Luke Wallin, Mississippi writer & musician
Conservation Writing
Conservation Writing: Essays at the Crossroads of Nature and Culture by Luke Wallin Conservation Writing combines several varieties of creative writing in the promotion of conservation goals. Luke’s new book consists of 13 essays, widely published in books, journals, and newsletters, and all rewritten for this volume. The essays present examples of conservation writing, discussions of its craft, and examinations of key ideas in ecology, landscape planning, and environmental ethics which conservation writers need. The publisher, The Center for Policy Analysis, and Luke are offering the book for $14.95 (plus shipping), or for $7.11 as a download, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible – especially writers who would like to apply their skills to conservation, and conservationists who would like to sharpen their inspirational and persuasive abilities.

Pictured at right:

Front Cover of Conservation Writing:
Essays at the Crossroads of Nature and Culture

By Luke Wallin
Published by the Center for Policy Analysis
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Preview and order from the distributor

Conservation Writing:
Essays at the Crossroads of Nature and Culture

by Luke Wallin

A Center for Policy Analysis Book
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
ISBN-13: 978-0-9790276-0-4
ISBN-10: 0-9790276-0-8

Published by the Center for Policy Analysis,
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
85 Old Westport Road, North Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300 (

Order from the distributor at:

Cover paintings by Mary Elizabeth Gordon.
Cover design by Melissa Page Jones (Mdesign)

All rights reserved. © 2006 by Luke Wallin.

No part of the material protected by this copyright notice may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner.

To Mary Elizabeth Gordon

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Introduction
  1. River of Silence (link goes to separate page)
  2. Metaphors that Haunt American Landscapes
  3. John Muir Writing 'God’s Fine Wilderness'
  4. Science Journalism Basics: A Woodcock Singing Ground
  5. Creative Nonfiction: Sharing Sacred Ground (link goes to separate page)
  6. Five Kinds of Environmental Writing
  7. Imagining a Balance of Nature
  8. Conservation’s Observer Problem
  9. Choosing Landscape Values
  10. Which Species have the Best Writers?
  11. How Writers impose Time upon Nature
  12. Two Interpretations of Leopold’s Land Ethic
  13. Philosophy and the Value of Nature
  • Sources
  • Thanks


    "River of Silence": was revised from a version in the anthology High Horse, Fleur de Lis Press, 2005, originally published in the journal BAILE, University College Dublin, Spring 1998.

    "Metaphors that Haunt American Landscapes" grew from the talk "Myths, Models and Environmental Metaphors," presented at the fall 1990 annual meeting of the New England Popular Culture Association, Amherst, Massachusetts.

    "John Muir writing ‘God’s Fine Wilderness’" was revised from "Writing 'God's Fine Wilderness': John Muir in the Mountains of California," in Nature And Identity In Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Anne Buttimer and Luke Wallin, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999.

    "Science Journalism Basics: A Woodcock Singing Ground" was revised from a version in Little Compton Landscapes, The Sakonnet Preservation Association’s newsletter, 2000.

    "Creative Nonfiction: Sharing Sacred Ground" was revised from the version in Far from Home, an anthology of father-daughter travel adventure stories, edited by Wendy Knight, published June 2004 by Seal Press.

    "Five Kinds of Environmental Writing" was revised from "Environmental Writing and Minority Education," in Voices In English Classrooms: Honoring Diversity And Change, Classroom Practices In Teaching English, Vol. 28, edited by Lenora Cook and Helen C. Lodge, published by The National Council of Teachers of English Press, Spring 1996.

    "Imagining a Balance of Nature" was revised from "Science and the Paradox of Harmony,"” a review essay discussing three books on science and environment, published in UnderCurrents, York University, Ontario, Oct. 1996.

    Parts of "Conservation’s Observer Problem" and "Choosing Landscape Values" appeared in Little Compton Landscapes, the newsletter of the Sakonnet Preservation Association, 2000.

    "Two Interpretations of Leopold’s Land Ethic" was revised from the talk "Two Rhetorical Paths to Conservation," presented to the Humanities Program and the Law School, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, August 2002.

    Table of Contents | Top


    For places in need of conservation, a writer’s fresh metaphor — properly contextualized and scientifically unpacked — can enable dramatic success. Take Rachel Carson’s ‘web of life,’ which elegantly joined ‘web,’ with its connotations of structural engineering, to ‘life,’ with its organic associations. This powerful figure of speech helped launch the environmental movement of the 1960s. Or consider Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s ‘river of grass,’ which gave compressed, lyrical expression to the mysterious riverine dynamics of Florida’s everglades, and sparked the everglades protection movement of the 1940s. By examining textual moments when conservation writers broke through conventional views to reveal the fluid world, a writer can grow in craft and wisdom. Carson was a scientist first, and she understood the implications of a ‘lifeweb’ before she discovered the lyrical words; Douglas was a writer, and her felicitous phrase ‘river of grass’ somewhat accidentally pointed the way to seeing the everglades as an extension of the Miami River. These two cases illustrate the shifting ground between science and persuasion, between fact and lyricism.

    These inventive moments prompt the question: Can a conservationist develop a personal approach to writing which will increase the odds of influence? Can such an approach integrate ecological understanding and artistic process? The blending effort is worthwhile, for effective writing must be more than lyrical, and biology must be more than technically correct articles in academic journals if it is to serve conservation goals.

    A conservation writer requires the knowledge scientific ecology can offer about a specific place, but also a sense of an audience with the power to protect local values. The writer requires research, yet no amassing of data alone can produce an emotionally moving document which will engage the will to conserve. For this, a writer needs immersion in subject, to the point where creative connections between concepts and words take place on an unconscious level, then emerge on the page as raw, first-draft surprises. In other words, beyond science and textual analysis, the conservation writer requires a commitment, and a process like that of the literary storyteller, the creative writer.

