If you read to remember connections with the wild world, which none of us should
lose, then Richard Nelson's writings from the Far North are an essential
touchstone. Whether he is following Athabascan wildcrafters in Make Prayers to
the Raven or deer hunters and animal-rights activists in Heart and Blood, Nelson
reminds us all what it is to be alive and truly engaged with other wild animals.
His reflections about how we must return the taking and preparation of
foodanimal or plantto the status of sacrament are among the most profound
passages written by any modern nature writer. And yet, his capacity for humor,
adventure, and rapture never allows his stories to succumb to the preachiness
found in many environmental treatises today. This is the real stuff, from a guy
who is as precise as any scientist and as woods-wise as the hunting dog alongside
Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Cultures of Habitat
In his classic book The Abstract Wild, Wyoming writer Jack Turner explains how we
lost the wild "bit by bit for ten thousand years and forgave each loss and then
forgot. Now," he says, "we face the final loss." Before reading Turner I could
never have accepted the notion that no other crisis in human history can match
the loss of wildness, including, he adds with shocking certitude, our holocausts.
My sadness over dwindling wildness had been strangely muted until I realized,
with a hand from Turner, that denial of essential nature led inexorably to
Mark Dowie, author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century
Rachel Carson. After some 40 years The Edge of the Sea is still my lodestar.
Memorably, I read that clear, calm work when I was expecting my third daughter,
book propped up on my ample abdomen (but it's her older sister who became the
nature writer!). Then an inland midwesterner recently transplanted to the Florida
coast, I was eager to know more about an ocean that both fascinated and
frightened me. Carson's words were enchanting enticements into a natural world
of which this city girl knew so little.
Not only that, but the book was
exquisitely illustrated with pencil drawingsI remember thinking at the time how
wonderful it must be to be part of such a creation. I read every other book
Carson wrote, admiring her trained scientific observation expressed in an elegant
and eloquent vocabulary. Her erudite charm remains to this day my idea of what
nature writing should be. By a quirk of fate, I later worked with Carson's agent,
friend, and literary executor, Marie Rodell, who truly changed my life by
offering me a chance to write. But it all began with The Edge of the Sea, that
purely beautiful book so pregnant with meaning and life.
Ann Zwinger, author of Run, River, Run and most recently The
When looking for inspiration, I often read Bill McKibben. He's arguably not a
nature writer at all. In his most famous book he wrote, "I believe that we are at
the end of nature." Nature as eternal, as separate, as quintessentially nonhuman,
asin Sierra Club termswild, went out with whale oil. With the advent of fossil
fuels, we began sowing the grand climate changes that are now yielding their ugly
harvest of disasters. And with the petrochemical industry that followed, we began
lacing the global food chain with synthetic compounds.
Today, you and I and
everybody else in the world both human and nonhuman carry a "body load" of dozens
of substances concocted in chemistry labs. Now, our heavyweight species (we've
generated more mass of living tissue than any other species ever) is haphazardly
censoring the genetic library, dispatching life forms to oblivion at a pace
exceeding one per hour. Heck, we've even moved Earth, shifting the axis of
rotation about two feet by impounding rivers and otherwise rearranging the mass
of the globe. McKibben helps me revise my mental map to keep up with the
radically new world we inhabit, a world in human hands.
Alan Thein Durning, executive director, Northwest Environment Watch, and author
of This Place on Earth