"Today, vegetatively propogated
clones of blue agave make up more than 99 percent of the 150 million agaves
growing in Jalisco. If ever there was an easy target for any infestation,
tequila monoculture is it."
Gary Paul Nabham
always unveils a new handful of surprises with the coming of each season.
As the weather changes, rising humidity awakens the slumbering citizens
of the soil. Fireflies, those apparitions of the evening, mysteriously
flash their lights on, then off again. Armies of ants labor long hours,
alerting us to the oncoming thunderstorms. The blooms of bugs we call mayates
had a way of proliferating in our midst, teaching us to anticipate the
rhythm of the rainy season."
"There is a language older by
far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body,
wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream,
gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even
remember that it exists."
"It became clear that this book had to be different.
If I were to be honest, it could only be a cry of outrage, a lamentation,
and at the same time a love story about that which is and that which was
and is no longer. It would have to be about the potential for life and
love and happiness we each carry inside but are too afraid to explore."
"It is now possible to generalize
that tree-roosting bats typically select tall trees that are in the early
stages of decay and are less cluttered than random wildlife trees. Although
the species of roost tree may differ from forest to forest. general attributes
are similar, resulting in higher densities of roosting bats in older forest
stands."Conservation Ecology of Bats
"Not only does sugaring help
us remember that spring is coming, it also gives us a reason for desiring
that it not progress any faster. Once we have awakened to it, we long to
dwell in this protracted in-between. This time for standing in the warm,
sticky sugarhouse, witnessing the alchemy of air and water into gold."
"The final week of a late sugaring
season, when musical excitement fills the nights and there is still untainted
sap to boil down, is thus referred to, in a phrase at once celebratory
and elegaic, as "the frog run." That phrase captures for me the ludicrous
urgency of the peepers' moment -- and the human moment, too. It expresses
the fact that we must soon relinquish this harvest we have only recently
learned to claim. Focusing all the more intensely on the process as it
nears its end, we remember the softening snow that signaled its onset and
anticipate the cleanup and battening down of the sugarhouse for another
Ahab's whale is not imagined,
nor is it strictly discovered, but is found, by him, which suggests that
it has an existence separate from his but also that it depends for its
coherence on something extra he supplies, some conception of his own, which
makes sense of things.
Groundwater is essentially nonrenewable
in the arid west because the economies that exploit it cannot abide a low
rate of use. By combusting nonrenewable coal and nonrenewable oil and nonrenewable
natural gas, they have managed to lift nonrenewable water at incredible
rates. By using water with abandon they can compete with more humid regions,
where it is basically a free good. This extractive process... is the machinery
behind the expression "conquest of nature"...
Once I put a bluntnose minnow
from the creek in the pond. A bass gave chase immediately. The poor little
minnow launched itself completely out of the weater in trying to escape,
and when it came back down, the bass was there to swallow it. So far I
have not seen a snapping turtle in the pond but am sure some will come
when the proper food supply occurs. Snapper meat is a great delicacy.
Comets don't cross the
sky every day. Great, journal-worthy events seemed hard to come by at first.
So I was forced to look hard and close and long at everyday things to fill
those pages. And you know what? The closer I looked, the more journal-worthy
entries I found. Take Carolina Wrens! As documented in the pages of my
journal, they sing every month of the year. Take Carolina Wren nests. Did
you know that the birds use paper and snake skins and string and feathers
in the construction?. a birder may overlook these things, but not a bird
watcher and certainly not a bird watcher who keeps a journal -- the most
important book I own."Earl's Journal"
Was this, then, indeed, the Mississippi,
that wild giant of nature, which I had imagined would be so powerful, so
divine, so terrible? Here its waters were clear, of a fresh, light-green
color, and within their beautiful frame of distant violet-blue mountains,
they lay like a heavenly mirror, bearing on their bosom verdant, vine-covered
islands, like islands of the blessed.Fredrika Bremer
The Homes of the New World:
Impressions of America
The paradox is that to see clearly,
you must learn to see obliquely. You must look ahead, and, at the
same time, widen your peripheral vision so that it extends not just in
great arcs around your head, but over the edge, into the margins where
the visible and invisible, dreams and reality, land and water, emptiness
and profusion mingle. The sublime is like poetry; it will not be
caught or chased down. It exists at the edge of things -- in the
vast margins . . . The imagination loves freedom first, and then form.