    All sorts of cultural divisions mitigate against this understanding. Science is taught separately from writing, and is thought objective in contrast to writing’s subjectivity. Ecological science is written in the form of impersonal, technical narratives about data points, deviation curves, and average behaviors. Nature writing, on the other hand, typically features an ‘I’ or narrative consciousness and frames encounter stories about animals, landscapes or seascapes that are deliciously unique. In educational background as well as professional funding pressures, scientists learn to look past colorful anecdotal behavior at species norms expressed in graphs and formulae. Meanwhile creative writers learn to coax their childhood memories and dreams into consciousness, and then treat these as starting points for imaginative invention. With such different concepts about education and practice, it’s no wonder that scientists and writers often experience uneasy longings for each other’s skills.

    At the heart of every conservation project lies a piece of writing which describes the land’s values, lays out threats, and proposes solutions. Whether the scale of conservation is a beach or wetland, a town’s watershed or a bioregional ecosystem, each stage of the conservation process requires intelligent, passionate writing. Someone must express the landscape’s meaning for current residents. This task is always challenging and fresh, because landscapes and people change, and because old language grows awkward and clichéd. New generations need to see — through resonant texts — their land as they feel it, and as it reflects their identities.

    Writers apply creative techniques to such forms as the nature essay (which increases appreciation for places), environmental reporting (which informs about threats), and the community plan (which recommends protective actions). In applying creative skills to conservation forms, a writer needs to know something about the science of ecology, concepts of landscape beauty, and the history of environmental debate. Each of the thirteen essays here seeks to illuminate interwoven strands of culture and nature, either by example or discussion.

    Essay One, “River of Silence,” displays the Nature Writing genre, with its emphasis on journey and invitational description. A report on my conservation team’s exploration of the Connecticut River, it was written as prelude to drafting a protection plan.

    Two, “Metaphors that Haunt American Landscapes,” examines four metaphor families that have played great roles in American thinking about nature and culture.

    Three, “John Muir writing ‘God’s Fine Wilderness,’” considers Muir’s writing with an eye to discovering why his work was so effective.

    Four, “Science Journalism Basics: A Woodcock Singing Ground,” presents a piece I wrote for a land trust newsletter. I introduce it with a commentary on elements which environmental journalism shares with other forms, from persuasive op/ed columns to nature essays and community plans. I discuss strategies for each element.

    Five, “Creative Nonfiction: Sharing Sacred Ground,” tells the story of taking my daughter Eva to my woods and trying to share my traditions with her. It’s similar to a nature essay, but more focused on human conflict and drama; it uses invitational description as a technique for encouraging readers to care for a natural place. This care, if the description is done properly, should transcend differences like the ones between Eva and me.

    Six, “Five Kinds of Environmental Writing,” exhibits a variety of forms through which a writer can explore relations between self and nature.

    Essays Seven through Nine discuss ways to integrate ecological with writing knowledge, at a scale which allows a writer to influence a community.

    Essays Ten through Thirteen explore philosophical issues that arise in framing conservation documents and presenting a foundation for a conservation case. The framework here is pragmatic, and anti-foundationalist, in the technical sense. However, I argue that this position does not entail relativism. The debate within environmental ethic over this issue mirrors the national debate over fundamentalism. Some argue that, without their claims to absolute knowledge, there is no basis for moral behavior. One hears such positions from so-called representatives of religions, often serving as justification for warfare. In the conservation field, fear of relativism is expressed by such statements as “if wilderness isn’t holy, bearing intrinsic value, then a developer’s claim is equal to anyone else’s.” But to begin with the moral conclusion we want, and work backward to the foundation in epistemology and ontology that would secure it, is both dishonest and unnecessary. It is one thing to feel the holy character of a wild place, and another to analyze the language through which writers express it. Muir and Leopold are sometimes cited as examples, almost beyond criticism, of writers who spoke the truth of holy nature, and laid down proper metaphors for its respect and even worship. But close reading of their work reveals sophisticated understandings of the language of nature, and of the audience appeals likely to generate conservation support.

    Consideration of environmental philosophy, in this book at least, is meant to explore the ways effective conservation requires storytelling about places, in addition to merely listing natural and cultural resources as elements in a text. These stories should avoid clichés, and create new metaphors and other tropes which capture ways people value places. The discovery of fresh metaphors happens within a creative writing process, unconsciously and well as consciously; it’s a process enriched by a writer’s training, in addition to rhetorical and scientific knowledge. Ecological knowledge must be gained through working with scientists, planners and citizens with experience of the land and its creatures. Becoming a conservation writer requires solitary practice similar to that of the poet or fictionist, plus reading about persuasion and ecology; but there the solitude ends, and group participation must begin.

    The essays in this collection reflect my attempts to integrate writing, scientific learning, and practical planning experiences. I grew up in a conservation-minded family in rural Mississippi, where my father established the first tree farm in our county. As early as 1950 he taught me the evils of clear cutting, and the need to balance interests of humans and wild animals. During college summers I worked for the Forest Service in Idaho, fighting fires, clearing mountainsides and manning a lookout tower. In college and graduate school I studied Philosophy; I wrote an M.A. thesis on how language refers to the world. Then I took a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and eventually published eight works of fiction, many with environmental themes. Later I earned a graduate degree in Regional Planning, and participated in conservation projects in the deep South, New England, and France. I worked with a land trust in Rhode Island, and as a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth developed a range of courses in writing about nature and culture. As Visiting Fulbright Professor at University College Dublin I participated in a Ph.D. seminar taught by Anne Buttimer, Professor and Chair of the Geography Department. This led to our co-editing and contributing to the book Nature and Identity in Cross-Cultural Perspective, in which twenty authors examine the interwoven concepts of nature and identity in their countries. As a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Policy Analysis, I have worked on integrating conservation writing into policy studies. As a faculty member in the Spalding University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, I have explored representations of nature in creative nonfiction, fiction, and writing for children. These experiences have been a lot of fun, and along the way have suggested strategies for conservation writers.

