From the time of Aristotle through the romantic period, art has been viewed as an imitation of nature. However, a closer study of the relationship between art and ecology, or the study of the relationship of human beings and other organisms to their natural environment, suggests that the relationship between art and nature involves the process of creation as well as its physical manifestations through cultural and artistic artifacts. The creative impact of culture, nature, and art as manifested through both space and time is clearly illustrated in the ecology of Walnut Canyon, Arizona, as reflected in the canyon itself, in the history of its people, and in its fictional representation as Panther Canyon in Willa Cather's novel The Song of the Lark.
As Cather describes it, the canyon is an "abrupt fissure" (297, see fig. 1) in the earth in northern Arizona with walls that are "perpendicular cliffs striped with even-running strata of rock" (see fig. 2) for the "first two hundred feet below the surface": From there on to the bottom the sides were less abrupt, were shelving and lightly fringed with piñons and dwarf cedars. The effect was that of a gentler canyon within a wilder one. The dead city lay at the point where the perpendicular outer wall ceased and the V-shaped inner gorge began. There a stratum of rock, softer than those above, had been hollowed out by the action of time until it was like a deep groove running along the sides of the canyon. In this hollow (like a great fold in the rock) the Ancient People had built their houses of yellowish stone and mortar. (297) Called "the most thoroughly elaborated female landscape in literature" (258) by Ellen Moers, this symbolic description clearly provides the potential for Thea's creative renewal, especially when her presence on this "high cliff, full of sun" (298) is contrasted with her earlier feeling of being "erased" during her descent into the dark canyon on the night of her arrival. Before Thea experiences her personal artistic awakening, however, she must come to understand the culture and the ecology of the canyon.
Thea takes as her own "one of these rock-rooms" (289) in the canyon, and in so doing her life becomes inextricably intermingled with its ecology—with its geological and cultural history and with its natural life. In the canyon she finds what Susan Rosowski calls "evidences of ancient life that remain as if in a primal womb" (235). Covered eons ago by a shallow sea, the high Colorado Plateau on which Walnut Canyon is located experienced two periods of volcanic activity in which the plateau itself slowly rose, forming not only the San Francisco Mountains to the north of Flagstaff but also Walnut Canyon itself. Certainly this landscape can be viewed as an artistic creation, as suggested in the following description by Albert H. Schroeder: Erosion began its ceaseless work on the still relatively flat plain, rounding off sharp edges, cutting deeper into cracks, and shifting sands. As river gradients increased with the rise of the land, rushing waters gouged out larger quantities of sand and gravel and began the long process of scouring out the now famous Grand Canyon, colorful Oak Creek Canyon, [and] scenic Walnut Canyon. Water, heat, cold, and winds began carving the higher land masses, exposing colors and shaping land features to form the scenic landscape of the Painted Desert that stretches east fromWupatki to Petrified Forest National Park. To the north, erosion cut around Black Mesa, leaving three finger-like mesas protruding to the south on which the Hopi Indians many eras later built their villages. By Pleistocene times (the last ice age) the Colorado Plateau had been sculptured into its modern form. (5) For Walnut Canyon, the result was the fissure described by Cather, with its lower layer of Coconino sandstone, its middle layer of soft limestone where erosion left edges on which the cliff dwellers built their homes, and its upper layer of hard Kaibab limestone covered with a mixture of clay loam and volcanic ash.
