Nature’s ability to satisfy deep human needs is familiar to anyone who has hiked up a mountain, canoed a river, or hung a bird feeder outside the kitchen window. In Story Line, his groundbreaking work of narrative ecocriticism, Ian Marshall explores how natural surroundings inspired works of literature set along the Appalachian Trail. In his new work, Peak Experiences, Marshall sets out on a far more personal and at the same time far-reaching journey, to discover how our modern estrangement from the natural world has affected our mental well-being.
Taking as his starting point the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s "hierarchy of human needs"—a pyramid familiar to anyone who ever cracked a textbook for Psych 101—Marshall asks how his own experience of deep satisfaction in nature may or may not fit Maslow’s theory. In chapters focused on the needs identified by Maslow, Marshall finds evidence for the healing power of nature in literature and in his own experiences in the wild.
"I offer myself as test subject," Marshall writes: "recently divorced, a father sharing custody of two children, someone with a high regard for the written word,... a little too stressed-out these days, no more self-actualized than the next person but just as curious about it—and what I have going for me are a lot of well-read books, a good pair of broken-in hiking boots, and a thing for mountains."
Embracing the exciting new field of ecopsychology, Marshall leads us on a personal and intellectual odyssey, from the dream mountain of Henry David Thoreau to the high slopes of John Muir’s beloved Mount Shasta. Always, Marshall returns to his own challenges as father and reader, and to his own humble but rewarding mountain, Bald Eagle Ridge, in the Pennsylvania countryside outside his back door.
Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism