Bedtime Snacks: Three for a rainy day

September 9, 2010 — Leave a comment

There are times when you can’t get out into nature or even watch Planet Earth. Then a book about nature may be the next best thing. So here are my top three nature books to bring to a windowless prison cell. [Though I wouldn’t bring them to a desert island where I would have the sunrise and the night sky, and the ocean, and fish, and soft sand, and one glorious palm tree.] Each one is a personal account about a period of time spent alone in nature–in New England, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Utah desert.

1] Walden or A Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau is the grandfather of nature writers, describing the two years he spent in a ten by fifteen foot cottage, living off the grid [such that it was back in 1845]. He’s not solely focused on the creation around him; he philosophizes and talks about visitors too. His style is wordy and for a modern reader used to reading prose edited on a computer, it can take a little effort. But if you only read the chapters on sounds, his bean field, and the ponds, you would get enough flavor of the book and be transported to the New England woods.

2] Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey
I first read Desert Solitaire in preparation for a trip out west. Abbey was a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah in the 50s. He is the most curmudgeonly of this trio, with a few rants about insensitive tourists [one chapter is titled “Industrial Tourism and the National Parks”]. But he loves the land and can wax eloquent rocks and water and mornings in the desert. It’s a short easy read that may make you squirm a little.

3] Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

Dillard’s style is more poetic and reflective than the other two as she follows a chronological year along Tinker Creek. She has a special knack for connecting nature to God–in fact she called this book a theological treatise and says she is “a poet and a walker with a background in theology and a penchant for quirky facts.” She’s big on bugs and on exposing the harsher side of the natural world. Sometimes Pilgrim reads like a journal, sometimes like exuberant poetry. [Eudora Welty, the doyenne of the Southern short story, didn’t know quite what to make of the book when she reviewed it in the New York Times.*]

I love the very end of the book:
“And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”

Snack bar item: a trio of salads

*Eudora Welty’s quizzical review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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