And there is an odd kind of freedom in the fringes that comes, in part,
from jettisoning our love of function. . . lack of function in our
culture means lack of value. "What's it for?" we want to know.
"What does it do?" . . . . But what kind of cultural enlightenment
will it take for us to freely say that we value this or that because it
is beautiful, or because it nourishes the imagination, because it is good
for the soul? (pp. 13-14)
Day after day that first summer
I traversed the alder thickets, the red-maple woods with its skunk-cabbage-and-fern-bordered
brook and spotted-turtle backwaters, the ditches along the train tracks,
and especially the Old Swamp. With an eye out for turtles, I kept closely
to wet places, but I was also fascinated by toads, salamanders, and snakes,
and I took to field and forest to find them at times. Every meadow or wood,
and especially any stream or pool, all of these theaters of summer taken
together, held no end of spellbinding forms, colors, and patterns, moving
in a seasonal rhythm of life habits I was only beginning to decipher. And
these places they lived in—places of water, stone, and plants; sunlight
and shadow; water lilies, reeds, and ferns; mossy hummocks, grassy swirls,
and blackberry tangles; woods and shrub thickets with drifts of leaves;
grassy fields—all joined to create one great landscape. I entered, came
to know, the design of this living landscape before I knew any of the specific
definitions of that elusive word “design.” And as I moved through it I
felt myself part of the pattern, or at the very least a witness to it.
The sheer joy of being there, of simply bearing witness, continued to be
"A beaver pond?!" I exclaimed.
Forgetting about harmony and
peace and abandoning my ecological ideals, I was now ranting. I wanted
a forest, but a clean forest with a sparkling creek and not one with stagnant
waters and trees lying around every which way and across the creek. I had
no use for shavings all over the forest floor to absorb our footsteps!
I did not pay top dollar for a beaver pond!
In the right hands, almost any
notebook or blank book will perform as a nature journal. But for those
intimidated by empty pages, this "guided journal" can help jump-start their
journaling with inspirational quotes, exercises, tips and suggestions.
Clare Walker Leslie provides the introduction and advice, along with a
back-of-the-book illustrated field guide to basic families of trees, insects
When he awoke, the grass was
Morning dew. It looked like
Broken into a thousand fragment
Wildly reflecting the full blaze
of the rising sun.
Through the glare a mist, Henry
Astonished to see a large moose
Entering the forest.
The moon rose silently.
Millions of stars appeared in
the endless sky.
Holding close to the warmth
Of his small crackling campfire
Henry carved the handle of his
Until it fit perfectly in his
That Thoreau's attempt to
speak a word for nature finally ends with him also speaking a word, however
backhandedly, for a kind of cultured naturalism should not come as a surprise:
to sustain the position of purity, as in the summit experience of Ktaadn
or in the opening lines of 'Walking' itself, is finally too fatiguing --
and unattainable besides.
As critics -- and this will
be the stumbling block for many in the ecocritical community -- we must
be concerned with the observation of the observation, not the observation
itself, and we should be asking questions like "What would it take to square
an economically inflected version of nation with an aesthetic one?" and
not, as if too often the temptation, questions like "What does nature teach
Two mallards arrow down
upon the mirror pond,
the water rolls the arrow-wake
in liquid silver for a moment,
smoothes reflected birches.(March
On this blue-sky bright December
sprinkled like huge peppercorns
amid tree trunks on the white
twenty wild turkeys crouch on
heads tucked into feather down,
black wings folded large.
They all face north, source
of bitter cold,
backsides to the winter sun,
blacksides to the winter sun.(December
A Natural and Cultural History, by Gary Paul Nabhan and Ana Valenzuela-Zapata.