    There are practical tips in this book, but it’s mainly a series of conversations with my reader as I imagine him or her: writing, absorbing ecosystem knowledge, and making decisions. Writers plan their stories, but discover surprises as unconscious processes take over during composition. Conservationists juxtapose scientific information, cultural claims, and personal desires for diversity and beauty as they create stories of protection for natural places. The strongest conservation writing doesn’t just illustrate planning, it brings an artistic process to the creation of ecological plans.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 2:
    Metaphors that Haunt American Landscapes

    One of the characteristics that make humans so powerful is the capacity to assert that ‘one thing is the same as another.’ This ability allows us to remake the world through creativity, to invent and deny identities, and to find fresh language to express our feelings and hopes for the land. Once master metaphors are asserted, in phrases like ‘nature is divine order,’ ‘nature is an organic creature,’ or ‘nature is a great machine,’ they seem to take a life of their own for whoever thinks about them. They suggest endless corollaries to the unconscious as well as the conscious mind, and they deeply influence our feelings about ourselves in the world. Thus our sense of being-in-the world is partially created, and certainly reinforced, through the metaphors we use.

    As the following sections show, environmental understanding, as well as feeling, rests upon which metaphors control our attention and structure our debates.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 3:
    John Muir writing 'God’s Fine Wilderness'


    John Muir forged a new language for nature in America. As he crossed the bridge from the Christian faith of his childhood to the Darwinian science of his education, Muir adapted the rich language of the King James Bible to the needs of a secular ecological conscience. He made the transition at precisely the right moment for the conservation movement, and evolved a passionate idiom with which millions of readers could feel comfortable. I discuss some of the reasons his essays and books reached into the hearts of his generation, and show why his textual strategies still serve conservation writers well. But Muir didn’t spring from a void. Later in this essay I discuss European writing traditions which provided him with issues, heroes, rhetorical models and even specific scenes for emulation. From a century’s distance, we can see both the richness of his influences and the habitual blind spots which his heroes passed on. Muir’s Background and Achievements

    John Muir (1838-1914) is regarded today as a founder of the conservation movement in America. Born in the coastal village of Dunbar, Scotland, in his early years he absorbed the wild ocean, the fierce winter winds, and the nearness of the fishermen to raw nature. With equal intensity Muir absorbed the strong, poetic language of the King James Bible, which would one day give him a base from which to develop an effective style of his own. He was beaten by his father every day if he had not memorized his assigned portion. By age eleven he could recite the entire New Testament, and portions of the Old, by heart. In that year his hard Cambellite Calvinist father moved the family to the rough Wisconsin frontier.

    After the sixth grade his father kept him on the farm and turned him and his brothers into slaves behind the plow. Denied books, a morning fire, a rest for sickness, he followed the oxen down the furrows year after dreary year. His father read scripture and watched him from the study window. Frost on the clods of dirt, pain in stiff leather shoes, the red sun breaking over the trees, these became formative memories. In those days he watched brave chickadees for lessons of heart. Spiraling geese, wing to wing with their lifelong mates, offered lessons of love. John Muir walked his nine miles before noon, nine miles behind the plow with stringy 14-year-old arms and legs, but with his iron will.

    Against his father’s objections, Muir left for college as soon as he could — age 22. His professors at the University of Wisconsin recognized his extraordinary promise, and despite his lack of basics encouraged him to pursue science or medicine. Nurtured by these men and their wives, Muir learned a good deal of botany and other sciences before he left at the end of the year. He worked on his father’s farm another season, then wandered in the Canadian wilderness considering his future. When he returned he still had no firm plan. Creative with tools and engineering, Muir went to work in factories, designing machines and managing men.

    One day the tip of a file flicked into Muir’s eye, dislodging the aqueous humor and blinding him. Soon the other eye darkened in sympathetic blindness. During the months he spent in a shaded room, slowly healing, Muir determined that the rest of his life would be spent among the things of God rather than the things of Man. He set off on a walking trip from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. This took months, and led him to a fresh view of nature; years later it became the basis for one of his books.

    This fresh view involved an encounter with his first alligator. He was twenty-nine, standing in the still, sweltering Florida swamp, when he looked upon the unspeakable face of the creature with its alien smile. People called it devil-made, for God would not create so foul a beast. But the monstrous appearance pointed to a possibility more sinister than Satan. What if the gator was no exception, but Nature’s rule? What if none of Earth’s inhabitants were made for the human race? The alligator served himself, as anyone could see. But what of the Chickadee, and the Oak? What of the noble mountains — for whom were they made? Not for Lord Man, Muir wrote later on.

    This discovery of Muir’s could be interpreted as his personal rejection of Christianity, in which every aspect of ‘the creation’ was made for Adam, Eve, and all who followed. In that sense the discovery was a stubbornly independent moment in which Muir embraced a portion of the Darwinism toward which he already leaned.

    Muir made his way to California, and wandered the Sierras for weeks at a time. He survived on acorns and a crust of bread, sometimes a bit of tea. Eventually he began to write essays, all of which were later published. Through this he gathered a large public for some successful preservation efforts. The message Americans had ignored from Thoreau just 40 years earlier, many were now ready to hear.

    As John Thaxton has written:
    A one-man-band of a conservation movement, John Muir fell in love with Yosemite Valley and America fell in love with what he saw and felt there, and with how powerfully he showed it. America fell in love with Muir because here was the real thing, the genuine crackpot holy man living in a prelapsarian wilderness, bonding with water ouzels and Douglas squirrels, remembering the glaciers, probably living on nothing but locusts and wild honey, firing out essays the public eagerly awaited. Sometimes he sounded like Saint Francis communing with the animals, at others like Jeremiah declaiming the nighness of the end (Muir viii).
    Eventually Muir influenced President Theodore Roosevelt, who camped with him in Yosemite Valley, and who was in a position to preserve land. Muir appeared as an extreme ‘preservationist,’ which suggests “hands off nature” and alarms many people, rather than a negotiable ‘conservationist,’ with its associations of a mixture of human and wild interests. This radical stance was useful, because Muir provided a left-wing pole for the environmental debates of his time. Gifford Pinchot, first head of the Forest Service, was able to portray himself by contrast as a moderate. Muir despised Pinchot’s policies, such as allowing sheep to graze and destroy meadows on federal land, but the two of them worked in a dialectical way for the benefit of long-term conservation. Pinchot succeeded in protecting vast tracts of land in National Forests under the banner of “mixed use.” Without Muir’s voice demanding purist measures Pinchot would have protected far less land (Lawrence and Garvey).

