“In an age when the ecological integrity of our planet is threatened on so many levels, anything that strengthens those connections, or makes meaningful our daily arrangements with the world around us, is a form of resistance, a kind of love forged with home that has the potential to be fiercely protective.” Julian Hoffman, in The Small Heart of Things. Born in the UK, raised there and in Canada, Hoffman lives in Prespa, Greece; the Prespa Lakes area is a unique tri-national park, shared by Greece, Albania, and the awkwardly, absurdly, named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Greece protested the use of the name “Macedonia,” also the name of region within their own country, if you remember Philip and that whole crowd sweeping down from the north). These belles lettres never forget the human history, as horrible as it has sometimes been, soaked in the landscapes.
Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, is something completely different. At least at first glance. Abbey was one of the spiritual grandfathers of the activist environmental movement. He was also, based on these essays, curmudgeonly, cranky, and a pain-in-the-ass. But his writing about the desert of the Four Corners area are remarkable; this a classic of nature writing for a reason; I’ve taken a long time to get to it. He is best on the elemental: water, rock, sky. The heart of the book is a voyage through Glen Canyon, something no longer possible because it was flooded soon after he and his friend made the trip. The American madness about the desert is that we pretend it isn’t a desert; the greater Phoenix obscenity boasts 200 golf courses! And all around them, the evidence of a previous civilization that failed in the dry country stares back at them. With a grin, perhaps. Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, named after explorer John Wesley Powell, who saw the desert for what it was. That naming honor was a bitter irony. Jet-skiers today zoom over the drowned glorious side canyons, Native American ruins, and whole world of habitat that was the canyon. Now we have just this book and Eliot Porter’s photographs. (That’s the original cover above; I like it much more than the softcover I found.)
Birds Britannica, by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey. I discovered this through a reference in the Hoffman and got hold of a library copy on this side of the Atlantic. It’s amazing: a mix of field guide (but too big for that!) and cultural study of the British love of birds. Hundreds contributed to this species-compendium of names, lore, and traditions, as the rise and fall and sometimes rise again of species over the centuries is charted. But let’s not forget the hate: game keepers are the great villains of the piece, slaughtering any- and everything that might interfere with some fucking aristo’s potted hunt. And the egg-collecting sociopaths, who still present a threat. While you may never enjoy any of these birds in the feather, this book should still interest you.