1941: America’s Natural Wonders

Ansel Adams/The National Archives




Hal Borland ’23

Born on the plains of Nebraska, Hal Borland wrote about nature with the eye of a reporter and the soul of a poet. In 1941, he began contributing a series of what he termed “outdoor editorials” for the New York Times that captured the profound beauty of America’s natural landscapes and prefigured the environmental movement.

The New York Times – May 18, 1941
“Sun, Water, Sky”

By Hal Borland

A man is never too old and seldom too young to love the sun and the water—the skies, the seas, the lakes and streams. And of all the seasons, Spring is the time when thoughts turn most strongly to these eternal forces. Spring is the sun’s season, and the rain’s. A Spring sunrise is full of new leaves, new flowers, new songs and awakening life. A Spring sunset is an evensong of eager life pausing only in order to gather breath for another day.

Both sun and water have been guide and companion to man since time immemorial. Feuds and wars and pestilence and death may scourge the tribes of man, but overhead the sun continues its unwavering rounds and down from the hills the streams still run to the lakes, and to the seas where the tides never fail.

When the countryman reaches for a symbol of certainty he says, “As sure as the sunrise,” or “As sure as water runs downhill.” The sun warms man’s blood and makes his fields flourish; it meters his time and warms his faith with its inevitability. The waters of the earth slake his thirst and cool and cleanse his body; they rise as clouds and fall as rain to nourish his crops. With the sun and the earth, the waters complete an elemental trinity of life.

When man first set forth to new lands, his going was beside the waters or upon them. He traveled down the streams to the lakes and across the lakes to the lands beyond; and he traveled down the river valleys to the sea. Because the rivers were his highways, it was on their banks that he built his first towns; and on the seacoast, beside the great waters of this earth, man built his cities.

Towns and cities rise and fall, but the waters remain and the sun is eternal. Stand on a shore and watch a sunrise or a sunset and you are seeing not beauty alone, but elemental forces. The sunset takes its color from the clouds, but the sun has mustered those clouds from the Hudson in our dooryard, from the remote lake in the high mountains, from the rolling seas off a lonely shore. Beauty is there; but beyond the beauty is the reassurance of waters that will flow forever and a sun that has never failed to rise.

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