Walnut Canyon and the area around Flagstaff, Arizona, experienced several different periods of inhabitation by early Pueblo tribes between a.d. 600 and 1450. The people whom Cather calls the "Ancient People" have been identified by Harold Colton as a "branch of the larger Mogollon Culture," related to the Hohokam and Anasazi peoples through trade and other connections but a separate culture (Reid and Whittlesey 209). First encountering this little-known culture ofWalnut Canyon on his honeymoon in 1912—the same year that Cather made her seminal visit to the canyon—Dr. Colton and his family again visited the Flagstaff area in 1916 and periodically thereafter, eventually moving there and establishing the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1926 (Reid and Whittlesey 206; Stein and Baldwin 36). The ancient people, whom Colton named the Sinagau from the Spanish words sin agua, meaning "without water" (Houk 2), "made only light use of the Walnut Canyon area before their descendants returned in strength about a.d. 1125" (Thybony 5). After living in the canyon for about one hundred years, the Sinagua left the area and by a.d. 1250 had moved several miles southeast to the Clear Creek and Chavez Pass areas south ofWinslow (Thybony 14; Reid and Whittlesey 220) to pueblos identified as ancestral locations of the Hopi. Although the archeological findings of Colton and others about the Sinagua people were not available to Cather when she wrote The Song of the Lark, she not only believed in a "cyclical historiography" (Reynolds 70), as suggested by the title of her article "Nebraska: The End of the First Cycle," but she also intuited the cyclical history of the canyon and of life itself: "Not only did the world seem older and richer to Thea now, but she herself seemed older. . . . Nothing had ever engrossed her so deeply as the daily contemplation of that line of pale-yellow houses tucked into the wrinkle of the cliff. Moonstone and Chicago had become vague" (306). As Guy Reynolds explains, the "basic movement" here is "one of time turning; by situating ourselves at different points on the cycle we can contrast cultures, comparing ancient and modern" (70), as Thea does here.
Several explanations exist for the cyclical rise and fall of the Sinagua population around Flagstaff during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The first and most popular theory is Colton's belief that the eruptions of Sunset Crater north of Flagstaff in the late 1060s scattered moisture-holding cinder throughout the area and thus increased its moisture and fertility, drawing people from surrounding areas into the Sinagua culture (Schroeder 33; Reid and Whittlesey 216). More recently, the rise in population in this period has been explained by increased rainfall in the area between 1050 and 1150 (Pilles 6) and by increased trade (Reid and Whittlesey 217). Most recently, Jefferson Reid and Stephanie Whittlesey have theorized that the inhabitants of the region associated the eruptions of Sunset Crater in the late 1060s and periodically thereafter with a supernatural power and that people from surrounding areas came to "propitiate" or "absorb" its power (217).
Whichever theory one believes, however, the Ancient People of Walnut Canyon and their artifacts portray a symphonic union of cultures through the amalgamation or the influence of diverse groups, just as Thea's voice will be influenced by artists from various cultures—her German piano teacher Wunsch, her friend Spanish Johnny, her Hungarian piano and voice teacher Andor Harsanyi, and the Ancient People of the canyon. As Cather realized, the artifact most revealing of both the culture and the art of these Ancient People is their pottery—the rounded shapes of which Debra Cumberland connects not only to the reproductive womb but also to the inverted, bowl-shaped diaphragm, which is the muscle shaping the breath for singing (68). Thea finds "fragments of pottery everywhere" (303) and takes them back to her room. These fragments derive from many different styles of pottery representing various cultures—"jars done in a delicate overlay, like pine cones; and . . . many patterns in a low relief, like basket work. Some of the pottery was decorated in color, red and brown, black and white, in graceful geometrical patterns. One day, on a fragment of a shallow bowl, she found a crested serpent's head, painted in red on terra-cotta" (305). As represented by most of the fragments found in Walnut Canyon, pottery made by the Sinagua was plain reddish brown, thinned with a paddle and anvil (see fig. 3). However, other types of pottery were brought to the canyon through trade. For example, the "jars done in a delicate overlay, like pine cones" are probably examples of corrugated pottery from the nearby Elden Pueblo that were finished by leaving the coils unobliterated, adding vertical indentations, and then partly smoothing or flattening the resultant surface (Colton and Hargrave 63). The "patterns in a low relief, like basket-work" are probably Tusayan corrugated pottery (see fig. 4), which differs from Elden corrugated primarily in that the unobliterated coiled surface is "usually deeply finger indented" instead of being vertically indented (Colton, Ceramic Series No. 3, Ware 8a-Type 11). Although associated with later settlements in Walnut Canyon, the black-and-white pottery with graceful geometric designs is probably Anasazi in origin, and the red on terra-cotta bowl with a crested serpent's head probably came from the Jeddito Valley in Navajo County, Arizona, although Cather could have also seen such a fragment at the Homol'ovi Pueblo north of Winslow.
