I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here.
Great Plains I
- Pekka Hamalainen, “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures,” The Journal of American History 90.3 (December 2003): 833-862.
- James E. Sherow, “Workings of the Geodialectic: High Plains Indians and Their Horses in the Region of the Arkansas River Valley, 1800-1870,” Environmental History Review 16.2 (Summer 1992): 61-84.
- Dan Flores, “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850,” The Journal of American History 78.2 (September 1991): 465-485.
- Pekka Hamalainen, “The First Phase of Destruction: Killing the Southern Plains Buffalo, 1790-1840,” Plains Quarterly 21.2 (Spring 2001): 101-114.
- Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920 (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
- William A. Dobak, “Killing the Canadian Buffalo, 1821-1881,” The Western Historical Quarterly 27.1 (Spring 1996): 33-52.
- Theodore Binnema, Common and Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).
- Elliott West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas, 1998).
The history of the Great Plains has largely been shaped by two mammalian animals, one native and one foreign—the buffalo and horse, respectively—and by the shaping of the environment for human purposes by Native Americans and Euroamericans alike. The introduction and domestication of the horse in Indian societies on the plains enabled more efficient exploitation of bison and thus played a major role in bringing the bison to near extinction. Yet, despite its role in the downfall of the bison, the introduction of the horse into Plains Indian culture is typically portrayed by historians as a positive event or “a straightforward success story.” (833) However, this rosy portrait is not accurate, Pekka Hamalainen, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, argues in “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures,” because it ignores the enormous upheaval the horse created alongside the positive, progressively Western advancement. Hamalainen contends that Plains Indian History has been curtailed by an obsession with an east-west paradigm, and that, instead, the history of these societies can be better understood when analyzing actions from North to South. The horse-based culture of the Plains Indians, he explains, originated due to the influence of the Spanish, who initially introduced the animal to the region. The horse quickly spread through the region and infiltrated the Indians’ way of life because it was well-suited to the southern Plains environment. Those tribes that were able to adapt most rapidly to the horse, such as the Apache and Comanche, who developed a vast pastoral trading empire, and were able to increase their horse resources most proficiently became the dominant groups on the plains.
Hamalainen points out that horses encouraged a nomadic lifestyle in the South. Other tribes, wishing to profit from the same type of livestock economy that fueled Comanche dominance as well as follow the trail of bison, moved to the southern Great Plains, the close proximity of which led to more clashes between groups. The egalitarian social structure, Hamalainen points out was weakened by the influx of horse and material wealth, as one’s social standing became tied to the number of horses one owned. This infiltration of a kind of class consciousness affected many aspects of Indian life, including marriage. However, the major negative changes experienced by the Plains Indians were not social, but rather ecological in nature, he writes. Horse hunting, drought, and increased traffic across the Southern Plains led to the diminution of their main source of subsistence, the bison herds. The need to support two types of economies, a trade economy based on horses and a subsistence economy based on bison hunting, required that two sets of horses, one for trade and one for hunting, be maintained.
Indians in the Northern Plains did not adopt the horse culture as readily as those in the South, Hamalainen writes. However, once the horse had infiltrated their society, they embraced it enthusiastically as a replacement for dog power and an opening through which material prosperity would flow. Scarcity of horses and the difficulties of raising them in the northern climate, however, limited the Northern Plains Indians and made sure that they were unable to completely transform their society into one based on mounted economy. Yet, horses still destabilized the egalitarianism of the Indian tribes in the North as well and perhaps even more so because horses were rarer and therefore more valuable. Only the richest of tribe members in the North had access to horses and they rarely allowed poorer individuals to benefit from them. The horse wars were also more intense and, Hamalainen argues, eroded the Northern horse culture from within. The imbalance that the horse culture created within the Indians’ societies outweighed the economic benefits that the horses enabled, and thus contributed to their demise.
