Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
by Kathleen Dean Moore

Trumpeter Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-590-30771-7.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 05/17/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

I have to confess up front: I was afraid to read this book. Not because I don't know and love Moore's thinking and writing; I do. Her essay, "Testimony of the Marsh," from her book Holdfast is one of my favorites ever. I teach it in my creative writing workshops as an example of how to use lyrical nature writing to reveal truths at the heart of life. So I picked up Wild Comfort in delighted anticipation, until I read this in her introduction:

I had set out to write a different book. I had begun to write about happiness... But events overtook me. I guess that's how I'll say it. That autumn, events overtook me, death after death, and my life became an experiment in sadness.

I couldn't read more. I closed the book. For the past eight months, since my husband began seeing birds and was eventually diagnosed with brain cancer, my life has been an experiment in sustaining courage and balance. I didn't want to read about grief, sadness or any of their relatives. I wanted that book on what makes a person happy.

A few days later, I picked up Wild Comfort again. And reading on, I drank it in like a healing draught, like the smell of rain bringing life to my drought-stricken desert valley. This slender collection of essays moves as powerfully and inevitably as a tide, inching in, rising ever-so-slowly under me, until I am buoyed by the strength and truth that flow through Moore's words. It is like the sun shining through a gap in the clouds, spotlighting the exact place that makes us stop and stare, overcome with awe at how beautiful life is. Wild Comfort may be rooted in grief, in loss, in darkness, but Moore's words carry us inexorably toward light and hope.

I could quote an insightful passage from every essay, but here's the paragraph from the beginning of the book that hooked me:

Late on the night when I finished this book, I felt my way to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Clouds obscured the moon. I could hear the shifting of the dark sea but could only imagine the surge and ebb of its rim on the sand. Then the clouds slid out from under the moon. The advancing edge of waves gathered moonlight and pushed it toward land. The line of light wavered there, shaking in the wind, then slid out to sea. And so it was, up and down the beach, a rim of light riding in on the swash and slipping back into the night. I was happy then, standing in the surge with lines of moonlight catching on my rubber boots. This is something that needs explaining, how light emerges from darkness, how comfort wells up from sorrow. The Earth holds every possibility inside it, and the mystery of transformation, one thing into another. This is the wildest comfort.


Kathleen Dean Moore lives in a college town at the confluence of two Oregon rivers, and in summer, in a little cabin on the shore of a southeast Alaskan inlet. An essayist, activist, and professor, she brings together natural history, philosophical ideas, and creative expression in a search for lasting, loving ways to live on Earth. Her three previous collections of personal essays all address, as she puts it, "living in the lively places where water meets land," Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, Holdfast, and Pine Island Paradox. Her essays have appeared in journals including Audubon, Discover, the New York Times Magazine, and Orion, where she serves on the board of directors, and many anthologies, including What Wildness Is This, published by Story Circle Network. She is a distinguished professor at Oregon State University, and cofounder and director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word. Moore says she "best loves exploring wild places with her husband Frank, a biologist, and with the young families of their daughter and son."

Check out our interviews (here & here) with the author of Wild Comfort.

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