Beyond Beauty: The Natural World in Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables Cover 1945

I always return to Green Gables when the summer leaves have broken out of their cocoons; when warm evening breezes stir the wildflowers along the roadside; when long purple sunsets sweep through the sky. I could never go there in winter’s dark days. Like summer’s lush and golden afternoons, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery breathes light and freedom, warmth and adventure, wrapped in the exquisite detail of the simple beauty of Prince Edward Island.

Looking out across Green Gables’ fields on a June morning, Anne is brought to her knees by the sheer beauty of her surroundings, her “beauty-loving eyes” lingering on the scene before her, “taking it greedily in.” Reading the book, I too become entranced with the world Anne lives in, walking with her in spirit through Idlewild or floating with her on Barry’s Pond in a flat-bottomed dory.

Prince Edward IslandIn Anne’s world, Nature is not merely a backdrop to the story. It is another character in the novel, an active participant in Anne’s imagination and wanderings, with names — the Dryad’s Bubble, the Snow Queen — and associations born from Anne’s active mind and explorations. L.M. Montgomery’s gift for words becomes most apparent in the breathtaking descriptions of nature that weaves in and out of the narrative like ivy on a trellis.

The “woodsy and wild and lonesome” shore road, the “deep, primal gladness” of spring, the “murmur and laugh of wood winds in the trees overhead” — I feel it all as I walk through the book.

One can learn a multitude of lessons in Anne of Green Gables, lessons both direct and subtle. One of the most important, in my opinion, is that of noticing, of making the effort not only to see the world, but to soak it in, reflect on it, and let it fill us with wonder and awe. To appreciate nature for what it is, rather than what it can do for us. Anne has a unique view of the nature around her, one in which she recognizes her connection to the landscape and fills her soul with everything the natural world has to offer.

I both admire and aspire to this perspective, and I try to hold on to it when the twenty-first century turns the topic of Nature into a battleground, heavy with the baggage of politics and labeling. Today, we discuss terms that would have been alien to Anne Shirley, like global warming, ozone depletion, fracking, and oil pipelines. Of course, it’s easy to sentimentalize the past, to make up a fictionalized history in which everyone respected the Earth and used it wisely. The truth is that throughout the history of the human race, we have exploited nature, using it for our own purposes, no matter the cost.

We cannot deny, however, that lately, we have become better at turning Nature into a lifeless thing, a mere talking point, rather than a part of our identity. Sometimes I fear many have lost the ability to find wonder and pleasure in what the Earth offers us every day, that too many have forgotten what it means to respect the land and care for it. But looking back into the pages of Green Gables, I find that the way Anne sees her world can teach us much about forming or reforming our own perspectives, and those of future generations.

Last weekend, my sister and I walked through the wooded acres where we grew up, reminiscing about our childhoods as we touched the trees and squelched through mud. Stopping in a tiny clearing, my sister said, in a very Anne-like way, “Sometimes I feel like maybe if I concentrate, I will be able to soak in enough of the nature around me. But it will never be enough.” When we take the time to notice it, we can realize just how complex our relationship is with the world around us.

May there always be enough nature to heal us, to inspire us, and to strengthen us. My hope for the future is that the ugliness of politics and policy debates doesn’t hinder us from opening our souls to the world at our doorsteps, and for respecting every piece of it for what it is. Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I think we all have that part of Anne Shirley within us, the part that murmurs, “Dear old world … you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.” And I think that part will persevere.

Visit Jillian M.G. Fuller at her blog, Musings of a Bookworm.

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