In “Workings of the Geodialectic: High Plains Indians and Their Horses in the Region of the Arkansas River Valley, 1800-1870,” James E. Sherow, a professor of history at Kansas State University, links the problems of Native American horse culture to a more ecologically based phenomenon—the imperfect adaptation of Native American society to the environmental conditions of the Great Plains. Sherow’s analysis is based on the concept of the geodialectic, which, he states, “implies ever changing environments on the planet, and in order to survive, humans and other living things must adapt to constant environmental flux.” Indians and their horses made changes to the natural environment and failed to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions or the influence that outside forces, which were out of their control, had on these actions.
The key to examining the Indians’ inability to keep up with geodialectic processes is to look at the emergence of their material culture that was enabled by the introduction of the horse, Sherow argues. Like Hamalainen, Sherow believes that historians have focused too much on the positive changes the horse brought to Indian society and have overlooked those changes that were detrimental. While horse enabled trade and efficient bison hunting, which became the hallmarks of Indian economy, it also placed a number of constraints on these individuals. One of the greatest constraints was due to the erratic and arid nature of the Plains environment, which often caused suffering for Native Americans and horses alike. Finding adequate grazing for the horses was normally difficult, but often proved nearly impossible during dry years. Because the environment did not naturally nurture the health of the horses, Indians had to spend a great deal of time taking care of their animals, often having to migrate to riparian areas in order to find decent grazing conditions, particularly during winter. Vitamin deficiencies during the winter often caused ailments for the horses and forced Indians to take the time to find feed sources of such supplements as Vitamin A. Even in the summer, during prime bison hunting season, the horses were susceptible to ailments, such as heat stroke and dehydration. Finding water for horses often forced Indians to go out of their way. Yet, despite tirelessly trying to adapt their horse husbandry to the Plains environment, the Indians were never fully successful. Even though the Plains Indians were relatively ecologically-minded, Sherow argues, they were unable to understand the geodialectic of their homeland, which led to a great deal of suffering on the part of both the humans and the horses. They were forcing upon the land a way of life that was not compatible with reality.
Dan Flores, like Hamalainen and Sherow, also believes that historians have been misguided in regards to their range of focus when analyzing the impact of horses and bison on the Plains Indians. Historians have focused too much on the popularized outcome of these social, economic, and ecological changes, such as the end of the tragic end of the bison and the violent military campaigns against the Indians. Focusing on the outcome has caused historians to ignore the earlier causes that led these later events. Flores, a cultural and environmental historian of the American West at the University of Montana, subscribes to the idea of the longue duree, first introduced into academic by individuals such as Fernand Braudel, and believes that it is central to history, particularly environmental history. Like Sherow, though not using the same terminology, Flores asks, in “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850,” how well the Plains Indians created an ecological equilibrium. Instead of focusing on the development of the Indian horse culture, Flores begins his argument at the point that Indians have already made the transition to horse nomad and is more concerned about the horse Indians’ relationship with the bison. Hamalainen comments in “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures” that the horse enabled Indians to tap energy that had previously been unavailable to them. Flores also points out that the Indians were quick to take advantage of new forms of extracting energy.
Referring to pollen analysis and archaeological studies, Flores challenges the popular belief that bison were a constant force on the plains. Instead, he argues that there were times when the bison were not prevalent and perhaps absent. Flores describes bison as akin to weeds, a specie that flooded a niche. Using the agricultural census of 1910, Flores estimates that there were 8 million bison on the Southern Plains and 28-20 million in all of the Great Plains, which would have seemed like an endless supply to the Indians. The lack of biodiversity amongst large grazers enabled the horse to move into the Plains and flourish. Bison hunting by horse led to specialization amongst tribes resulted; those tribes such as the Comanche who made to move to specialization initially did better than those tribes that continued to attempt to diversify their economy. Similar to Sherow’s questioning of the Indians’ level of environmental sensibility and ability to maintain ecological equilibrium, Flores asserts that as the Indians became more entrenched in the horse culture and bison trade, they became less ecologically-minded and more tied to man-made trade networks. Thus, when measuring the Plains Indians effect on and placement in the environment’s equilibrium, one must look at a wide spectrum of information, including natural occurrences that affected the bison and Indian populations and cultural aspects that affected the way Indians utilized bison. Affects on bison can be as far-ranging as wolf predation and drought. By 1850, Flores argues, bison herds were entering a period of decline at the same time Indians were taking the steps to bison hunting specialization. Drought combined with this increase in hunting, Flores writes, were the main elements that led to the bison population collapse. Bovine diseases, an increase in grazing competition due the influx of horses, and white encroachment were side factors that enhanced the effects of drought and hunting. Flores argues that ultimately it is not possible to decidedly conclude whether Indians could have adapted their new way of life to ensure ecological equilibrium because the situation was not allowed to play out. However, he states that it is unlikely that they would have been able to reconcile bison hunting and horse culture with environmental balance.
