond the Llano (Nov. 8)

Taylor Larsen interviews Kurt Caswell for BOMB about his new book Laika’s Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog.  

National Geographic has paired five national parks with five great books.

Collins Dictionary has name “single-use” the 2018 word of the year.

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