    Muir eventually co-founded the Sierra Club, and bequeathed the spirit of his religious-sounding zeal to the 20th Century Green movement. But how, exactly, did Muir’s writing awaken the nation?

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 4:
    Science Journalism Basics: A Woodcock Singing Ground

    Most persuasive writing is organized in three parts: first, the writer mentions values shared with readers in an effort to create a bond with them; second, the writer offers new information, something important but previously unknown to readers; third, the writer suggests an action the reader needs to take. The whole piece presents an argument like this: We agree on these principles; here are new facts; in order to apply shared principles to these new facts, you should act as follows. The action might be a vote, or a private effort like recycling; it might be private and negative, such as, don’t cut down those old growth trees, or don’t shoot those birds.

    This persuasive structure is found in many genres: political speeches, op/ed columns, and environmental journalism. It may be blatant and direct, as in election appeals, or subtle and suggestive, as in nature essays or complex journalism. In these latter forms, the recommended action may be to rethink one’s attitudes toward an ecosystem or species. The writer may hope to initiate a conservation process by calling attention to under-appreciated creatures or landscapes, or to newly-threatened ones, and the specific recommendation might be an implied “discuss this with your friends and neighbors.”

    Those who study rhetoric point out that arguments for action arise in response to crisis situations; the writer becomes aware of a valued resource under threat, and tries to change the course of events by sharing information. But there is room within this work for a wide variety of approaches. Nature poets like Mary Oliver and Pattiann Rogers call our attention to living things through the intensity and beauty of their poems; these are what Oliver has called “invitational” rather than “cautionary.” Simply by absorbing them and responding emotionally, we are changed into people who wish to preserve the living things described. On the other hand, if a dam is about to rise, or a forest about to fall, or a roadless area about to lose protection, many writers will make direct and even shrill appeals for immediate action, such as calls to congress. Both kinds of conservation writing are important, even necessary, and a writer needn’t choose. Take the path that suits your temperament and skills.

    I want to discuss how I employed this three-part persuasive structure in the short article below, which concerns woodcock conservation. This was published in the newsletter of a land trust.

    The first step was to establish a bond of common values with my readers. This wouldn’t be difficult, because I live in a small town and I knew many of the organization’s members. They already cared about protection of the wild, and were especially interested in looking after local ecosystems. However, not all of them were familiar with the woodcock, a shy migratory bird. How could I interest them in this particular creature? How could I present scientifically valid information about the significance of local landscapes for a migratory creature?

    First, the editors and I ran a title above the piece saying Science Journalism. Then we ran a banner below this to signal that this was one article in a series: Bioregional Perspectives on Little Compton Landscapes. By creating this series, we hoped to raise consciousness of our readers that we live in a particular kind of place, with very specific biological treasures, which we can enjoy and protect.

    I will number the paragraphs in the order they appeared, and discuss each one.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 6:
    Five Kinds of Environmental Writing

    For years I taught an advanced composition workshop in Nature, Landscape and Environmental Writing to African American, Native American, Hispanic and Portuguese students. During and after the course, they found ways to integrate personal environmental concerns within a wide range of career writing projects.

    I will discuss several kinds of environmental writing. These include the environmental autobiography, the landscape history, the nature essay, and the environmental perception study. Finally I will illustrate the use of environmental writing in the master’s thesis. Development of this course began with the National Rural Fellows program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. My students were mid-career minority professionals, earning master’s degrees in Regional Planning. After two years in that program I continued to develop a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. My students here are of diverse backgrounds, including Portuguese, Cape Verdian, Native American, African American, French Canadian, Lebanese and Irish.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 7:
    Imagining a Balance of Nature

    In the examples of conservation writing discussed so far, I chose the places described for personal reasons or they were assigned. The question of how to choose an appropriate site for conservation effort hasn’t emerged as a problem. And while natural features and cultural traditions have been presented as reasons to value a place, the means of weighing these reasons hasn’t been discussed. The first step could be expressed in the question:

    What balance of nature exists currently in a site one is considering?

    And the second as:

    What balance does one wish there for the future?

    The first question is empirical, to be answered by the best science available. The second is personal and cultural, and requires a story. Developing as a conservation writer isn’t learning to check off a list of natural and cultural values; rather it’s learning to feel one’s way into a well researched and deeply experienced landscape. It’s finding the right new metaphors and balances within one’s emotional as well as rational judgments. Once these questions have been resolved, a conservation writer may contribute to the political process which will settle the fate of the land.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 8:
    Conservation’s Observer Problem

    The Observer in Ecology

    Beyond the light of my desk lamp and computer screen, and the hum of my air conditioner, there exists a coastal hardwood swamp of great mystery. Though I live in the old settled East, not far from Providence and Boston, even closer to Fall River and New Bedford, my garden and lawn connect to a greenbelt teeming with wild life. Coyotes cry to the stars at night, hunt the deer in corridors of wet green, and raid sheep farms in town. Foxes visit my deck when it’s late and quiet, delicately feasting on sunflower seeds I’ve spilled for the birds. In daylight, red-tailed hawks float above the treetops, searching for rabbits and songbirds in the dense growth below. Sometimes eagles drift up there as well.

    The life surrounding us appears as a matrix of information, presenting some events which fit our expectations, and others which do not. In order to focus on one set of relationships, we must exclude others. An ecological study of coyotes in my county must leave out earthworms; as a biologist friend wades the coastal waters collecting invading crabs, and examines their stomach contents to explore impacts on prey species, she ignores ospreys circling above, and mosquitoes grazing her ear. Choices call before the first hypothesis can be tested.