Hamalainen, in another article titled “The First Phase of Destruction: Killing the Southern Plains Buffalo, 1790-1840,” acknowledges the significant, revisionist contribution Flores and Elliott West had to the field of Western History. However, Hamalainen cautions that because Flores and West’s arguments resounded so perfectly through the halls of the ecological bison history when it was published, New Western historians have fallen into the same trap as those Western historians who followed Frederick Jackson Turner. They have failed to question the works’ inadequacies and have presented their arguments as unquestionable verities, thus causing the field to remain stuck in the intellectual mires of the past.
Hamalainen believes that the Flores/West model needs to be revisited because its findings do not entirely add up. The erroneous facet of the model lies mainly in its time span. Hamalainen contends that the decline of the bison began well before Flores and West’s 1840s. The Southern Plains buffalo, instead, began to decline in numbers as early as the 1780s and 1790s. However the time span of bison diminution is not the only component of Flores’ argument that Hamalainen wants to dispute. He also believes that they placed too much emphasis on the negative effects of environmental degradation upon the bison population, and asserts that it was a combination of overhunting, indigenous population growth, and the onslaught of large-scale market commercialization, and environmental factors that led to bison decline. Taking into consideration the early introduction of the horse, Hamalainen illustrates that massive Indian slaughter, even at the subsistence level, of bison at an unsustainable rate was likely occurring fifty years before it is traditionally believed to have begun. The commercialization of bison hunting only aggravated the situation. Hamalainen also places a great deal of significance on the decline of the ranges area and increasing scarcity of resources on the plains made worse by the incursion of horses into the plains. These problems also originated, not in the Arkansas basin as Flores and West argue, but rather in the Texas Plains.
Hamalainen also examines the effect that changing ecological and economic trends had on the Comanche in the area. With a flood of other tribes into their region drawn by promise of bison wealth, the Comanche had to spend more time defending their horses and their bison reserves, which led naturally to increased warfare. Hamalainen emphasizes the importance of attempting to understand the difficult position in which the Comanche found themselves rather blaming them unquestionably for the over-hunting of the bison. Though the Comanche knew they needed the bison for their long-term survival, Hamalainen writes, they also knew that they needed allies, weapons, and secure trade routes in order to survive in the short-term. “Faced with a critical strategic crisis,” he states, “the Comanche had no other option but to allow unsustainable exploitation of the bison.” (28) This early exploitation and subsequent decline in the bison population led Indians to shift their existence to one of pastoralism, as he discussed in “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures.”
In The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920, Andrew C. Isenberg, a professor of history at Temple University, also notes that the annihilation of the bison was a result of numerous, interconnected factors. However, Isenberg discounts the idea that the environment has a natural equilibrium. A constant offsetting of imbalance on the part of natural forces in order to once again reach equilibrium is not an accurate portrayal of nature. Rather, he argues, nature is a dynamic force that is inherently instable. There is no doubt that this instability, represented by such forces as drought, played a major role in the near-extinction of the bison. Isenberg also places more emphasis on forces, such as grazing competition and predators, other than over-hunting and drought than Flores. It is too simple to assume that the bison population was depleted due to capitalistic greed. Environmental factors greatly influenced the fortunes of both the animals and the Indians of the Plains. Consequently, Indians were force in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to adapt to the changes that resulted from Euroamerican intrusion, namely horses, which made bison hunting more efficient, Old World diseases, which pushed the Indians further into a nomadic lifestyle, and the fur trade, which immersed the Indians into the market system and encouraged specialization. Thus, it was not simply human greed or survival instincts or dynamic natural forces, but a complex interaction of the three that led to the bisons’ demise.
