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Egret, the oldest independent
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Egret, Vol. 65, #1
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"Now I'm in the
Big Woods, sitting in the shade of
the old basswoods. How they whisper in the breeze! The water in the log
pool is dark and foreboding. A fine scum rests against the upstream
edge of the logs. How long have they lain in their watery grave? Two
red-tail hawks soar on silent wings; around and around they go. Are
they related to the hawk we watched on my first trip here more than
forty years ago? I'd like to think so. A splash in the scum breaks the
spell. I look down to see ripples where a trout took a fly."
from "The Spring That Runs
Prior to the
compass, winds and their different
characteristics were used to understand direction itself. The ancient
Greeks noted that the south wind was dry and hot when it came from the
direction of the winter sunrise (a little north of southeast) and moist
and hot when it came from the direction of the winter sunset (a little
north of southwest). The direction the wind had come from and the wind
itself were one and the same, so that the cold northerly wind was
called Boreas, a word also used to mean north.
What if rather
than watcher and watched - subject
and object - the intersection of hunan and nonhuman was reframed as an
encounter? This is not to suggest that there wouldn't be power
relations laden in such a meeting, but rather that there would be
recognition of both the human and the nonhuman as participants in this
dance... Understanding the meeting as an encounter would not deny all
the practices that have shaped the lives of both nonhumans and humans
alke, such that we arrive at this place and this moment. It wouldn't
separate us from them.
As a species,
we are most animated when
our days and nights on Earth are touched by the natural world. We can
find immeasurable joy in the birth of a child, a great work of art, or
falling in love. But all of life is rooted in nature, and a separation
from that wider world desensitizes us and diminishes our bodies and
we heard the sound
of barking -
the snuffling nose that pheasant hunters prize -
the labrador, quartering, flushing, marking.
I glimpsed the wolfish hunger in your eyes
as Feeney zigzagged through the rows of trees,
kicking out flustered hens on either side.
From the dry switchgrass whispering at my knees
two roosters vaulted skyward, and they died.
is erased from the
edges of the sky on a May morning. The sun prepares to transform the
canyon. The bluer tones of dawn will soon lift and reveal the earthy
colors soaked into the rocks. Into the soft morning light, six friends
set off on
the South Kaibab Trail.
|Tales of a River Rat:
Along the Wild Mississippi, by Kenny Salwey. 256 pp. Fulcrum,
The "Wild Mississippi" in this collection of essays is the backwaters
of the Upper Mississippi River in Minnesota and Wisconsin, some six
thousand acres of seasonally flooded hardwood swamps and heavily
forested uplands. Though wild and undeveloped and largely unspoiled,
this land is in constant earshot of one of North America's noisiest
This has been the domain of nature writer, storyteller, river
guide and environmental educator Kenny Salwey for more than three
decades. He describes it in first person prose, as if dictating en
The subject of a 2004 BBC documentary in its Natural World Collection,
Salwey is often referred to as the "last of the river rats," a rare
breed of people who pretty much live off the land in this harsh
Salwey's essays are predominantly autobiographical present
stories of his life in the wild - running a trapline, training a
hunting dog, studying wildlife, guiding birders, fishing for trout,
encountering bears and muskrats, and getting lost in a blizzard.
There's also a handful of his poems in the book and even a recipe for
The Natural Navigator:
The Rediscovered Art of Letting Nature Be Your Guide, by Tristan
Gooley. 320 pp. Linden Publishing, 2012.
British expeditionist Tristan Gooley has sailed across oceans,
flown between continents, and climbed many of the world's
mountains using the natural navigation skills described in this book.
While humans have been making their way from place to place for a
millennium, there is no record of how the earliest travelers navigated,
or how often they got lost. Accounts of navigation methods don't show
up in any culutre's literature until about a thousand years ago.
Gooley's obsession with the art of navigation began as an empowered
10-year-old sailing a dinghy. "I had garnered the skills to go wherever
I wanted. Not where my teachers told me to go, not where my parents
wanted me to go, but where I wanted to go."
This book explains how to find your way without GPS or even compasses,
but with shadows, stars, tides, plants, clouds, the moon, the sun and
wild animals. Also known as ‘wayfinding,’ natural
navigation techniques can be used on land, sea or in mid-air.
Governing the Wild:
Ecotours of Power, by Stephanie Rutherford. 288 pp. University of
Minnesota Press, 2011.
National parks, natural history museums, nature-based theme parks and
nature documentaries not only share information about the environment
but also define and regulate our understanding of the natural world.
The essays in this volume demonstrate how these cultural institutions
tell stories of "nature threatened, managed, and recuperated" to the
exclusion of other kinds of tales so that "other ways of encountering
nature are rendered unthinkable, other stories unsayable."
