Exploring our relationship to nature and the role literature can play in shaping a culture responsive to environmental realities, this thematic, multi-genre anthology includes early writers such as John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Mary Austin, contemporary luminaries such as Gary Snyder and Terry Tempest Williams, and newer voices such as Michael Pollan and Sandra Steingraber.
Contents by Genre
To the Student
To the Instructor
THE HUMAN ANIMAL
Our notions of nature start with how we see ourselves and other creatures.
1 OUR ANIMAL SELVES
What is wild and instinctual in our nature, and how do we respond to it? How does this response influence our relations with the outer world?
Mary Oliver / The Honey Tree
Clambering up a tree in search of honey, the writer exalts in the joy of bodily appetite.
William Carlos Williams / Smell!
The poet quizzes his nose on its undomesticated and impolite urges.
Annie Dillard / Living Like Weasels
A startling encounter with a weasel reminds Dillard of the wisdom of living purely in the senses.
Kent Nelson / Irregular Flight
In pursuit of a bird rarely seen in the vicinity, two scientists experience their own mysterious flights of desire.
Lisa Couturier / Snow Day
Two city women follow the deeper stirrings of their bodies and taste the sweet earth that raised them.
David Gessner / Marking My Territory
The author resorts to a crude method to express his distaste for an oversized home encroaching on the wilds next to where he lives.
Lester Rowntree / Collecting Myself
A seed-and-plant collector recalls the wild, free life she enjoyed on her excursions into the field.
Jack London / To Build a Fire
A man traveling in the Yukon on a bitterly cold day pays the price of ignoring his dog’s and his own instinctual wisdom.
John Burroughs / Human Traits in the Animals
The first popularizer of the nature essays reflects on the extent to which animals share with us “the ground or basement story of the house of life.”
John Freeman / Not So Fast
Is it the certainty of our own death that we are soothing with “the simulated busyness of email addiction”?
Jane Hirshfield / Ripeness
Apples, pears, autumn iris, the human body, all fall away with ease when the “clean knife” harvests what is ripe. Meanwhile, can you let your body love this world?
Pattiann Rogers / Knot
In her mind, Rogers takes apart a vista of forest and riverland while her body becomes enmeshed in the scene.
2 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
How do we regard other creatures, and what do our encounters with them reveal about us?
James Wright / A Blessing
A moment of contact with two ponies in a pasture by the road becomes a transcendent experience.
Walt Whitman / I Think I Could Turn and Live with Animals
An ode to the ways in which the poet finds animals more congenial than humans culminates with a ride on a stallion.
Gary Snyder / Migration of Birds
Book knowledge pales in comparison to the real deal, a hummingbird hovering and flitting away north in the spring migration.
Henry Beston / Autumn, Ocean, and Birds, Part 1
The author observes the flights of shorebird constellations and concludes we need “another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.”
David Rothenberg / Making Music with Birds and Whales
A philosopher and jazz musician breaks new ground in interspecies communication.
Sarah Orne Jewett / A White Heron
A nine-year-old girl must choose between her yearning to please a handsome young ornithologist and her loyalty to a magnificent white heron.
Aldo Leopold / Thinking Like a Mountain
Leopold’s classic description of watching a wolf die anchors his argument that humans should avoid interfering in nature’s balance.
Josephine Johnson / The Heart’s Fox
A face-to-face encounter with a ragged fox banishes the author’s private image of the wild creature as an emblem of freedom.
Barry Lopez / Apologia
Driving from Oregon to Indiana, Lopez stops to offer gestures of respect and apology to road-killed animals.
Julia Whitty / Lucifer’s Alligator
Orcas plot rebellion and then revenge on the humans who hold them captive at Ocean World.
Elizabeth Bishop / The Fish
Encountering a scarred veteran of the waters, Bishop takes a close look that ends in exaltation.
D. H. Lawrence / Snake
Waiting at the watering trough for a snake to take a drink, Lawrence listens to the voice of his education and then regrets what it makes him do.
Emily Dickinson / #1400 (What mystery pervades a well!)
The poet approaches nature and finds it unfathomable.
3 LIFE IN THE FOOD WEB
What is the effect of our diet on ourselves and the environment, and how do we eat responsibly? Under what circumstances are we justified in taking the life of another creature?
Elsa Gidlow / Discussing Apples
Observation of apples falling from a tree leads to consideration of the implicate order. Li-Young Lee / From Blossoms
Biting into “the round jubilance of peach” prompts the poet to celebrate all that proceeds from blossoms.
David Mas Masumoto / Memories of Taste
Remembering the flavor of fruit plucked in the backyard, the author laments the passing of such riches from the world.