    What then gets chosen? How are some species selected and highlighted? Why are others consigned to the background of scientific attention? These are aspects of ecology’s observer problem. We are used to such a concept in physics, where we understand that spatial and temporal measurements are relative to an observer’s position. And we may realize that in anthropology, the attitude of an ethnographer shapes interviewee responses. But we’re so accustomed to viewing familiar scenes of park or garden, or the turns of a local trail, as nature that exists with or without us, that we’re tempted to imagine all nature in such static pictures. What has this tableau to do with us? Wouldn’t it be the same whether we observe it or not? And shouldn’t it be possible to inventory all species present in such an elegant, well-ordered scene?

    In their book, Toward a Unified Ecology, Timothy F.H. Allen and Thomas W. Hoekstra discuss what we might call an open secret at the heart of ecology. This is that a human observer determines what is recognized and studied, and in this sense valued. The same person who includes certain animals and plants within a frame of reference necessarily excludes other species from the framework.

    In Physics, we recognize that measurements of the position and speed of subatomic particles are relative to the observer’s position. By contrast, Allen and Hoekstra write, “The things we study in ecology seem very real. Nevertheless, ecology is a science and is therefore about observation and measurement more than about nature independent of observation” (13).

    This applies to the things studied, and to those left out.

    Even at the grossest level of decision making, when the ecologist chooses what to study, that act influences the outcome of the investigation. When one chooses to study shrews, there is an implicit decision not to study everything else. In that implicit decision most other things ecological, such as trees, rivers, or ants, are excluded from the data (13).

    Allen and Hoekstra remind us of the story that the entire army of Alexander the Great slept beneath a single Banyan tree. Is this true? It depends upon the observer’s viewpoint: the Banyan extends thin rootlets which touch the ground and begin to thicken and spread roots. Eventually they appear as new trunks. Genetically identical to the original tree, they become either its spatial extensions or an entirely new forest, depending upon one’s perspective. Perhaps for a biologist they would be a single tree, while for the army being sheltered beneath the many trunks and branches, they would be a forest.

    These examples show that the concept of the observer’s position includes more than spatiotemporal location. It encompasses interests, needs, and a way of focusing attention. This way implies a cultural matrix, a language, and a community of investigators.

    Every project proposed by developers rests upon a framework which includes implicit claims about which species matter. To the timber corporations of the American northwest, Pine, fir, and cedar are interesting, while spotted owls are a nuisance. All our activities take place within frames of ecological reference; by attending to how ecologists, developers, planners and others specify these, we may learn to see our role as decision-makers about the ecosystems around us. After all, while local nature is ‘out there’ in an objective sense, frames of ecological reference are the stage sets upon which environmental debates are dramatically enacted. Scale within the framework is determined by grain and extent of the data. Grain determines how small the observed data will be, while extent determines their largest possible size in time and space. Scale in this sense is not about ‘the world out there,’ but is about our measuring conventions. Scientific stories are limited in this way, as are all stories.

    Allen and Hoekstra point out that definitions are primary. Before we can discuss change, we must identify static frames of reference within which change occurs. (For example, if we study change for one year on a farm, we must first draw a line at the edge of the farm property, and another at the end of the year, and pretend not to notice what happens outside this zone.) But as the example about shrews, ants, trees, and rivers shows, specifying an ecological frame of reference always leaves much out, and hence is relative to personal/cultural observer positions. These choices of what to focus upon are subjective in the sense that other options exist initially, but once the choices are made the observations which follow are objective.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 9:
    Choosing Landscape Values

    In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold proposed that we extend ethical thinking and action from fellow human beings to nature. “An ethic, ecologically,” he wrote, “is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.” Limiting our activities for the sake of other species, and their habitats, he called “a land ethic.” When Leopold wrote these words they sounded strange, but half a century later many people embrace the idea. In our wetlands and woods, in our gardens and ponds, we take pleasure in restraint to protect nature.

    The land ethic is widely embraced, as is the land aesthetic — guiding our efforts to promote landscape beauty. Yet these are only the starting points of land protection activities. How do we make practical decisions about when to leave a site completely alone, and when to introduce mowing or planting, for example? And what happens when the needs of different species conflict — how can we choose between them? A first step might be to list the cultural and natural values one respects. Later, one might revise the list as one’s understanding grows.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 10:
    Which Species have the Best Writers?

    The Politics of Nature in a Garden

    My long transparent feeder, heavy with black oil sunflower seeds, hangs from the rose of sharon just off my deck. Purple and house finches, goldfinches and chickadees, yellow warblers and rose breasted grosbeaks all spend their days fluttering in and out of the hedge to feed. Sometimes a rufos towee drops around, or a cardinal, or a carolina wren.

    Aggressive blue jays, like the redwing blackbirds, come crashing in and momentarily frighten all others away. The politics of jaybirds is more serious than it appears through my window: these predators often land on the nest of a different species, and quickly puncture the eggs with their beaks.

    Even worse are the predations of cowbirds, which flip the eggs from another species’ nest, deposit their own, and let their rivals handle the parenting chores.

    High above my feeder a row of maples and cherries provides cover to a range of hungry hawks. Small, quick kestrels perch on a rotten cherry limb and wait with the patience of stone. Huge marsh hawks sail above the leafy crowns, casting their shadows on the grass as if to frighten and flush prey skyward.

    Seldom have I seen them succeed — the thick hedge of rose of sharon, laced with the vines of Cherokee roses, affords excellent cover for the songbirds. But the hawks are always hungry, and always working.

    Down in the grass, three feet below the feeder, a whole group of mammals competes for spilled sunflower seeds. Squirrels, including a pregnant one, a sort of teenager, and a couple of young adults all hover for the chance to do their bit. Chipmunks tunnel underground so they can pop up, sit on hind legs and nibble at the thick seeds. A vole lives in the vinca, and forays out to scavenge among husks when his stomach moves him. Occasionally a long-tailed field mouse whips by. After dark an elegant gray fox visits the deck, gleaning stray seeds one by one with her delicate, measured intensity.