Isenberg highlights the attitudes of white settlers and government officials much more than Flores and the other authors. Isenberg notes that many federal authorities applauded the extermination of the bison because the end of the bison would also end the reign of the free Indian and thus removing their independent livelihood and making it easier to fence the Indians into reservations. Preservationists were also, Isenberg contends, not driven by a pure, altruistic sense of stewardship towards the environment, but, rather, by a desire to preserve the remaining remnants of Frederick Jackson Turner’s vanishing frontier. Saving the bison was a kind of memorial to a lost time, an enshrinement of the manly virtues that had made America unique. They may have saved the remaining remnants of the species, but they still yearned for the times when bison were plentiful and ripe for exploitation. Prior histories of the bison have represented these two strains of thought by either presenting the decline as a celebratory landmark of the triumph of white progress or as a tale of Progressive Era philanthropy. In both cases, Isenberg writes, the historical record has been over-simplified by celebrating the inevitability of Euroamerican conquest and the supposedly static and passive nature of Indian society. In The Destruction of the Bison, Isenberg seeks to illuminate the diversity of Plains Indians, and the manner in which “the exigencies of resource use transcended ethnicity.” (8) Despite this diversity, the Plains Indians shared had a mutual set of experiences due to their need to follow the migratory patterns of the bison. The mobility of the bison, Isenberg writes, was the greatest challenge to the Indians’ survival, and the horse provided a means to make this challenge less foreboding. However, as Hamalainen and Sherow point out, horses also made the Indian’s dangerously dependent on trade and bison hunting and radically decentralized their social structure and increased warfare amongst the different tribes. Ultimately, Isenberg views the story of the Plains Indians as a cautionary tale, which demonstrates “the futility of riches and the fragility of nature.” (122)
In “Killing the Canadian Buffalo, 1821-1881,” William A. Dobak, a freelance historian who received his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Kansas, turns the discussion surrounding nineteenth century bison depletion to the Canadian Plains. Unlike Isenberg, who states that there was no direct connection between the downfall of the Indian and the bison because the Indian continued on after the buffalo were gone, adapting to new conditions as they had in years past, Dobak makes a direct connection between the herding of buffalo to their deaths and the herding of Native peoples into reservations. Dobak states that the American story of the bisons’ demise is much more well-known and that ultimately it was the commercial hide-hunter that did the final damage. Like Flores, Dobak approaches the history of the Plains Bison from the assumption that the environment has an equilibrium at which it is always struggling to stay.
Dobak argues that the Canadian Plains is the perfect backdrop on which to test the validity of American historian’s conclusions that the bison’s decline was due to a combination of environmental and market forces because the Canadian bison disappeared before the major institutions needed for trade, such as railroads, had arrived. Because the classic capitalist forces were nonexistent in the Canadian side of the story, Dobak contends that the buffalo left the region as the result of native actions. Like Isenberg, Dobak begins with an estimate of the bison population, which comes in at 1,900,000, based on the extent and carrying capacity of the region based on Flores’ use of the 1910 census.
Diminishing grasslands was not a causational factor in the decline of the bison herds because the grasslands actually extended farther than they do today, due to grass fires like those described by Stephen Pyne in Fire in America. Possible causes of the decline include grazing competition as a result of horse introduction and climactic conditions, which Dobak states are hard to pinpoint due to the incomplete and contradictory nature of the climate data from the time period. However, it is known that in the 1850s conditions were drier than normal, and thus, coupled with the increased human pressures on the population, could have led to the buffalo’s decline. Yet, since the evidence is unconvincing, it is more likely that it was human factors that were to blame. Dobak estimates that there were about 24,000 Indians in the three major groups on the plains, all of which worked to provide traders with hides and pemmican. Hunters often favored cows because their hides were more appealing, which, Dobak notes, severely injured the herd’s ability to reproduce and expand. The buffalo range subsequently contracted, which led to increased competition over a smaller number of available prizes, thus making places where buffalo could live untouched few and far between. Dobak concludes that “sheer population pressure, augmented by commercial demand, which claimed the skins of 30 percent more buffalo than Natives required for their minimum needs” (49) is the most likely candidate for blame. However, he offers other potential factors that could have led to the decline of the Canadian bison. Dobak, Flores, and Hamalainen note that one major reason that the Indians may have not been able to understand the toll that their actions were having on the bison population is due to their spiritual beliefs involving the natural world. Southern Plains Indians believed that the bison came out of the ground in the spring and that nature’s abundance was never-ending. However, this spiritual factor may not be applied to Canadian Plains Indians as easily. A less romantic explanation is that the native people did not understand the extent of the damage they were causing because their insular outlook on life focused on the apparent enormity of the herds that they found and did not consider the fact that the bison, as a whole, were being destroyed. The Canadian Indians simply killed at an unsustainable rate without the foresight needed to understand the consequences of their actions.