160 pp. The University of Arizona
Like the wines of Burgundy or
Chardonnay, the word Tequila is largely derived from the place of
its origin in the Jaliscan highlands of central Mexico. Tequila is a town,
a municipality, a valley, and a prominent mountain overlooking its collateral
toponyms. It is also a species of agaves (tequilana) that are commonly
used to brew the intoxicating tequila beverage.
Celebrated nature writer and
plant preservationist Gary Paul Nabham collaborated with botanist and agave
specialist Ana Valenzuela Zapata on this personal and very readable survey
of tequila history, lore and cultivation.
The chapters of this book include
descriptions of agave farming traditions ("Tillers and Tale-Tellers"),
the natural history of the plant ("The Wild Origins and Domestication of
Mescal de Tequila"), an introduction to tequila lore and traditions ("Distilling
the Essences, Blending Two Worlds"), and a critical look at the mass production
of cheap tequilas and the plague it has encouraged ("When the Epidemic
Hit the King of Clones").
"Tequila and its kin, at least
in the eyes and mouths of U.S. citizens, has changed its image from a generic
liquor or 'firewater' to a drink of the elite," the authors point out.
This has generated a "tequila boom," resulting in sales increases of 15
percent annually for the past three decades and pricing for premium tequilas
that has eclipsed some champagnes.
The effects of these changes
among the jimadores who harvest agaves, the tequileros who consume
tequila, and the cultivated plants upon which the tequila industry relies
are examined and critiqued in this mesh of cultural and natural histories.
Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen. 412 pp. Chelsea Green,
This is a book about the worlds
that we inhabit, both the external and natural worlds and the internal
and imaginary worlds, and how they inform and shape each other. It is related
in the form of a memoir, deep and personal and disturbing and revelatory,
in the hope that the individual experience can help illuminate the universal.
Ten years ago the author was
raising chickens and losing many of them to pillaging coyotes. Finally,
in frustration, he begged the coyotes -- calling out to one that he caught
sight of leaving the coop -- to stop killing his chickens. Remarkably,
the killing stopped and the coyotes, still ever-present, settled for the
scraps from the author's butchering.
Thus inspired to write a book
about animal communication, Derrick Jensen instead confronted the question
of why experiences like this are discounted in our culture and even silenced.
Connections between people and the environments they inhabit, the creatures
they share them with, and even their fellow humans are dismissed as unimportant
or secondary to the business of producing wealth.
"How and why do we numb
ourselves to our own experiences? How and why do we deafen ourselves to
the voices of others? Who benefits? Who suffers? Is there a connection
between the silencing of women, to use one example, and the silencing of
the natural world?"
As he does in most of his works,
Jensen writes poetically, emotionally and confronts difficult and troubling
issues with informed arguments and probing questions. This book won't necessarily
teach the reader how to hear or interpret the "language older than words,"
but it does make one aware that it's out there waiting to be heard.
Ecology, by Thomas H. Kunz and M. Brock Fenton. 784 pp. University
of Chicago Press, 2004.
Not since the 1982 publication
of Ecology of Bats has anyone produced a comprehensive work on bat ecology.
This book, written primarily for professional ecologists and conservation
biologists, focuses on important discoveries made in the intervening two
The editors of this volume, Thomas
H. Kunz and M. Brock Fenton, are both biologists with other books on bats
to their credit. Here they have included contributions by 28 separate researchers,
reflecting not only the diversity and complexity of bat ecology, but also
a growing interest in studying the flying mammals.
Organized into three major sections,
the book successively covers "Life History and Social Biology," "Functional
Ecology" and "Macroecology." Within these sections are arranged 15 individual
chapters disclosing recent research findings in specific areas, from bat-insect
interactions and ecomorphology to bat migrations and the ecological diversity
"Few would disagree with the
assessment that Chiroptera is a diverse group of mammals," write Nancy
Simmons and Tenley Conway. "With approximately 1,100 extant species recognized
worldwide, bats are second only to rodents in terms of total numbers of
species." Their report on the "Evolution of Ecological Diversity in Bats"
describes bats as a textbook case in mosaic evolution and admits that the
current understanding of geographical patterns of diversification are sketchy
A growing recognition of the
importance of bats in many ecosystems has led to increased scrutiny of
the animal's role in insect control, pollination and seed dispersal. Papers
on these issues are collected primarily in the section on Functional Ecology,
where authors discuss the relationships between bats and insects, flowers,
Certainly a "state of the field"
collection of current inquiry, this volume will be of great benefit to
students, resource managers and conservationists as well as professional
Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods, by John Elder. 160
pp. Milkweed Editions, 2001.