    And there’s one more player in this political scene: my neighbor’s young brindle cat likes to hide beneath my deck. She stretches on the cool earth in the shade, peering through the hastas like a tiger, dreaming of the four-foot leap she’d like to make, so near and yet so far.

    Should I worry about the hawks catching songbirds? It is comforting to think that these species have been fighting it out, each surviving quite well, for longer than humans have walked this earth. While that is true, it may not remain true much longer.

    According to John Terborgh in Where Have All the Birds Gone?, songbirds are disappearing at the rate of one to two percent a year. The reasons have to do with human activities — burning the rainforests in the tropics where some 250 species spend their winters, and clearing land in North America for farms, subdivisions, highways and shopping malls. Given that context, do the hawks have an unfair advantage? After all, they’ve been legally protected for 40 years or so. Many local populations, such as ospreys in the neighborhood where I live, have been helped back from the brink of extinction. While humans have prohibited hunting, banned the poisonous DDT, and built nesting platforms across the marshes, the expanded population of ospreys had been busy hunting, mostly fish. Now some biologists suspect the fish supplies are running thin. And other protected hawks and owls, as their numbers expand, take a toll on the songbirds.

    There are so many humans that any practices to which we take a liking will have major consequences. Americans spend 2 billion dollars annually on birdseed alone, according to a 2002 industry report. A biologist recently warned that “all the grain dumped on the ground is creating an explosion of rodents.”

    In the enthusiasm to protect birds, Americans have drafted laws to cover them all, including cowbirds and jays, magpies and gulls. But while those species coexist very well with humans, some of the delicate warblers and other small birds do not.

    Is this just evolution in action? Yes and no: yes in the sense that environmental changes give selective advantages to some species rather than others; no in that these changes result directly from humanity’s interference. When people crowd the beaches and drop food, gulls and crows follow; along with dogs by day and raccoons and foxes by night, these creatures outcompete the piping plovers, which require open beach to nest and raise young. Of course human actions are part of natural selection, so the “no” above is a qualified one, marking cases where we humans have the impression that we act with free will; this would be in contrast the actions of other animals, which we imagine to be determined by a stream of events. Whether this impression of human freedom is accurate is a separate question from the one discussed here.

    Recently, on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, gulls were attacking and killing endangered piping plovers. State wildlife managers resorted to poisoning the gulls, which brought forth a storm of criticism from demonstrators, and some letters in local papers. One person wrote: “once we start down that slippery slope, of killing one species to save another, who knows where we will end?”

    But humans have been killing the plovers and encouraging gulls for years, through such beach policies as tolerating unleashed dogs where the plovers nest. If one looked at Massachusetts as a whole in 1988, a third of all the land was covered up — with buildings, parking lots, houses, highways, and so forth. Another third was protected by state parks, greenbelts, conservation trusts, and such, while the final third was rapidly being developed.

    This is a dynamic context in which humans are altering nature. While we like to walk on the beach, or sit by the window and watch a feeder, and imagine primordial contests between worthy opponents in a ‘balance of nature,’ such pictures are often illusions. Some of the contestants have powerful human allies, skewing the results to one side.

    In a Massachusetts city the population of free-ranging cats reached striking proportions. Living on the rooftops, raiding garbage cans, catching pigeons, some 40,000 unlicensed, unvaccinated cats roamed free. The mayor, worried about disease, proposed that all cats without collars and tags be picked up. The council agreed, and voted his motion. But citizens rebelled. Letters to the editor spoke for the ‘rights of cats.’ Mayor and council, fingers to the political wind, rescinded their ordinance. The cats had the vote!

    During a recent winter in western Massachusetts, game wardens found the remains of a deer run down and killed by dogs. These weren’t hunting dogs, they were pets that followed their owners to the school bus, and stood wagging their friendly tails as the kids disappeared from sight. Then the dogs formed packs and headed for the woods at the edge of town. Jumping a deer from a thicket, they set out in pursuit. The snow was deep, and the deer managed to keep ahead of its tormentors until late afternoon, when the dogs turned back and headed for their separate houses. After a night of rest, food, and frolic with their owners, the dogs met each other again at the bus stop, and traveled in a straight line to the point where they had abandoned the chase in the snow.

    The deer had survived one day’s running, but now was weakened by exertion and hunger. The dogs picked up the scent and soon ran their prey down.

    This pattern was observed by wildlife managers often enough so that they formed a new policy of shooting any dog observed chasing a deer. Some people thought this cruel and unjustified. After all, these dogs were pets.

    These examples of competition between species, and between individual animals, seem to fit under the heading ‘the politics of nature in a garden.’ They have in common that humans have altered the dynamics of competition.

    Which species are to be winners, and which losers, in the complicated politics of nature in a garden often depends on which side has the best writers.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 11:
    How Writers Impose Time upon Nature

    Any perspective on an ecosystem requires one to consider the passage of time, and the dynamic interactions of species over temporal intervals. Each element or member of the system has its short-term goals, needs, and interests,. For example, the finches’ need for seeds and buds, and longer-term interests as well, e.g., the finches’ need to have many plants and trees succeed in order to provide cover and food in future years. The plants in turn may depend upon a healthy finch population to swallow and spread their seeds. One can come into this system at any point and begin to tell its stories. But how does one know which are true, and which cultural projections?

    As ecologists observe, they attempt to verify and especially to falsify hypotheses. But of course they can only test one of infinitely many possible hypotheses. Complete knowledge of an ecosystem is quite impossible.

    These questions arise within larger temporal frameworks, which direct the focus and methods of conservationists. Raglon and Scholtmeijer have argued that metanarratives, often unconscious yet pervasive, control narratives. For example, all of nature writing, from Columbus to Lopez, assumes the situation of the writer’s mind staring out at nature, describing, comparing, evaluating. This dualism, subject ‘subjugating’ object, ultimately drains meaning from the object, reduces nature to a mere presentation, a lifeless other. Echoes of this original situation arise in metaphysical behaviorism, in which writers deny other minds because they aren’t directly presented, and in the general attitude that developing nature for profit violates no ethical rules because nature is material substance — not a community of living, intrinsically valuable, subjects.