In Common and Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental, Thomas Binnema, a professor of history at the University of Northern British Columbia, argues that prior historians have neglected a large portion of evidence in an effort to incorrectly accentuate the ways in which Indigenous communities’ adapted to and accepted change within their cultural constructs. Like Isenberg, Binnema asserts that the cultural change that occurred on the plains did not destroy native culture, but rather led to a different, modified form of it. Indigenous peoples understood that change was inevitable and even embraced it with the same kind of zeal attributed to progress-obsessed individuals of European descent. Connecting his study to contemporary issues, Binnema states that it is important to understand how native groups administered themselves in the past to better understand how to support self-government in the future. Common and Contested Ground is meant to be an unconventional assessment of Indian life on the Canadian Plains, which bypasses the hullabaloo surrounding culturalist preoccupations and the romanticized images this preoccupation creates to offer an illustration of the Indian that is more realistic and factually based. The romanticization of a group of people, Binnema argues, is just as disrespectful as demonizing them.
Rather than culture, the history of the Plains Indians was shaped by the interplay between tribes in the form of trade, warfare, and diplomacy, Binnema argues. “The northwestern plains,” he writes, “were the common and contested ground of diverse communities.” (5) This region was based originally on geographic characteristics, which were accentuated by way of diplomatic and military relations. Referring to Richard White’s The Middle Ground, Binnema describes the plains as a meeting ground for disparate groups of people, both native and Euroamerican. Trade, warfare, diplomacy, and even intermarriage created a middle group of people who worked together for and often fought over the same spoils. The idea that Indians were characterized by their cultural, tribal ties is an outdated mode of interpretation, Binnema contends. Instead native groups are best understood as band societies, which were as organized as modern-day societies. These bands were distinct due to the acceptability of member fluidity. Individuals were free to leave one group and join another because both individualism and communitarianism were valued. It was completely normal for an encampment to include individuals from several bands and cultures. Because bands were so willing to join with others for mutual benefit and also equally as willing to take up arms when their livelihoods were threatened, Binnema argues that cultural considerations was not the primary preoccupation of these individuals. Any preoccupation with culture has been placed upon these historical figures by misguided historians.
Like Isenberg, Binnema acknowledges that the ecological systems in which the Indians lived were not static, but rather dynamic. Native peoples continuously worked to shape the environment to their will often in hopes of increasing the lands ability to support bison. Similar to Sherow’s account of the southern plains, Binnema discusses the way in which the Indians in the northwestern plains were often beholden to the migratory patterns of the buffalo and the whims of the region’s climate. The Indians were not thoughtless wanderers, but rather methodical resource exploiters. Being natural exploiters, as all humans are according to Binnema, the Indians’ actions were not entirely determined by environmental conditions, and thus did not live in complete harmony with nature. “The environment of the northwestern plains regulated human activity, but it left considerable latitude for human innovation,” (55) he states. Binnema discusses the ways in which groups of Indians molded together and shot apart in order to sustain their survival. The introduction of the horse is less important in regards to changes in the Indians’ culture, as Hamalainen and Sherow focused on, and more significant in regards to warfare and trade, of which the horse, often coupled with the gun, became a vital player. Although Binnema provides an important link in the chain of historical understanding surrounding the past of the northwestern Plains, his outright dismissal of cultural indicators seems forced and his evidence dealing with warfare, trade, and diplomacy does not adequately substantiate his grandiose claim. While alliances and squabbles no doubt played a major role in these individuals’ lives, it is hard to believe that in day to day interactions their cultural understandings of themselves as individuals and as a people were not more important to them on a personal level.