Stephanie Rutherford, editor of the volume, suggests an alternative
“What if rather than watcher and watched - subject and object
the intersection of human and nonhuman was reframed as an encounter?
This is not to suggest that there wouldn't be power relations laden in
such a meeting, but rather that there would be recognition of both the
human and the nonhuman as participants in this dance. Of course, the
animals that the ecotourists travel to Yellowstone to see are unfree in
some sense, rooted as they are in place by not only the boundaries of
the national park but also the human practices that have destroyed
their habitats. However, understanding the meeting as an encounter
would not deny all the practices that have shaped the lives of both
nonhumans and humans alike, such that we arrive at this place and this
moment. It wouldn't separate us from them.”
The Nature Principle:
Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, by Richard Louv. 352 pp.
Algonquin Books, 2012.
“As a species, we are most animated when our days and nights
Earth are touched by the natural world. We can find immeasurable joy in
the birth of a child, a great work of art, or falling in love. But all
of life is rooted in nature, and a separation from that wider world
desensitizes us and diminishes our bodies and spirits.”
In 2005, Richard Louv identified a widespread ailment in American
children that he called "nature-deficit disorder." In this book, he
describes the same deficiency in adults and suggests some cures.
"In recent years an emerging body of research has begun to describe the
restorative power of time spent in the natural world," he explains.
"Even in small doses, we are learning, exposure to nature can
measurably improve our psychological and physical health."
Finding our way back to nature is the problem. Today, for the first
time in history, more than half the world's population lives in towns
and cities and traditional ways of experiencing nature through work and
daily living are vanishing along with hundreds of animal species. Where
do we find nature amidst the sea of circuitry in which we are immersed?
Louv has some suggestions:
Begin by embracing with joy the sanguine mystery and beauty of life.
Get outside. Experience the natural world and therein find hope in its
restorative powers and imagine a better future.
Timothy Murphy. 100 pp. The Dakota Institute, 2011.
The essence of autumn on the northern plains of America, and North
Dakota in particular, is bagged and brought home in this collection of
In a preface to his work, the poet explains that hunting has taught him
accuracy of observation and, as a writer, accuracy of expression. Both
skills are effectively employed in poems like "Missouri Breaks":
A blooded dog quarters the feral rye,
and my body's long quarrel with my mind
is silenced by a landscape and a sky
legible as a Bible for the blind.
Inspired by Ortega y Gassett's "Meditations on Hunting," gifted to him
by his father, Timothy Murphy feels "the killing of the game is a
ritual preparation for our own mortality." In "The Blind," the poet
describes an outing with an aging father:
By some ancestral code
fathers and sons don't break,
we each carry a load
of which we cannot speak.
Here we commit our dead
to the unyielding land
where broken windmills creak
and stricken ganders cry.
Father, the dog, and I
are learning how to die
with our feet stuck in the muck
and our eyes trained on the sky.
Experiencing Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim, by Seth Muller. 272 pp.
Grand Canyon Association, 2011.
A narrative about the author's exploration of the corridor trails of
the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this book introduces the inner recesses of
the national park with a mixture of storytelling, interviews and
The National Park Service defines "corridor trails" as those receiving
regular maintenance and patrols by park rangers. At the Grand Canyon,
there are three such trails. On the South Rim, there are the Bright
Angel Trail, the River Trail and the South Kaibab Trail; on the North
Rim, visitors hike the North Kaibab Trail.
"People travel from all over the country and the world for the chance
to walk or run from one side of the canyon to the other - or from
either rim to the very bottom on foot or mule," Seth Muller explains.
"The journey etches itself into the memory of its travelers, to radiate
for years. Grand Canyon guides speak of clients contacting them five,
ten, and fifteen years after a trip to reconnect with their fond
memories of the grandest of chasms."
Muller similarly revisits fond memories and favorite treks accumulated
during a decade of Grand Canyon journalism in this volume, recounting
his journeys along these trails and the rangers, muleskinners, artists,
ultra-marathoners and fellow hikers encountered along the way.
"The canyon challenges us to stare at it and think about it. To
contemplate our own tiny lives."
The majority of birdwatchers are the
backyard variety who put out a
feeder or two and maybe a bird bath of sorts. Unlike serious birders
who may travel long distances to add some rare birds to their life
lists, home-based birdwatchers take enjoyment from watching the species
that come to visit and return year after year. The
Birdwatcher,by Robert Burton
and Stephen Kress (Thunder
Bay Press, 2012) serves the backyard variety with sharp
descriptions of the 100 most common birds found in home gardens of
North America. Field guides to the other 8,900 species of birds
worldwide are available elsewhere, but this one provides detailed
instructions for setting up backyard feeding stations, building ponds
and windbreaks, and choosing plants for the landscape that will attract
birds to the yard.