Gary Paul Nabhan / Purging the Canned, Making Room for the Fresh
Nabhan goes on a crusade to rid his cupboards of processed foods from the industrial food system while planting native crops.
Wendell Berry / The Pleasures of Eating
A writer who has devoted considerable attention to the agricultural economy in America explains how and why to eat responsibly.
Camille Kingsolver / Taking Local on the Road
Can college students eat responsibly? One of them points out that if a lot of them started to, they could affect the future of the planet.
Sandra Steingraber / Tune of the Tuna Fish
When Steingraber’s daughter requests a tuna salad sandwich, the author talks with her about mercury in fish and the link to coal-fired power plants.
Henry David Thoreau / Higher Laws
Thoreau considers his diet and the impulse he once felt to seize a woodchuck and devour him raw, and offers his opinion on hunting and on eating meat.
Joyce Carol Oates / The Buck
An elderly woman in rural New Jersey tries to save a buck wounded by a bow hunter.
Joel Salatin (interview), Sunaura Taylor / Should We Eat Animals?
An interview with a foodie farmer and an essay by a vegan animal rights activist air both sides of the question of whether eating meat has a place in a sustainable diet.
We work out our connections to nature in the particular place or places on earth where we spend our lives.
4 IMPRINT OF THE LAND
How does the experience of place affect our inner lives? How are we affected by natural versus artificial environments?
Kenneth Rexroth / Incarnation
Alone in a high mountain meadow, the poet is transfixed by an erotic memory that fuses with the splendor of the place.
Langston Hughes / The Negro Speaks of Rivers
A mythic narrator whose life spans eons and continents celebrates an intimate connection with the great rivers of Africa and America.
bell hooks / Touching the Earth
Restoring contact with the natural world is the necessary foundation for black empowerment, according to hooks.
Linda Hogan / What Holds the Water, What Holds the Light
A walk up a damp hill reminds Hogan of the gifts offered by earth and sky—gifts few of us truly know how to receive.
Luther Standing Bear / Nature
A Lakota Sioux recalls his ancestors’ view of nature and their place therein, and contrasts it with the white mindset.
John Muir / A Wind-Storm in the Forests
A close observer of and crusader for wild nature rides out an exhilarating Sierra storm in the top of a wind-tossed spruce.
Pam Houston / A Blizzard Under Blue Sky
A woman suffering from depression finds hope and renewed joy on a winter camping trip.
Wallace Stevens / The Snow Man
To accurately perceive a winter landscape, one must cultivate “a mind of winter,” says Stevens.
Jack Kerouac / Alone on a Mountaintop
An icon of the Beat Generation glories in the solitude he finds as a fire lookout on a peak in Washington’s North Cascades.
Kalle Lasn / Mood Disorders
The founder of Adbusters magazine wonders what it means for people and planet to have our lives shaped almost entirely by the electronic mass media environment.
Richard Louv / A Walk in the Woods: Right or Privilege?
The man who coined the term nature deficit disorder asserts that the right to walk in the woods is fundamental to children’s ability to learn, along with their physical and emotional health.
Alberto Ríos / The Secret Lion
Two junior high kids venture beyond the Arizona arroyo they usually play in and find heaven—only to lose it again.
Robert Duncan / Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
When you stare off into space, where do you go?
Amy Lowell / Lilacs
An imagist poet celebrates the scent of lilacs wafting over New England in May in this ode to spring fever.
William Stafford / Maybe Alone on My Bike
Being on a bicycle affects the way Stafford experiences the landscape he rides through.
5 ON HOME GROUND
What do we know about the place where we live, and what are our responsibilities—as individuals and communities—toward it?
Wendell Berry / Stay Home
Berry exhorts the reader—and himself—to stay home and lead a patient, watchful life.
Scott Russell Sanders / Buckeye
Memories of his father and of the country in northeastern Ohio where he grew up, subsequently flooded by a dam, prompt Sanders to reflect on the need to celebrate home ground before it’s gone.
Douglas W. Tallamy / Blending in with the Neighbors
An entomologist who has elucidated the case for planting native species to sustain local wildlife advocates leading by example.
Judith Larner Lowry / Keeper of the Temple Grounds
A purveyor of native seeds wonders whether it’s preferable to isolate oneself in a meditation hall or to trace patterns in the bark of a coast live oak and inhale its subtle odors.
Pat Mora / Curandera
A day in the life of an indigenous healer is passed in living, breathing harmony with her desert home.
Ofelia Zepeda / It Is Going to Rain
A scholar of the Tohono O’odham language offers indigenous wisdom about the signs of rain.
