Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting
by Amy Lou Jenkins

Holy Cow! Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-982-35451-3.
Reviewed by Susan Schoch
Posted on 11/24/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Relationships;

With a keen eye on the natural life around her, and on the development of her son, Amy Lou Jenkins has written a memoir that offers an unusual and insightful glimpse into development and change, in humans and in other forms of life.

Over five seasons of outdoor explorations with eleven-ish DJ, Jenkins shows us a boy growing: curious, absorbed, funny, kind, resisting, sometimes engaged and sometimes unwilling, a whole boy maturing in a healthy way. Though she doesn't flinch from allowing us to hear such imperfections as the pre-adolescent arrogance in his tone on occasion, her lovely and loving writing shows the noble intelligence and beauty at work in her son. In a manner both subtle and penetrating, Jenkins has created a paean to him as archetypal and individual boy, and to the natural world of which he is a powerful part.

For women who hope to bring their children with them into the wild world they themselves love, this recounting of just that accomplishment will be inspirational. Some of us err, it seems, by making such moments exceptional. Jenkins keeps it simple, frequent and low-key. Generally mother and son take a day-pack and hop in the car to explore Wisconsin, for a day or a weekend. Their conversations along the way ramble and go deep. These ventures began when DJ was very young, and are certainly meant to nurture Jenkins herself, as well as her son. Her musings on the history and ecology of place, spirituality, aesthetics, motherhood, and the details of animal and plant life are food for her own development. She adds enough fun, and like a good teacher (which most mothers hope to be for their children), she gives lots of information. She does this as she encourages you to look carefully at what is right in front of you, to approach it with respect and let its beauty stir you.

Jenkins' writing has been compared to that of Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold. Her voice conveys her sensitivity, intellectual curiousity, passionate feeling and serious study with regard to the natural world around her. To a Midwestern landscape that can be underappreciated, Jenkins turns a poet's eye. With DJ we notice dark flyers across a winter field, a quail emerging from the summer tangle and shade of a riverbank. She also brings along her own internal scientist and gives us factual and objective data on wide-ranging topics, from whooping cranes to the sociology of Wisconsin's poor children.

From the Dells on the Wisconsin River to ice caves along Lake Superior, from the Kettle Moraine to the Marinette waterfalls and the bluffs along the Mississippi, Jenkins provides a tour of Wisconsin parks and historical places. As a sometime visitor myself, I know that her sense of wonder and appreciation for the landscape is well-deserved. I'll be sending copies of her work to folks there soon, knowing it will encourage them to explore further.

This is a rich book, reflective of an active and thoughtful intellect, yet primarily about parenting with a bent toward environmental gratitude. Clearly, Jenkins hopes to build DJ a solid foundation of knowledge and emotional attachment to the Earth and the living things that inhabit it. From that, all else will flow toward the good, and the good man. Every Natural Fact makes me believe she is succeeding.

Amy Lou Jenkins is a writer, speaker, nurse and educator from Wisconsin. She has published extensively and received prestigious awards including the X.J. Kennedy Award for Nonfiction and the Ellis/Henderson Outdoor Writing Award. Amy Lou has taught at Carroll University and in many workshops and conferences. You can learn more on her website, where there is a video trailer of Every Natural Fact.

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