    Raglon and Scholtmeijer suggest addressing the subject/object metanarrative of nature writing through postmodern textual strategies. In different ways, these call attention to the writer’s presence, and break the illusion of invisible, authoritative eyes (the authorial I) appropriating nature as resources.

    Applying this kind of analysis to the temporal dimension of ecosystems, consider three ‘invisible’ metanarratives — cultural time frames that often structure environmental debates:

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 12:
    Two Interpretations of Leopold’s Land Ethic

    The Appealing Idea of a Land Ethic

    For many people, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, captures the spirit of contemporary conservation like no other book. Part One reports wildlife events and seasonal changes on the abused Wisconsin farm which Leopold and his family lovingly restored. Through rich, invitational descriptions and elegantly compressed sentences, Leopold brings his reader to picture a skunk making its way across January snow, to hear the music of cranes circling an ancient marsh, and to smell the sawdust of a lightning-felled oak as the sawyer slowly renders it into firewood. Part I reveals the power of a fine nature writer to make his reader love a particular landscape. His techniques are those of the storyteller, and the detective of nature — unfolding secrets of woodcock and rabbit, of maple and pine.

    By the time the reader arrives at Part Two, enough hints have been given about the Leopold family so that one identifies with their weekend trips to the farm, their efforts to restore ‘the shack’ as well as their fields. The reader deems it right not only that Leopold should protect wild nature there, but that he and his family should find a niche as well. One respects Leopold’s textual imagining of his chosen place, his deeds of preservation, and also the ‘fit’ between his family and the land.

    Leopold has gradually brought us inside his ethical concerns, such as whether he should shoot more than a single woodcock on an afternoon’s hunt; he has presented us with private aesthetic questions, including whether he should chop a maple sapling or a pine. They are stealing each other’s sunlight and soil, and one or the other should go. Otherwise, each will have a stunted life, unlovely to look at, with lost possibilities for fulfillment, even perhaps for reproduction.

    In Part Two, Leopold draws upon his expertise as a wildlife manager to tell bitter stories of the human destruction of other species. Passenger pigeon and buffalo, prairie chicken and bear, and countless other creatures once roamed the Wisconsin woods and countryside. Through his natural and social histories, Leopold portrays a wasteful frontier mentality and culture. Rhetorically, he builds shared values (between reader and writer), and introduces new information, a broad perspective on environmental history.

    These stories aren’t all narrated in an impersonal voice; the most compelling among them confesses his own youthful shooting of a wolf mother, and the transforming moment when he watched the ‘fierce green fire’ in her eyes die. His own act of killing her became a symbol for him of a disrespectful culture of nature. And by revealing that memory he draws us toward his new persona, or self projected into his text. Before the killing he was simply a man of his time, shooting ‘varmints’ or ‘predators’ on sight. But afterward he was haunted by her life, her intelligence, wasted on the mountainside for a man’s momentary diversion. Something was wrong with that man and with his culture.

    Part Three, ‘The Upshot,’ reaches a greater level of generality in its discussion of conservation problems. Here Leopold introduces the idea of a land ethic — as an extension of the gradual ethical progress which moved from Greek to Barbarian, male to female, slave to freeperson, adult to child. It is time, he suggests, to extend our ethical concern to the biotic community (which is what he means by ‘land’).

    This idea strikes many people today as an exciting one. The phrase ‘land ethic’ seems just right to capture a certain quality of conscience, a spiritual state which one might call the will to preserve. It might be contrasted with what one might call the will to develop (in the sense of converting ecosystems into profit centers).

    Aldo Leopold has inspired conservationists for over 50 years, and there is a growing sense of urgency that the land ethic idea should catch on with a wider public and enter general education. In what follows, I consider the first of two very different interpretations of the concept which Leopold offered; later I present the second of these, which I believe is often more useful for conservation writers. The first attempts to base ethical claims on ‘the truth about the world’ — independently of human beings; the second takes a more modest position, and approaches conservation work as a cousin of historic preservation. Each interpretation offers a path to communication with audiences with the power to protect land.

    Table of Contents | Top

    Chapter 13:
    Philosophy and the Value of Nature

    Intrinsic Value in Nature

    The assertion that nature has intrinsic value can seem obvious; after all, who doesn’t acknowledge the intrinsic value of a bluebird, or of a mountain lion? They needn’t be good for something, in order to be valuable in themselves.

    The intrinsic value idea expresses commonsense. But note that it’s a recent kind of commonsense. Bluebirds were once too common to value highly, and mountain lions were enemies in pioneer days. The scarcity of these species has led to a changing of commonsense.

    We have an odd situation: “the intrinsic value of nature” sounds like a matter of objective truth, while acts of valuing particular creatures like bluebirds and lions seem subjective in some way. Claims about people valuing bluebirds and lions are historical ones, events the emergence of which could be dated. While “the intrinsic” sounds culture-free and absolute, “the extrinsic” seems culture-bound and relative.

    In the early 1970s philosophers began to discuss the concept of an environmental ethic, and to ask what the extension of traditional ethical positions to the biotic community might mean. Are environmental problems just a new class of cases for analysis by theories like utilitarianism, social-contractarianism, deontologism, and intuitionism? Or in rethinking the human-land community relationship, are new models and concepts needed?

    By the 1980s intense philosophical debates had begun over intrinsic value, inherent value, scarcity, animal rights, and ecosystem rights. While many issues have been clarified, the debates seem interminable. Leaders in the field still pass each other in the night, using different definitions of key terms, and express anger at each other over misunderstandings. In short, environmental ethics has arrived at the gridlock which has long characterized ethics in general.

    This is a shame, because the work of philosophers could clarify the language and arguments in question, and aid rather than provoke conservationists. Yet the sheer weight of technicality, the multi-year literature of arguments challenging anyone who would become current, and the compressed nature of much philosophical writing, all separate academic discussion from grassroots conservation. Philosophers continually refine their theories, as they should, with conservationists left to their best rhetorical devices.