In the Green Mountains of Vermont,
author John Elder combines his passion for literature and his affection
for the outdoors with his love of family. The essays in this brief book
reflect on loss and redemption, deforestation and reclamation, the Bible
and the environmental ethic.
Composed of three essays, followed
by a profile and bibliography, this book showcases Elder's nature writing
and literary bent. The title of the essay "Aji" comes from a Japanese word
meaning "lingering taste," a term used in the game of Go for apparently
dead playing pieces that suddenly regain life and influence. He applies
the concept to "the surprising reemergence of wilderness from the cutover
landscape of Vermont."
In "Starting with the Psalms:
A Reader's History," Elder reflects on his literary lineage beginning with
the Bible's rich and beautiful 23rd Psalm, which inspired a love of poetry
that grew into a broader passion for literature and an abiding interest
in nature writing.
"Sugaring Off," the third essay
in the collection, describes the history of New England sugaring as the
Yankee farmers learned it from the Abenaki people. Together with his sons,
he constructs a sugarhouse in the woods and reflects on the sweetness of
life's seasons. "Weeks pass when winter has lost its grip but nothing new
has taken its place," he writes. "Watching the temperatures' courtly dance
around the freezing line suddenly becomes exciting, however, when maple
syrup is the culmination. Amid the half-frozen, half-sodden fields and
the late snowstorms, the pulse of sap turns us towards the present's wavering
In the final pages of the book,
Scott Slovic contributes a biographical profile of Elder and bibliography
of the nature writer's published works.
by K.L. Evans. 162 pp. University of
Minnesota Press, 2003
"If a lion could talk, we could
not understand him." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein
This unique work combines literary
criticism and philosophy in an attempt to show that Hermann Melville's
"Moby Dick" is more than an allegory about man's confrontation with nature,
but rather a statement about and perhaps a prescription for connecting
with and comprehending the world.
"The 'meaning' of the whale is
not a property of the whale so much as a way for the people who involve
themselves with the whale to come to terms with it," Evans explains. "The
whale would survive without these terms, but the people wouldn't."
Evans employs Melville's text
and Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations" to advance the
notion that to truly understand whaling, or any creature or activity for
that matter, one must be immersed in the subject and vulnerable to its
"The public aspect of the whale
is the concern of Moby Dick," Evans proclaims. Captain Ahab requires the
participation of his public, the crew, to find his whale. "Once readers
are clear that they, too, should look in the direction of the whale, they
can abandon the traffic in explication and put their minds to investigation
what manner of creature they imagine themselves."
the Hidden Waters, by Charles Bowden. 206 pp. University
of Texas Press, 2003
"The only time we truly learn
something is when we are wrong, and so in the quarter-century since this
book was published, I've been treated to a first-class education," writes
Charles Bowden in the introduction to this new edition of his classic critique
of resource management and water consumption in the American West.
Bowden's wise and scholarly book,
first published in 1977, suggested that water consumption in the West would
be curbed by rising water rates and that resource scarcity would eventually
limit the region's population growth. But just as consumers have responded
to higher gas prices by shifting to large gas-guzzling SUVs, the American
culture seems determined to devour as much as it can as quickly as possible.
"I think over time this small
tract will prove accurate, regardless of my own misbegotten hopes in the
past," Bowden explains. "And by this claim I mean that the finite nature
of resources will come increasingly into play and limit our ambitions and
Focused on the arid Southwest,
the book contrasts the European cultures of the last 150 years that have
based their civilizations on the ability to "mine" the aquifers with the
O'odham and Pima Indian cultures that have managed to live sustainably
in the Sonoran Desert with its unpredictable and rare water flows for centuries.