To Thea, the pottery made by the Indian women so long ago becomes a symbol of the art she is seeking. She finds "a bowl with a broad band of white cliff-houses painted on a black ground. They were scarcely conventionalized at all; there they were in the black border, just as they stood in the rock before her" (305). Cather's description here suggests the "living form" that Susanne K. Langer (Problems 43) identifies as the very essence of art, an essence that may be more clearly illustrated through the simpli- fied artifacts of primitive peoples than through more complex modern representations. Leslie Marmon Silko uses the analogy of a squash blossom to illustrate this same concept: The squash blossom itself is one thing: itself. So the ancient Pueblo potter abstracted what she saw to be the key elements of the squash blossom—the four symmetrical petals, with four symmetrical stamens in the center. These key elements, while suggesting the squash flower, also link it with the four cardinal directions. By representing only its intrinsic form, the squash flower is released from a limited meaning or restricted identity. Even in the most sophisticated abstract form, a squash flower or a cloud or a lightening bolt became intricately connected with a complex system of relationships which the ancient Pueblo people maintained with each other, and with the populous natural world they lived within. . . . (266) As Langer observes, "It is . . . when the first semblance of organic form is achieved that a work of art exhibits its general symbolic possibilities, like a statement imperfectly made or even merely indicated, but understandable in its general intent" (Feeling 122). Thus, the abstract representation of the cliff houses or the squash blossom portrays the ideas of the objects more than the objects themselves.
As Langer also recognizes, the art object is a "projection" rather than a "copy" of the object in nature (Problems 53); nevertheless, the relationship between art and nature is so close that the artist can gain from nature not only a sense of organic form but also the symbolic Ideas that are the very essence of art—ideas like those Cather must have gained in May of 1912 when she visited Walnut Canyon and ideas like those she bequeaths to Thea in her visit to the fictional Panther Canyon. Indeed, as Rosowski has suggested in another context, "botanical and ecological principles helped shape Cather's very idea of art" ("Ecology" 42), a statement that can certainly be applied to "The Ancient People" section of The Song of the Lark.
Ecologically,Walnut Canyon represents a botanical transition zone just as Panther Canyon is a place of transition for Thea. Interestingly, Patricia A. Gilman's observation that "deep canyons permit an extension of the vegetation of one zone into other zones" (4) implies an organic vitality similar to that suggested through Moers's metaphor of the canyon as a female landscape. As Thea travels from Flagstaff toward the canyon, she passes through a pine forest "where the great red-trunked trees live out their peaceful centuries in that sparkling air" (295). One of five vegetation zones identified at Walnut Canyon (Rowlands et al. 1), this ponderosa pine forest grows up to the canyon rim and extends into Ranger Canyon, the shallow canyon between the "ranch house," based on Cliffs Ranger Cabin, where Cather stayed during her 1912 visit, and the head of the main canyon. Cather refers to the second vegetation zone, that of the piñon juniper woodland (Rowlands et al. 1), in the symbolic passage quoted at the beginning of this article, in which the "sides were less abrupt, were shelving, and lightly fringed with piñons and dwarf cedars (Rowlands et al. 1). Cather locates Thea's "rockroom" (see fig. 5), with the morning sun shining on it and the "tough little cedars," or junipers, "twisted" into the doorway (298) on the south-facing slope, the site of the third vegetation zone of blue grama grass woodland, piñon pine, and cacti— including yucca, prickly pear, and three other varieties (Rowlands et al. 1). Although the tower beside which Thea and Fred play single-sticks seems to be located on or above the north-facing slope, Cather doesn't specifically refer to the Douglas fir or other plants in this vegetation zone. She does, however, make several references to vegetation in the fifth zone, the deciduous, riparian woodland at the canyon bottom (Rowlands et al. 2). More specifically, the "flickering, golden-green" cottonwood seedlings behind which Thea bathes are probably the narrowleaf cottonwood with its yellowish green leaves and smooth, yellowish green bark that grew in greater numbers along Walnut Creek before it was dammed in 1941.