Ellen Meloy / The Flora and Fauna of Las Vegas
A summer road trip to Las Vegas satisfies Meloy’s curiosity about the city’s uses of the Colorado River, “the force that pulsates the neon through the tubes.”
Robert Smithson / The Monuments of Passaic
A tongue-in-cheek exploration of his home ground, the urban-industrial landscape of North Jersey, is offered by a conceptual artist known for his earthworks.
Robert Frost / A Brook in the City
Frost speculates about the psychic cost to city dwellers of throwing a brook into a “sewer dungeon” when a city expands to encompass what was once farmland.
Washington Irving / Rip Van Winkle
A hen-pecked husband strolls away from a Catskill Mountain village into the woods, drinks an unidentified beverage, and wakes up twenty years later to experience the changes time has wrought on his home ground.
John Daniel / A Word in Favor of Rootlessness
Adopting the role of devil’s advocate, Daniel points out some pitfalls of settling into one place and praises the potential benefits of rootlessness.
6 POLITICS OF PLACE
What impact do politics and the power of one group over another have on particular places and our experience of them?
Rita Dove / Crab-Boil
A crab-boil on the beach gives a young girl insight into the mind-set behind segregation.
Margaret Walker / Sorrow Home
With roots deep in the lush landscape of the South, the speaker is kept away from her “sorrow home” by the symbols of racial hatred.
Denise Chávez / Crossing Bitter Creek
A desert woman abandons herself to a week-long river trip and wonders if she is the only Mexican rafting the Colorado River.
Louis Owens / The American Indian Wilderness
A scholar with an American Indian heritage begins to understand wilderness as nothing but “a figment of the European imagination.”
Rick Bass / Wolf Palette
Reintroducing the wolves to Yellowstone took a massive political campaign and has unexpectedly brought color back to the landscape.
Edward Abbey / Shadows from the Big Woods
Abbey urges resistance to the “technoindustrial juggernaut” that destroyed the woods of his childhood and threatens all forms of life “in the name of Power and Growth.”
Paolo Bacigalupi / The Tamarisk Hunter
A bounty hunter paid by the Bureau of Reclamation to eradicate tamarisk witnesses the consequences of California’s water grab in a drought-stricken West.
Terry Tempest Williams / The Clan of One-Breasted Women
Tolerating blind obedience in the name of patriotism or religion can be fatal, according to a woman who wonders about the connection between aboveground nuclear testing and the high rate of breast cancer in her family.
Winona LaDuke / Uranium Mining, Native Resistance, and the Greener Path
Native America, which traditionally has borne the brunt of of uranium mining, could lead the way to a green future with windmills on native lands.
Linda Hasselstrom / Making Pottery Out of Sewage
Shipping incinerated raw sewage from Minnesota to South Dakota doesn’t seem to solve any problems and instead illustrates the adage that there is no “away” anymore.
Paul Lindholdt / In the Shadow of the Government’s Blind Eye
Lindholdt’s employment at a chemical processing plant opens his eyes to the fact that doing the wrong thing by the environment has garnered material rewards for defense contractors.
Kimiko Hahn / The Calf
The co-owner of a family nursery business in India comments on the effects of rapid industrialization and questions who benefits.
ECONOMY AND ECOLOGY
Our economic ideas and values ultimately have consequences for the planetary ecosystem of which we’re a part.
7 GETTING AND SPENDING
How do our individual decisions about how to earn and spend money affect our own well-being and that of the world?
William Wordsworth / The World Is Too Much with Us
A romantic poet reacts to the way the Industrial Revolution separated humans from nature.
B. Traven / Assembly Line
A New York entrepreneur tries to entice a Mexican basket maker to become a cog in the wheel of industrial capitalism.
Jimmy Santiago Baca / Work We Hate and Dreams We Love
A Native American construction worker dreams of a more primitive life while laboring for the dollar.
Theodore Roszak / “Take This Job and Shove It”
What are the ecological implications of the fact that “not many of us work at a true vocation”?
Curtis White / The Ecology of Work
Environmentalism can’t succeed until it confronts the destructive nature of modern work, in White’s opinion.
Herman Melville / The Tartarus of Maids
A tale by an American literary giant illustrates the rampant exploitation of women, labor, and the environment that occurred during the industrial revolution in nineteenth-century New England.
Rebecca Solnit / The Wal-Mart Biennale
Solnit questions the acquisition by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton of a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates for her Crystal Bridges Museum.
Donella Meadows / Living Lightly and Inconsistently on the Land
Living a life based on the idea of sufficiency, Meadows strives to be the best global citizen she can be without also being a pain in the neck.
