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An abandoned beer can in Bear Meadows, a central Pennsylvania bog and state natural area, is a convenient focus for reflecting on “nature,” within the dualistic Western conception nature and humans, in natural history. I begin by considering the difficulty of writing the natural history of a highly humanized place, the Susquehanna watershed, then consider relationships between place, meaning, and nature from legal, environmental historical, and paleoecological perspectives on Bear Meadows and its surrounding landscapes. A more satisfying conceptualization comes from a topological model that makes it possible to map ourselves and our doings in relation to a gradient from wholly natural to highly artificial but preserves the insight that we and our artifacts are simultaneously of nature and fundamentally different from it.

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  1. Sources for the contemporary ecology of Bear Meadows and the Susquehanna include Abrams et al. 2001; Kovar 1965; Stranahan 1995, and White et al. 1968.

  2. Cresswell (2004) and Castree (2005, 2014) provide in-depth overviews of how geographers have thought about place and nature (respectively). On the history of nature in Western thought, see Williams (1980). Cronon (1995) and Massey (2005) also informed my thinking on nature and place.

  3. Abrams et al. (2001) reconstruct the ecological history of Bear Meadows, including the recent balsam fir decline. I have relied on Dyke’s (2005) and Williams et al.’s (2004) regional paleoecological reconstructions. I have downscaled and localized Abrams and Nowacki’s (2015) and Whitney’s (1996) work on eastern North America, Ellis’s (2011) work on the human role in shaping biomes worldwide, Williams et al.’s (2011) discussion of the Anthropocene, and Foleya et al.’s (2013) concept of the “Paleoanthropocene.” My treatment of the human role in and the ecological impacts of end-Pleistocene extinctions is based on Gill et al. (2009), Koch and Barnosky (2006), and Sandom et al. (2014).

  4. The literature in the humanities and social science that could be brought to bear on the question of writing a natural (or post-natural) history is vast and proliferating, and I am poorly equipped to engage it, especially in the context of a short essay. What follows is a practical and doubtlessly naïve attempt to rethink the nature-human dualism, but it does, I believe, work.


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The Susquehanna Natural History Project is funded by Madeline and William Morrow and the Office of the Provost, Bucknell University.

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Correspondence to Duane Griffin.

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Griffin, D. Place: natural. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 783–787 (2016).

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