Remarkably, Cather not only uses such specific details that the particular species of plants and animals she is describing can be identified nearly one hundred years later but she also artistically imbues her botanical descriptions with symbolic meaning. Blooming from May until July, the banana yucca fits Cather's description of the yuccas that "were in blossom" in The Song of the Lark in July: "Out of each clump of sharp bayonet leaves rose a tall stalk hung with greenish-white bells with thick, fleshy petals" (309, see fig. 6). At the same time, the crimson hedgehog (or claret cup) cactus—which Cather calls the "nigger-head cactus"—was "thrusting its crimson blooms up out of every crevice in the rocks" (309, see fig. 7). Rosowski has observed that the "previously separated male and female imagery [in these descriptions], now combined as opposites working together, anticipate[s]" what she views as "the final state of Cather's metaphor of imaginative growth, that of androgyny" ("Female" 237), but the image of botanical growth can also be directly related to Thea's artistic growth.
A significant part of Thea's growth as a singer in Panther Canyon results from experiencing the rhythmic and often symphonic voices of nature's singers—the chirping of the "little brown birds" (314), the constant, rhythmic tapping of the woodpecker (307, 320), and the repetitious sounds of the cicadas (301) or locusts (319). Describing the rhythmic nature-based ceremonies of Native Americans, Paula Gunn Allen explains that Repetition has an entrancing effect. . . . The distractions of ordinary life must be put to rest and emotions redirected and integrated into a ceremonial context so that the greater awareness can come into full consciousness and functioning. In this way the participants become literally one with the universe, for they lose consciousness of mere individuality and share the consciousness that characterizes most orders of being. (250) Similarly, Thea instinctively and intuitively lets go of her personal consciousness and develops a universal consciousness in Panther Canyon, where she discovers the "vitality" in her voice and the "driving power in the blood" (307) and where "her power to think seemed converted into a power of sustained sensation. She could become a mere receptacle for heat, or become a color, like the bright lizards that darted about on the hot stones outside her door; or she could become a continuous repetition of sound, like the cicadas" (300). These natural rhythms are experienced within Thea's own body, for, as Langer has recognized, "Breathing is the most perfect exhibit of physiological rhythm . . ." (127), and one of Thea's strengths as a singer is her "unusually long breath" (187).
The natural creatures and vegetation of the canyon metaphorically suggest not only the organic nature of art in general but also of music in particular. As Langer asserts, "The essence of all [musical] composition . . . is the semblance of organic movement." Music, Langer believes, provides listeners with an "awareness of emotional storm" and an insight into "the 'life of feeling'" through "the same principle that organizes physical existence into a biological design—rhythm" (126). To support her view that music is inherently organic and rhythmic, Langer quotes from Basil de Selincourt, who claims that The growth of a musical composition may be compared to that of a flowering plant . . . where not only the leaves repeat each other, but the leaves repeat the flowers and the very stems and branches are like un-unfolded leaves. . . . To the pattern of the flower there corresponds a further pattern developed in the placing and grouping of flowers along the branches, and the branches themselves divide and stand out in balanced proportions, under the controlling vital impulse. . . . Musical expression follows the same law. (Langer, Feeling 130) This passage emphasizes not only the major structural principle of repetition that, as discussed above, is "deeply involved with rhythm" and thus "gives musical composition the appearance of vital growth" (Langer, Feeling 129) but also the important idea of vitality.