What will become of these cultures when the aquifers are finally drained?
Will the Europeans pack up and move on as they have in the past?
Pond Lovers, by Gene Logsdon. 163 pp. University
of Georgia Press, 2003.
From his Ohio farm in Upper Sandusky,
Gene Logsdon writes lovingly of ponds and the people who adore them. His
affections are focused not on wild lakes or water holes, but on backyard
and pasture ponds that slow erosion, recharge groundwater, provide habitat
for waterfowl and recreation for humans.
Logsdon says he started to write
this book as sort of instructional manual, but turned instead to describing
pond-loving people and their relationships to their ponds. This includes
his father and several close neighbors, as well as his personal experience
with the pond he constructed and maintains on his own land.
"To appreciate the full worth
of a pasture pond, I visualize it as part of the extended environment of
the farm, which -- with the creek running through the lower pastures, the
two vernal pools in the upper and lower woods, and the second pond I hope
to build between the first one and the creek -- becomes a watery balance
to the meadows and woods," Logsdon explains. "Such a farm can only continue
to increase in self-sustaining animal and plant species, powered and operated
almost totally by the sun. Here is all the paradise I desire, all the paradise
Wings: and Other Stories about Birders and Birding, by Pete
Dunne. 136 pp. University of Texas Press,
Many of the essays in this collection
concern birds and birders in New Jersey, where Pete Dunne is the director
of the Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory. Others are more general
pieces about the mechanics of birding or the motivations of birders. But
none of them are what you'd expect from a consultant to the prestigious
Peterson field guide series, that being accounts of birdwatching expeditions
to distant corners of the globe for a brief glimpse of a rare species to
add to his Life List.
Instead, Dunne's witty
pieces have more to do with the act of birding and the people who perform
it than with the species and their habitats. While describing a particularly
rainy bird walk, for instance, he reveals that he hates getting wet. "Hate
it in a way that makes the hydrophobia of cats look like the aqua-equanimity
of seals," he complains. "While others get to conduct their birding in
places like southeastern Arizona and southern California, I seem always
fated to forage in places like... Sitkagi Beach, coastal Alaska -- a geographic
blotter that absorbs 160 incheas of rain, sleet, or snow a year (usually
all three at once)."
The title essay, "Golden Wings,"
pays tribute to Dunne's mentor, the late birding legend Roger Tory Peterson,
with a whimsical story about the famous birder's first day in heaven, where
he gets his first set of wings. "He spread wings that would have put him
well up in the record books," Dunne writes. "But though their length and
breadth, and wonderful symmetry were impressive, what most delighted Roger
was that when the underwings caught the radiance of heaven, they blazed
with yellow shafts of light. 'Just like the flock on Old Swede Hill,' thought
the Roots: American Nature Writing Before Walden, edited by
Michael P. Branch. 424 pp. University
of Georgia Press, 2004.
Literature professor Michael
Branch, who specializes in environmental writings, compiled this unusual
anthology of works pertaining to America's natural resources. His earlier
publications include John
Muir's Last Journey, Reading
the Earth and The
Height of Our Mountains.
The writings in this volume span
the better part of four centuries, from Christopher Columbus' log book
of the 1492-93 voyage to Fredrika Bremer's The Homes of the New World:
of America, published in 1853.
Arranged chronologically, from
the earliest to the latest, the anthology's selections cover a wide range
of styles, voices and authors of rhetorical nonfiction concerned with natural
science, the environment, and the idea of nature in America. While Native
American, African American and female writings are included in the volume,
they are limited in comparison to those by the dominant white male literary
"The need to restrict this book
to a length that allows publication as a single volume has made it necessary
to omit scores of interesting and important early American writers whose
work engages the natural landscape," Branch explains. A Further Reading
section in the back of the book lists works by more than 100 writers that
would have been included had space permitted.
Like a leisurely visit to a great
library packed with volumes long out of print and rarely mentioned, this
book offers readers many delightful surprises and unanticipated revelations.
