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.
Some news about Cudzoo Farm and The Forest Unseen:
Sarah has opened a new page on her soap website for sales and specials. These special prices on organic goat-milk soaps will be offered only intermittently, so I encourage you to investigate them now. Currently, she has a Five-for-four Special and an Ugly Duckling Assortment. Great soaps, fabulous prices: from our hard-working herd of goat princesses.
From soaps to books. The Times (London) has published a list of recommended reading for Lent. I was surprised and delighted that Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, chose The Forest Unseen. She writes that the book “is not a religious book, but [Haskell’s] careful observation of a one-square-metre patch of Tennessee forest over a year teaches us something vital about training our attention on the world around us, to see what we usually miss. That sense of attention and focus is central to all Lenten practices.” Is there a parallel between the study of natural history and the Lenten disciplines? This is an interesting idea. Within their own traditions they are both seen as practices that help us to pay attention to what matters: snails on one hand, the divine on the other (and a few of us think that some snails are themselves simply divine). Both practices are also often misunderstood as dour and outdated (Lent? Names of birds? How Victorian…), yet they have within them the potential for unrivaled connection to the world beyond and within ourselves (if such worlds exist, of course…). I’m intrigued by this Lenten connection and honored to have The Forest Unseen highlighted as helpful to those engaged in meditative practices.
I’ve also received some other good news about the book. A French translation will shortly be underway, joining ongoing translations into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. I grew up in France and I’m especially happy that the book will be available to French readers. Schools in France used to (and maybe still do) celebrate the work of Jean-Henri Fabre, a close observer of the ecology of his home and prolific author. So I hope that my approach might fall on some ready ears, even if mine is a vastly more modest contribution (in many ways) than that of Fabre.
Last, readers of Ramble might be interested to know that this is the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count. From Feb 15-18 we’re all encouraged to submit checklists of the birds that we see in our neighborhoods. Last year the count collected over one hundred thousand checklists (!) comprising 17.4 million individual bird observations: a rich source of data on the populations of North American birds. This year the project has gone global and is connected to ebird.org, an amazing site that “crowd-sources” data (hundreds of millions of observations to date) about birds. So our bird sightings are now both rewarding for us as individuals and they can contribute to a better understanding of global ecological patterns. I encourage you to participate. The count is set up for non-specialists including beginning birders, so do not feel that you have to be an “expert” in order to join the project.