Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac inspired many environmental readers and writers not only to love the little things in nature but also to do what we can to protect them. I first read it as a young speechwriter for a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Leopold’s essay on the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon in 1914 touched me so deeply that I, a nonscientist, took up serious bird-watching and also the study of phylogenetics. Not long after the radio program, “Bird Note,” began broadcasting on Seattle’s NPR station, I suggested the story of the Passenger Pigeon to producers, which lead to a beautiful memorial.
Great nature writing can be a call to arms. After reading A Sand County Almanac, I picked up Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. The conclusion to his introduction, written in April 1967, has haunted me ever since:
“Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages…you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and though the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not…. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot – throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?”
To repeat: Great nature writing can be a call to arms.
Which brings me to the celebrated Northwest novelist David Guterson’s new collection of poetry, Turn Around Time: A Walking Poem for the Pacific Northwest, published by Mountaineers Books in Seattle. It reawakened my love for nature writing and made me wonder: Might poetry be a salve for troubling times? A canticle for disquieting days?