This song is a reflection on mortality, and also a lament for the fate of the Earth, as nature is telling us that something is wrong. The song was written long before climate change became a hot topic, but even in 1970, some ecologically minded songwriters were concerned about Mother Earth.
This was written by Spirit's guitarist, Randy California. It was a very personal song, and in some ways, his maxim. The song deals with how nature guides you, and that's just what he did throughout his career. Spirit reached #25 US in 1969 with "I Got A Line On You," a track from their second album, but the group remained on the fringes of breakout success, in part because they turned down an invitation to play Woodstock.
California got heavy into LSD and became even more mercurial. In 1970, he was riding a horse on the streets of Topanga Canyon when he fell off and fractured his skull. The same year, he wrote "Nature's Way," which was included on Spirit's fourth album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. California left the group in 1972 and the band splintered soon after. Sardonicus found a following and eventually sold over a million copies, prompting an iff-fated band reunion in 1976. California died in 1997 when he drowned while swimming in Hawaii.
David Briggs, who was one of Neil Young's producers, produced this track. The back was dealing with a lot of internecine conflict at the time, and Briggs helped keep them focused and productive enough to complete the album.
Randy California recorded various versions of this song as a solo artist. In interviews, he sometimes talked about never being able to get it right.
The album is named after a 1963 horror movie called Dr. Sardonicus, about a man whose face is frozen in a creepy grin after he digs up his father's grave.
This song is unusual in that every line begins with the phrase "It's nature's way."
Spirit's bass player at this time was Mark Andes, who a few years later founded Firefall. In the 2010s, Firefall started performing the song, in part to honor Randy California, and in 2020 they recorded it for their album Comet with Timothy B. Schmit from the Eagles and John McFee from the Doobie Brothers performing on it.
"I wanted to give Randy a little love and I had been asked by lots of different people to record their version of 'Nature's Way' with them," Anders said on the Songfacts Podcast. "I resisted because I felt whoever I do 'Nature's Way' with, it's like I'm endorsing or acknowledging that it's worthy of that. When Firefall started to mine the depths of the root system of the group's family tree, those songs really got a great response, so we started to play 'Nature's Way,' and the way we played it was pretty much how we recorded it. Timothy recorded his vocal in his studio and we sent that to John McFee, who put on a little pedal steel. So it was a fun deal and it was to honor Randy."