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The Deification of Nature


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Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2013

“An attack on the brain first drove me from the haunts of men to seek mental repose and physical strength in the woods.” – Joel Tyler Headley, Adirondac; or Life in the Woods

Headley, Class of 1839, isn’t the only writer who extolled nature’s capacity for healing. So did Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. To discover why, Jillmarie Murphy is studying select 19th-century nature writers, using the psychoanalytic paradigm of attachment theory and the tenets of restorative environment therapy.

A clergyman, associate editor of the New York Tribune and secretary of state (N.Y.), Headley was one of the first to hail the Adirondack Mountains as a health resort. Adirondac (1849) chronicles his experiences inside the Blue Line, where he spent two summers escaping the strain of urban life.

“I’m interested in the importance these writers placed on developing affectional bonds with their surroundings, and how attachment to place became pathologized as a result of war, disease, death, race and gender,” Murphy said. “Adirondac is one of the earliest attempts by an American writer to explain how withdrawing to nature restores both mind and body, and helps provide a more direct connection to one’s inner spirit.”

Murphy plans to publish an article analyzing land attachment and restorative environments in Adirondac, as well as a book covering attachment theory and place in the literature of the early American Republic.