As used by Selincourt, Langer, and Cather, the concept of vitality was most likely derived from Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution, in which Bergson develops his theories about vitality and growth in nature and art, declaring that the artistic process "is a vital process, something like the ripening of an idea" (340). Cather's familiarity with Bergson is documented both by her 12 September 1912 letter to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, in which she wrote that she had been reading Creative Evolution, and by her preface to the 1922 edition on Alexander's Bridge, in which she asserts that the writer must rely on "what Mr. Bergson calls the wisdom of intuition as opposed to intellect" (9). Moreover, Loretta Wasserman, Tom Quirk, and Toni McMillen have clearly illustrated Bergson's influence on Cather's work. One particular parallel between The Song of the Lark and Bergson's Creative Evolution is that both use organic metaphors to represent music. After describing the process that an artist goes through to solve an artistic problem, Bergson writes: "[T]he concrete solution brings with it that unforeseeable nothing which is everything in a work of art. And it is this nothing that takes time. Nought as matter, it creates itself as form. The sprouting and flowering of this form are stretched out on an unshrinkable duration, which is one with their essence. So of the works of nature" (341). Cather's description of Thea at the moment of her greatest triumph clearly recalls this passage: "[S]he was conscious that every movement was the right movement, that her body was absolutely the instrument of her idea. Not for nothing had she kept it so severely, kept it filled with such energy and fire. All that deep-rooted vitality flowered in her voice, her face, in her very fingertips. She felt like a tree bursting into bloom" (478). To Bergson, "consciousness only emphasizes the starting-point of instinct, the point at which the whole series of automatic movements is released" (145). The culmination of this process, which Bergson calls the perfect representation of the idea through the act (144-45), is what Thea seeks and achieves in her triumphant performance.
Music is, as Langer explains, an "occurrent art; a musical work grows from the first imagination of its general movement to its complete, physical presentation, its occurrence" (Langer, Feeling 121). In other words, music exists on several planes, beginning with the Idea of the composer, moving to the interpretive Idea of the performer, and ultimately culminating in one or more performances. Langer explains that Performance is the completion of a musical work, a logical continuation of the composition, carrying the creation through from thought to physical expression. Obviously, then, the thought must be entirely grasped, if it is to be carried on. Composition and performance are not neatly separable at the stage marked by the finishing of the score; for both spring from the commanding form and are governed throughout by its demands and enticements. (138) As shown by the performances in which Thea recreates the role of Fricka as a wise and beautiful goddess and projects "one lovely attitude after another [as] the music swept her" in the role of Sieglinde, Cather would have agreed with Langer's conclusion that, "Real performance is as creative an act as composition" (139).
Although musical notes appear spatially on a sheet of paper, music is actually an "art of time" (Langer 120) rather than space. Appropriately, then, Cather's description of Panther Canyon encompasses not only elements of geological, architectural, and natural spaces but also elements of historical, personal, and musical time. Against the background of the lives of the Ancient People, Thea develops a new understanding of time. In Moonstone and Chicago, she "had always been a little drudge, hurrying from one task to another—as if it mattered!" (300). But in Panther Canyon, she moves beyond clock-time to what Henri Bergson calls "lived time," or "duration." She used to wonder at her own inactivity. She could lie there hour after hour in the sun and listen to the strident whir of the big locusts and to the light, ironical laughter of the quaking asps. All her life she had been hurrying and sputtering, as if she had been born behind time and had been trying to catch up. Now, she reflected as she drew herself out long upon the rugs, it was as if she were waiting for something to catch up with her. She had got to a place where she was out of the stream of meaningless activity and undirected effort. (299) Although Bergson stopped short of identifying a symbol for "duration," Langer believes that his concept of "'lived time' [or duration] is the prototype of 'musical time'" (Feeling 115). Cather, too, seems to have connected this more meaningful time with musical development, for in Thea's inactivity in Panther Canyon, she held pleasant and incomplete conceptions in her mind—almost in her hands. They were scarcely clear enough to be called ideas. They had something to do with fragrance and color and sound, but almost nothing to do with words. She was singing very little now, but a song would go through her head all morning, as a spring keeps welling up, and it was like a pleasant sensation indefinitely prolonged. It was much more like a sensation than like an idea, or an act of remembering. Music had never come to her in that sensuous form before. (299-300) Thea is learning to distinguish between the artistic instinct that Bergson associates with matter and the artistic intelligence that he relates to form (149). Ultimately, Thea will be able to combine instinct and intelligence, subject and form, into one intuitive artistic whole.