An excellent reference for environmental historians and scholars, certainly,
it is also a fun read for general readers of natural history.
the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs and Human Imagination, by Barbara Hurd. 143
pp. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
The Finzel and Crandesville swamps
of Maryland inspired the nine probing meditations on wetlands and their
relationships with mankind that fill this fine collection of nature writing.
With a style similar to Annie
Dillard, combining a naturalist's eye for detail with a poet's voice and
a scholar's mind, Barbara Hurd examines murky regions shunned by most and
scorned by many. "For centuries, so much in a swamp seemed useless -- all
thus muck and dead trees and algae -- and lack of function in our culture
means lack of value. What's it for? we want to know. What does it do? We
can tick off their benefits on our fingers: they help control flooding
or they filter toxic watse, both of which have to do with our physical
and economic health," Hurd explains. "But what kind of cultural enlightenment
will it take for us to freely say that we value this or that because it
is beautiful, because it nourishes the imagination, because it is good
for the soul?"
Although the essays in
this book are united by their moory matters, each one stands more or less
alone as a separate outing in a muddy place with its own set of adventures
and discoveries, from swamp gases and bog men to carnivorous plants and
rare turtles. Together they offer unusual entry into forbidding places.
with Turtles: A Memoir, by David M. Carroll. 181 pp. Houghton
"I was alone when I found the
first spotted turtle, and over the years I would need to be alone to achieve
my greatest awareness of the turtles and their places and find my deepest
sense of being there," writes nature writer David M. Carroll in this remarkable
memoir of a life obsessed with turtles. After spending much of his first
eight years indoors,
From his earliest years in central
Pennsylvania He writes about his early encounters with turtles, which led
to a lifelong fascination with them and their swampy habitats, and about
the high school teacher who told him that, contrary to everything he had
been taught before, art is the only thing that matters, the only thing
that lasts. During his years at art school in Boston, he got to know the
turtles of the Fenway, including one giant snapper he wrestled to shore
and carried to his studio for a portrait session.
War Against The Beavers, by Verena Andermatt Conley. 167 pp. University
of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Here's a familiar story: an urban
couple seeking to "get away from it all" purchases a cabin and a hundred
acres of forest, naively expecting to find peace and serenity in their
private corner of the natural world. In this case, the author is a Swiss
emigre who grew up reading adventure stories about the American wilderness
and her husband is a native New Yorker and weekend outdoorsman. Their "away
from it all" was two aging cabins on an acreage bordering the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota
Verena Andermatt Conley is an
unusual author for such a book, being a scholarly professor of French language
and literature with texts like "Syncope:
The Philosophy of Rapture" to her credit. Her life on the edge of the
wilderness, though, was more nature study and attempted appreciation than
"I never found in the North Woods
the long-sought adventures of my childhood heroes Chief Winnetou and Old
Shatterhand," she writes. "I never found what I thought was the harmony
advocated by more modern writers. I discovered, however, that every order
is fragile and that harmony is fleeting."
The incoveniences and conflicts
inherent in rural life are impediments to the tranqulity Conley expected
to find. Wild beaver, hungry insects and irrepressible fungi challenge
and rebuff attempts at human control, teaching her a valuable lesson: "In
nature an unpredictable element would always reign."
a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around
You, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. 224 pp. Storey
Unlike a diary, which is primarily
an introspective account of personal history, the nature journal is an
outwardly directed record of natural history. Observations and perceptions
of nature and the emotional responses they inspire in the human observer/participant
are its metier. Some nature journals are filled with bird lists and weather
charts; others include sketches, drawings or watercolor paintings. Poems,
photographs, newspaper clippings, musical notations and stories are as
appropriate to the genre as scientific record-keeping, mapping and research.
The key element is the focus -- looking outward into the world.
Leading by example, this large
and profusely illustrated guidebook provides "journaling" techniques to
encourage nature observation and recording-keeping in many forms. Educational
in its approach and content, it's an exceptionally good tool for teachers
and students of many fields, from botany and biology to creative writing
and sketching. The final chapters of the book are dedicated to teaching
situations and there's even a suggested scale for assessing nature journaling
"My life work has focused mostly
on training teachers and youth leaders in natural history and helping foster
basic environmental literacy among our citizens," write Charles Roth, who
co-authored the text with Clare Walker Leslie. "Clare has stimulated hundreds
of people to begin keeping nature journals; we have even taught some nature
observation workshops jointly in the past. As a journalist I tend to be
more writer than artist; for Clare, it's just the reverse."