Juliet Schor (interview) / Tackling Turbo Consumption
In an interview, the author of The Overworked American discusses the impacts of unsustainable consumption and what sustainable consumption would look like.
Susan Hanson / Simple Thoughts on Having Enough
A woman asks herself how much is enough and counts her wealth in encounters with the familiar wild.
Allen Ginsberg / A Supermarket in California
Three unruly poets wander the abundantly stocked aisles of that most American of consumer institutions.
8 NATURE AS COMMODITY
What does our use of “natural resources” say about who we are and what we value and believe?
Billy Collins / The Golden Years
A popular poet meditates on American ideas of retirement and subdivision development.
Louise Erdrich / Line of Credit
Philandering real estate developer Jack Mauser sets his sights on the first open land past the last mall in town.
Wallace Kaufman / Confessions of a Developer
Kaufman, a developer and a conservationist both, looks at prejudice against developers and suggests understanding and accepting the development urge.
W. S. Merwin / Rain at Night
Merwin laments the greedy cutting of trees so cattle could be grazed on a piece of tropical land.
Tim McNulty / Coyote at the Movies
In a typical prank, Coyote turns the commoditization of nature on its head.
Thomas Merton / Rain and the Rhinoceros
An American spiritual master contemplates the collision between his own valuing of rain as “a festival” and the modern idea that “what has no price has no value.”
William J. Lines / Money
An Australian writer trained in economics explores why money becomes a problem when we talk about the value of nature.
Wallace Stegner / Wilderness Letter
In a letter commenting on a government report, Stegner makes an argument for wilderness preservation based on spiritual values.
David W. Orr / Reflections on Water and Oil
An educator who coined the term ecological literary enumerates the ways in which oil has undermined our intelligence and argues for making water central to education.
9 PERIL AND RESPONSE
What are the prospects for the human enterprise given our current ways of thinking about the world?
Ralph Waldo Emerson / Blight
Emerson laments in verse how the nectar and ambrosia of nature are withheld from “we thieves and pirates of the universe.”
Mary Austin / The Last Antelope
A shepherd and an antelope he befriends are “breathed upon by that spirit which goes before cities like an exhalation.”
Rachel Carson / Of Man and the Stream of Time
In a college commencement address, Carson focuses on our attitude toward nature and suggests that replacing arrogance with humility is essential.
Robinson Jeffers / Passenger Pigeons
Addressing a personified Death, Jeffers argues ironically that because of our godlike accomplishments, humans could not possibly meet the same fate as the passenger pigeon.
E. O. Wilson / Denial and Its Risks
In a letter to an unnamed Southern Baptist pastor, the distinguished Harvard biologist counters an exemptionalist argument by suggesting that saving Earth’s biodiversity is essential to human well-being.
Joseph Bruchac / The Circle Is the Way to See
Bruchac retells a traditional Native American trickster story and comments that American society takes too much and needs to see the world in terms of circles and cycles rather than linear progress.
David James Duncan / No Great Things
Duncan employs a fly-fisherly strategy for making a difference based on his boundless faith in love.
Derrick Jensen / Forget Shorter Showers
Advocating organized political resistance to an industrial economy that is “killing the planet,” Jensen points out the problems with hoping that personal change will make social change.
Michael Pollan / Why Bother?
A “liberal foodie intellectual” argues that even though whatever we can do personally will seem like a drop in the bucket, profound changes in the way we live—starting with growing our own food—are called for.
Barbara Kingsolver / Reconstructing Our Desires
What is the honorable choice in the face of knowing that burning the world has consequences? Kingsolver suggests powering down. Sharman Apt Russell / The Apocalypse: Not in My Backyard
A woman just says no to the specter of environmental catastrophe and instead gets busy with a little local activism.
James Hansen / Activist
A taciturn NASA scientist from the Midwest traces his involuntary evolution into an activist who has been arrested for drawing attention to problems of fossil fuel addiction.
James Howard Kunstler / Wake Up, America. We’re Driving Toward Disaster.
Kunstler suggests that dramatically reorganizing our daily activities will be necessary in the face of our global energy predicament.
John Francis / Oil on the Water
Having been spurred by a 1971 oil spill to stop riding in motorized vehicles, Francis is reminded again by the 2010 BP oil spill that we need to look honestly at the hidden costs of our oil economy and take responsibility for our personal choices.
Amory Lovins / Imagine a World . . .
“Environmentalism’s most optimistic guru” paints a vision of a green future and suggests we can make it come to pass if we combine our efforts.
Index of Authors and Titles