In all three settings of the novel (Latvia in the mid-1800s; Green Lake, Texas in the 1880s; and Camp Green Lake in the late 1990s), the natural world is afforded a great deal of power over its human inhabitants. For those who are willing to play by the natural world's rules, nature isn't something to be feared; rather, it's something that can bring happiness, good fortune, and even economic prosperity. For those who seek to dominate the land, and, in some cases, for those who do respect the land, the natural world strikes back with surprising force. In this way, Holes presents a version of nature in which nature is something sentient whose rules require respect and reverence.
The power of the natural world is first introduced in Elya Yelnats's story, when Madame Zeroni tells him that if he carries his piglet up the mountain daily to drink from a stream that runs uphill, it will grow big enough for him to win his beloved Myra's hand. It very quickly becomes clear that the stream has magical powers, as the runty piglet is exactly as big as Igor's pig on the day of Myra's birthday—but not bigger, as Elya didn't take the pig up the mountain that final day. The stream represents an unnatural yet benevolent side to nature, and it shows up again in Green Lake, Texas. Sam the onion man carefully guards the location where he grows his onions, but it later comes to light that the water there either runs uphill or comes from some other mysterious means. This in turn helps Sam market his onions, as well as the tinctures and lotions he makes with them, as a sort of miracle drug for all manner of maladies and ailments. Most notably, Sam makes an onion drink that repels the deadly yellow-spotted lizards that, at the time, lived only in the mountains. In particular, when the knowledge that the lizards hate onions dies with Sam, it suggests that the ability to coexist with the natural world belongs only to those who treat it with respect and take its unnatural elements in stride, unlike Sam's killer Trout Walker and his descendent, the Warden.
When the narrator suggests that Green Lake dried up and became a desert to punish Trout Walker and the racist townsfolk who participated in the mob, it implies that nature in the world of Holes isn't just something that exists alongside humans. Rather, it's something sentient with a keen interest in the goings-on of its human inhabitants, as well as a sense of morality and judgment that is clearly not in line with that of Trout Walker and the sheriff. With the transformation of Green Lake into a desert, the yellow-spotted lizards also descend from the mountains to prey on any humans not quick enough to escape them. Though the novel suggests that this was a natural move for the lizards, which thrive in the dry desert sun, it's also possible to read this as another way in which the natural world punishes its inhabitants for misdeeds by making its desert even more dangerous.
Stanley clearly reads the land as sentient. He makes note of the rock formation he refers to as "God's Thumb," where the first Stanley supposedly survived for seventeen days after Kissin' Kate abandoned him in the desert. As Stanley and Zero make their way across the desert towards the mountains, they keep an eye on the formation and feel as though the land itself is giving them a thumbs-up to urge them on. When they finally arrive, Stanley and Zero find the land (which is implied to be Sam's onion field) truly life-giving: they're able to dig to find water, and the steady diet of onions that both boys eat for several days not only brings Zero back to some semblance of health—it keeps the boys safe when they find themselves in a nest of yellow-spotted lizards upon their return to Camp Green Lake.
Taken together, the end of the novel clearly reinforces the power of the natural world and its interest in human events: Stanley's act of carrying Zero up the hill, helping him drink, and singing him Madame Zeroni's lullaby appears to break the curse, while rains finally come to Green Lake and turn the lake into an actual lake again following the Warden's removal from the land. When the narrator explains that Camp Green Lake is slated to become an actual Girl Scout camp within a few years, it suggests that Green Lake itself is turning over a new leaf and will be presumably be managed by better stewards with the power to impart an appropriate sense of respect and reverence in the campers to come.
Man vs. Nature ThemeTracker
Man vs. Nature Quotes in Holes
Stanley waited for him to drive away, then took another look at his hole. He knew it was nothing to be proud of, but he felt proud nonetheless.
He sucked up his last bit of saliva and spat.
A lot of people don't believe in curses.
A lot of people don't believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn't make a difference whether you believe in it or not.
Everyone in town had seen—and heard—the Walkers' new boat. It made a horrible loud noise and spewed ugly black smoke all over the beautiful lake.
These are the facts:
The Walker boat smashed into Sam's boat. Sam was shot and killed in the water. Katherine Barlow was rescued against her wishes. When they returned to the shore, she saw Mary Lou's body lying on the ground. The donkey had been shot in the head.
That all happened one hundred and ten years ago. Since then, not one drop of rain has fallen on Green Lake.
You make the decision: Whom did God punish?
He kept walking toward it, although he didn't know why. He knew he'd have to turn around before he got there. But every time he looked at it, it seemed to encourage him, giving him the thumbs-up sign.
Higher and higher he climbed. His strength came from somewhere deep inside himself and also seemed to come from the outside as well. After focusing on Big Thumb for so long, it was as if the rock had absorbed his energy and now acted like a kind of giant magnet pulling him toward it.
"Will you do me a favor?" asked Squid.
"I guess," Stanley agreed, somewhat hesitantly.
"I want you to—" He turned to Ms. Morengo. "Hey lady, you have a pen and paper I can borrow?"
She gave it to him, and Squid wrote down a phone number which he gave to Stanley. "Call my mom for me, okay? Tell her...Tell her I said I was sorry. Tell her Alan said he was sorry."