At this early stage of her artistic evolution, Thea's growth is primarily physical, involving the senses and the body. She comes "to understand that—with her at least—voice was, first of all, vitality; a lightness in the body and a driving power in the blood" (307). Moreover, Fred not only observes the elasticity in her uncorseted body as she climbs the steep canyon path, but he also tells her, "If you go in for opera, there's a fortune in a flexible body" (318-19). As Cumberland has observed, Cather's emphasis on Thea's body here reflects the emotional and sexual elements of contemporary physiological singing theory as taught by Lilli Lehmann and practiced by her students Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad (64), whose physical approaches to singing Cather praised in her essay "Three American Singers." Moreover, just as Cather connects the artistic expression of Fremstad, the prototype for Thea, to the "old paths of human yearning" (46), so does she identify the primary source of Thea's artistic expression and understanding as her physical experience in Panther Canyon. After several triumphant performances at the Met, Thea tells Fred that she learned the "inevitable hardness of human life" from the rocks and dead people of Panther Canyon but that "you can't know it with your mind. You have to realize it in your body, somehow; deep. It's an animal sort of feeling . . ." (463).
At the same time that Thea is developing physically in Panther Canyon, she is also growing mentally and emotionally, for her "ideas were simplified, became sharper and clearer" (306) during her stay in Panther Canyon. Cather uses the concept of "ideas" here not to mean a controlling intellectuality but rather what Langer has identified as the "central significance" of a musical composition, or "what Flaubert called the 'Idea,'" whose "symbol is the commanding form that guides the artist's judgment even in moments of intense excitement and inspiration" (Feeling 122). A composer or performer who truly understands and presents the central musical Idea of a piece sacrifices personal awareness and identity for the artistic Idea itself. Thea, for example, "seems to sing for the idea"—indeed she "simply was the idea of the Rhine music" (396). Similarly, Cather claims that for Olive Fremstad, the operatic prototype for Thea, "the idea is always more living than the emotion; perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that the idea is so intensely experienced that it becomes emotion" ("Three" 46). Significantly, like Bergson, Cather associates the development of artistic ideas with organic metaphors. These organic images—the poetic flowering of musical ideas that Cather discovers in Fremstad's heroic roles ("Three" 46) and the metaphoric "bursting into bloom" that she attributes to Thea (478)—derive, at least in part, from the ecological spaces and times of Panther Canyon.
As shown by the influence of Walnut Canyon on Cather's artistic expression, analogously represented by the effect of Panther Canyon on Thea's music, we can adapt William Howarth's assertion that "places shape thought" through the "interaction of nature and culture" ("Ego" 3) to read that "places shape art" through the influence of their creative ecological energy on the artist. As Howarth further explains, these ecologies themselves result from the intermingling of nature and culture, "like water and soil in a flowing stream" ("Principles" 69). However, it is only when members of the cultural group seek to express themselves artistically that a permanent "living form," to use Langer's term, is created. In The Song of the Lark, this organic, living form is beautifully symbolized by "The stream and the broken pottery: what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself—life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?" (304). Combining the cultural expression of Sinagua pottery with the natural element of the stream, this passage does more than symbolize art; it actually becomes art. Here, as in many other places, Cather has achieved the essence of art as she described it in 1896, for to her, Art is not thought or emotion, but expression, expression, always expression. To keep an idea living, intact, tinged with all its original feeling, its original mood, preserving in it all the ecstasy which attended its birth, to keep it so all the way from the brain to the hand and transfer it on paper a living thing with color, odor, sound, life all in it, that is what art means. (Kingdom 417) Ultimately, Cather's creative voice in The Song of the Lark, like that of Thea's, draws on both cultural and natural sources in Walnut Canyon to express artistic Ideas in inviolable living forms.