This afternoon The Forest Unseen and Jay Leutze’s Stand Up That Mountain were awarded the Reed Environmental Writing Award. This award is given by the Southern Environmental Law Center in recognition of books that address the changing southern environment, especially the relationships between humans and the rest of the community of life. Undoubtedly many readers of this blog will know that SELC has been, for more than twenty five years, an extraordinarily effective voice for the protection of land, air and water in the southeastern U. S. I therefore feel particularly honored and humbled to be recognized by the Reed Award.
It also gives me special pleasure to share the award with Jay Leutze. Jay and I met just a few weeks ago when he gave a reading at Sewanee. (I dragged him out in the rain to look for woodcock displays, to no avail, a cold Sewanee baptism.) Jay’s book describes a years-long struggle to keep a huge open-pit mine away from the Appalachian Trail and a local community. At least, that is what the book is about on the surface. But along with the gripping storyline comes a portrait of the people involved in the case: neighbors who’ve lived on the mountainside for generations, lawyers and judges of all stripes, a motley collection of professional and home-spun conservationists, tireless and sometimes tiresome state officials, and a lively cast of other characters ranging from unsung saints to deluded drunks. Jay uses his considerable talent as a writer to interweave these tales with beautiful descriptions of the history and ecology of the landscape. Let me rephrase that. The tales are not interwoven, but so tightly connected that the strands cannot be teased apart. Stand Up That Mountain is full of memorable images and tells a fascinating story. I highly recommend it. And if you have a chance to hear Jay speak, grab the opportunity. He’s a great speaker and, I now know, a tough act to follow.
The Southern Environmental Law Center’s work is not usually thought of as “art” or “literature,” but it struck me during my visit that theirs is a high form of writing. By integrating love for the land, deep intellectual analysis, massive amounts of hard work, and a long list of creative partnerships, SELC scribes works of lasting beauty on the land, in the air, through the water, and into our communities. Their words are etched deep and form the stories that future generations will read and live by. Noble literature, for all.