Writing about "fate, community, and nature" must inherently reflect the uneven, less-than-tidy quality of the territory. People, their lives and their places, are wildly different from each other. That's what makes living in community a serious challenge. So a collection of essays that tries to map some common values as it hikes over this bumpy ground is likely to have some jolts and halts. And this one does show the effort of linking multiple perspectives. Yet for me, the effort ultimately succeeds.
William E. Tydeman, in his introduction, finds coherence in the book in the way that the essays portray an emotional connection between the writer, the natural world, and the reader. I can buy that. It's emotion captured me. The authors call up their memories of encounters with nature, and their stories are genuine, unique, deeply felt. They resonate. I'm drawn into their truths. And reminded of my own.
For Marybeth Holleman, it's the simple willingness of a brown-skinned child to befriend a white one. These accidental playmates on an Alaskan beach become a talisman for hope. For Peter Friederici, there is the bare truth of the desert, where now is the only moment and silence is a liberation. And for Susan Hanson, confronting nature's capricious power, there is the balance between danger and security that makes life possible in an uncertain world.
The book is an eclectic mix of style and subject. There is poetry in the mysterious images of geese in Lisa Couturier's effort to comprehend her father, "a man made of birds and trees." And there is simplicity and directness in David Lukas' look back at his career as a naturalist. With heartfelt belief that story can help to save the natural world, Lukas urges, "Our duty is to tell stories that put people's lives in order, stories that work for the age you live in—stories that properly honor the realms of logic, heart, and right relations." He seems to speak to a moral imperative shared by all these writers.
Sharing her personal mythology, Joy Kennedy-O'Neill tells of the wild caves she loves to explore. She reflects on fate and hope in the context of her spiritual community, and a cave becomes the high spaces of a church, or the inner mysteries of the body. Matt Daly, on the other hand, reports on his marriage and his wife's struggle with panic disorder. He is not about the mythological, but the everyday grind of this illness. Yet he finds a useful metaphor in his local forest's recovery from terrible fires. Living in "an altered landscape, open for new growth" is one of the results of conflagration he learns. A trust in the truth of place allows him to take the land as his advisor, as does every author in this group.
Thirteen voices. Thirteen stories. The terrain is mixed, and perhaps this collection could be more gracefully composed. Yet it succeeds as an attempt to acknowledge our participation in the natural world, and its communal circles of life. The book honors the story, metaphor and narrative, that we create from our interactions with life in all its forms. As David Lukas sums up, for both the book and the planet, "Here is the place where we open our hearts, inquire deeply, and gain the grace to treat each other with respect." A worthy goal. And this is a worthy effort.
Check out our interview with the author of To Everything on Earth.
At the invitation of Barry Lopez, all the authors of this book participated in a writing conference in 2004, sponsored by Texas Tech University. This was a seminal event for them, and they have continued to work together, developing a shared vision of nature writing that balances individual perspectives with the overlapping circles of community. The three editors are all on staff at TTU, and more information about them and this project is available on the Texas Tech University Press website.
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