Leslie's wonderful nature sketches
and artwork steal attention away from the textual elements in thise guide,
and it's difficult to imagine any reader not being tempted to try at least
a few of the drawing exercises. The second edition (2003) includes a 32-page
color portfolio of Leslie's work that almost any nature journalist will
want to emulate. Beside the drawings and the excerpts, often inserted as
sidebars, are tips on setting up a nature study, keeping naturalist records,
conducting biological research or identifying plants and wildlife.
With Henry: Based on the Life and Works of Henry David Thoreau, by
Thomas Locker. 32 pp. Fulcrum Publishing,
This marvelously illustrated
storybook for young readers follows the naturalist Henry David Thoreau
on a solitary journey through a 19th century wilderness that greatly resembles
the Hudson River Valley. Along the way, we learn details about the flora
and fauna of Massachusetts, and about Thoreau's prescriptions for living
in harmony with nature.
Author and illustrator Thomas
Locker creates luminescent landscapes to complement his spare and evocative
text, which ably captures the essence of the Transcendalist and conveys
it to a new audience. The following lines, for example, succinctly express
Thoreau's faith in wild nature's divine perfection:
At dawn Henry picked up his
It wasn’t too short or too
It wasn’t too thick or too
Like the wilderness, it was
the way it should be.
Renaissance: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Systems of Nature, by Andrew
McMurry. 288 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2003.
The author of this work of ecocriticism
says his aim is to evoke a dialogue about how human societies make waste
of their environments, and their seeming inability to do otherwise. Considering
our ecologically perilous times, how can we rhapsodize about nature and
pick at the finer points of aesthetics when the very infrastructure upon
which the natural world -- and our lives -- depends upon is being sullied
and endangered? Are we smelling the roses while Rome burns?
"Our current environmental vocabulary
seems to exude a confidence in environmental praxis we have never -- I
repeat, never -- earned: sustainability, conservation, renewability, cleanup
are the high-toned markers in this lexicon. Words like these might prompt
one to suppose that a regime of positive environmental health actually
exists or is on the horizon. But despite what we may hear about the improving
state of the environment, on the scale that counts (the planetary one),
nothing is truly sustained, conserved, renewed, or cleaned up," Andrew
With humanity rapidly outstripping
the planet's capacity to support life, is there anything that ecocriticism
can do besides conduct genteel, specialized conversations about the history
and aesthetics of environmental literature? McMurry expresses his doubts,
but nevertheless produces a work that tracks literary apprehensions about
the precariousness of the natural world and its uncertain future through
the past century and a half in a manner not so gentle or exclusive. Employing
theories of autopoesis and social systems, he seeks to recast the nature
philosophies of Thoreau and Emerson in a contemporary and potentially apocryphal
Both challenging and erudite,
McMurry's call to arms pushes at the boundaries of environmental literature
and demands a criticism that's more relevant and effectual.
Earth: Field Notes in Poetry, by John Caddy. 100 pp. Milkweed
John Caddy's daily poetry journal,
published here as a collection of poems from September 4 through August
31, aims to inspire immitation. He encourages his readers to carry their
notebooks out into the world and to make daily entries in prose, poetry
or whatever form the words decide to flow. "Writing is a physical act;
it is not a thought process," he points out. "Do not wait around for inspiration.
Decide to write an entry a day, then do it. Decision is a way to gather
The poems in this collection
written during Caddy's "daily daybreak practice" and emailed to readers/subscribers
around the world on his email distribution list who are interested in what
he calls "Earth Journaling" -- writing about nature and sharing the results
"without pause" because, he explains, "the elevated mystiuque around creating
poetry is a barrier to many who would like to write but have been sold
a lot of nonsense. So my daily emails are presented warts-and-all."