Saturday 29 March 2008

nature notes

Columnist John Derbyshire has reviewed American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau for the conservative journal New Criterion.

Derbyshire describes himself as an incorrigible townie, not unlike Dorothy Parker, who wrote: 'Every year, back spring comes, with the nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off ...'

A 'prickly libertarian', Derbyshire also feels that nature-writing has largely been taken over by 'leftist scolds', 'doomsters', 'anti-natalists' and 'noble-savagism'.

Then there's the prose itself. Too often, he finds it resembles William Boot's nature column in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop: 'Feather-footed through the splashy fen passes the questing vole ...'

What, then, he asks, is there to like in American Earth? The answer: 'Quite a lot, actually.'

Top marks go to Barry Lopez on the stranding of a pod of sperm whales, Annie Dillard on evolution and E.O. Wilson on the social insects of Surinam. There are special commendations for Edward Abbey on the Park Ranger's life, John Burroughs on seeing things, Caroline Henderson on the Oklahoma dustbowl and William Cronon on the New England ecosystem.

Bottom marks, however, go to some big names: Gary Snyder ('poseur') , Teddy Roosevelt ('bumptious') and Thoreau ('unreadable').

More here.

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