In The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado, Elliott West, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, does not shy away from questions of cultural indicators, but rather leaps head-on into the realm of the immensely personal, that which lies in our imaginations. Unlike Sherow, who paints human’s role in nature on a much more even keel with other animals, West is adamant that humans are not equal to other species, but rather have a more advanced perception of their environment which allows them to think about their surroundings and reflect on the possible repercussions of their actions. Humans have the added ability to create variations of reality in their mind, and subsequently act out theses imaginings in real life. Imagination enables humans to manipulate their environment, West contends. The environment is continuously setting up roadblocks for humans and animals alike, but only humans are able to effectively imagine ways to control these road blocks. Yet, despite their ability to imagine the future, humans are unable to fully comprehend the repercussions of their actions. Environmental history, West writes, is basically the continuous story of how humans attempt to get themselves out of the trouble in which their impulsive imaginations place them. Both the Native Americans and the easterners that sought wealth in the gold mines of Colorado had visions for a better future, dreams that that they wished to come true. Like Binnema, West argues that Indians were not adverse to change, but rather embraced it with enthusiasm.
Departing from bison-horse dynamic, West examines the role of minerals, specifically gold, in the West, but still manages to illustrate the competitive atmosphere of the West, where Indians and Euroamericans both fought for the prize of prosperity. The gold rush to Colorado in the late 1850s is mainly associated with the mountains in which the digging took place, however, West effectively demonstrates that the plains played an equal if not more important role during the time period because it is across the plains that these, mainly, Euroamerican individuals had to travel, the very plains on which the Indians of the region were experiencing a massive cultural transformation. The histories of white and Native Americans are not separate, but deeply interconnected, and this interconnectedness is most easily viewable in the crossings of cultures on the plains in the nineteenth century. The individuals that inhabited and intruded upon the plains during the 1850s exchanged goods, diseases, animals, plants, and conflicting hopes for the future. The rush for gold transformed the meaning of the Plains in the American conscience, and realigned the power dynamics of the plains.
As discussed earlier, Indians lives were greatly transformed by the introduction of the horse. Upon introduction, Indian visions of the future and the way in which they could use nature to their advantage were deeply intertwined with this foreign life form. The horse, as Hamalainen and Flores previously discussed, introduced a form of energy to the Indians’ lives that had otherwise been unavailable. Energy, in the way that West treats it, also denotes power. Trade and guns introduced a way to harness energy and subsequent ecological, political, and economic power. Because of this newfound power, natives embraced a new lifestyle, that of nomadic and pastoral bison hunter, which would lead to future difficulties, such as increased warfare and bison extinction, which were initially unimaginable.
Gold is popular because it is rare, it is inert, and it is shiny, West writes. He demonstrates the massive affect gold had on individuals and the power it had to reshape entire regions. The depression in the years directly prior led to an even greater number of individuals traveling to Colorado in order to grasp their dreams for a better future. West outlines the ways in which travelers had to learn how to deal with natural phenomena while on the trail, and how the difficulties of trail life often reinforced familial and communal relationships. As more and more people traveled to the West, the plains no longer seemed like a wasteland through which one traveled as quickly as possible, but instead, began to look like a place that was ripe for the development of exchange routes that were vital to the future economic health of the nation. White imaginings of farms and ranches clashed with Indian imaginings of a future based on hunting and trade. As was typical for the time period, white citizens expected Indians to abandon their own dreams in exchange for subordination. As tensions grew between the two visions, particularly after the Civil War, conflicts between the two groups grew more violent. West’s narrative of the Colorado gold rush effectively demonstrates the way in which Native Americans were forced to give up their imaginings of the future upon the onslaught of Euroamericans. However, it is the nature of the writer to always question those that insistently claim that superiority of humanity in relation to rest of the natural world.