    I will argue that both kinds of language, of intrinsic and extrinsic value, have important roles in conservation. The writer’s goal is conservation action, which usually requires the consensus of an intellectually diverse group. Even if the reader disagrees with me, what follows will help writers avoid ambiguities, with their consequent fallacies of equivocation.

    Table of Contents | Top


    Allen, Timothy F.H. and Hoekstra, Thomas W., Toward a Unified Ecology, NY: Columbia University Press 1993.

    Allende, Isabella, Eva Luna, NY: Knopf 1988.

    Alverson, William, S., Walter Kuhlmann, and Donald M. Waller, Wild Forests: Conservation Biology and Public Policy. Chicago: Island Press 1994.

    Bluestone, James, Three Affiliated Tribes Program of Economic Recovery from the Impact of the Garrison Dam, Master of Regional Planning thesis, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1986.

    Buttimer, Anne and Wallin, Luke, Nature and Identity in Cross-cultural Perspective, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999.

    Carlson, Janet, et al., "Another UMD History," student essay, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for Professor Wallin, 1991.

    Carroll, Tracy, "Hard Realities on an Innocent Nature," student essay, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for Professor Wallin, 1991.

    "Epistemology, and the Stories of Nature." Environmental Ethics 18 (1996): 19-38.

    Fairfax, Sally K., et al., Buying Nature: The Limits of Land Acquisition as a Conservation Strategy, 1780-2004, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 2005.

    Fazzina, Nancy, "The Town Remains the Same," student essay, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for Professor Wallin, 1991.

    Fleck, Richard F., Henry Thoreau and John Muir, Hamden, CT: Archon Books 1985.

    Fox, Stephen, John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement, Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1981.

    Goodin, Robert, Protecting the Vulnerable, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

    Hallowell, Christopher and Levy, Walter, Listening to Earth: A Longman Topics Reader, NY: The Longman Publishing Group, 2005. Hardin, Garrett, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science, 162(1968): 1243-1248.

    Hardin, Garrett, "Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor," Psychology Today, September 1974.

    Holt, Lawrence, and Garvey, Diane, The Wilderness Idea, 58 minute video, Florentine Films, 1995.

    Jackson, J. B., Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, New Haven: Yale University Press 1984.

    Jackson, John Brinkerhoff, The Westward Moving House, in Landscapes, ed. By Zube, Ervin. H., Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1970.

    Johnson, Mark, Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993.

    Kaplan, Stephen and Rachel, Humanscape: Environments for People, Belmont, CA: Duxbury, 1982. republished by Ann Arbor, MI: Ulrich’s, 1989.

    Kaplan, Stephen and Rachel, The Experience of Nature: a Psychological Perspective, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989, republished by Ann Arbor, MI: Ulrich’s, 1995.

    Kempton, Willet, et al., Environmental Values in American Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1995.

    Leopold, Aldo, A Sand County Almanac, and sketches Here and There, NY: Oxford University Press 1949.

    Lopez, Barry, The Stone Horse, in Crossing Open Ground, NY: Vintage 1989.

    McEvoy, Arthur F., "Toward an Interactive Theory of Nature and Culture: Ecology, Production, and Cognition in the California Fishing Industry," in Wooster, Donald, ed., The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press 1989.

    McIntyre, Alistair, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press 1984; Johnson, Mark, The Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. Chicago: U of Chicago 1993.

    Mendlesohn, Janet, Figure in a Landscape, 48 minute documentary, 1987, distributed by Direct Cinema Limited, Inc., P.O. Box 69799, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

    Miller, James Edward, The Transformation of the Political Process in Claiborne County, Mississippi, Master of Regional Planning thesis, University of Massachusetts Amherst 1987.

    Muir, John, The American Wilderness: Essays by John Muir, Photographs by Ansel Adams, edited by Barnes and Noble Books, introduction by Thaxton, John, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.

    Norton, Bryan G., "The Constancy of Leopold’s Land Ethic," Environmental Pragmatism, ed. Light, Andrew and Katz, Eric, NY: Routledge 1996.

    O’Malley, Monica L., untitled student paper, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for Professor Wallin, 1991.

    O’Neill, John, "The Varieties of Intrinsic Value," The Monist, vol. 75, #2, April 1992. ______ Ecology, Policy and Politics: Human Well-Being and the Natural World, New York: Routledge, 1993.

    Papineau, David, "The Tyranny of Common Sense," The Philosopher’s Magazine, 2nd quarter, 20, 2006.

    Pollan, Michael, Second Nature, New York: Grove Press, 2003.

    Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London and NY: Routledge, 1992.

    Raglon, Rebecca and Marian Scholtmeijer. "Shifting Ground: Metanarratives. Epistemology, and the Stories of Nature." Environmental Ethics 18 (1996): 19-38.

    Ross, Andrew, The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature’s Debt to Society, New York: Verso 1994.

    Rybcinski, Withold, Home: A Short History of an Idea, New York: Viking Penguin, 1985.

    Schama, Simon, Landscape and Memory, NY: Alfred A. Knopf 1995.

    Schweder, Richard A., Thinking Through Cultures, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1991.

    Signorello, Diana, "Lowell’s Massachusetts Mill," student essay, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for Professor Wallin, 1991.

    Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees have Standing? and other essays on Law, Morals, and the Environment, 25th anniversary edition, Berkeley: University of Southern California Press, 1996.

    Terborgh, John, Where Have All the Birds Gone?: Essays on the Biology and Conservation of Birds That Migrate to the American Tropics, Terborgh, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

    Turner, Frederick, Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours, Viking, NY, 1985.

    von Wright, G. H., The Varieties of Goodness, NY and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1963, Ch. 3.

    Walton, Linda D., Creating Effective Schools for Minority Students, Master of Regional Planning thesis, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1988.

    Wolff, Eric R., Europe and the People Without History, Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press 1982.

    Table of Contents | Top


    Heartfelt thanks to Eva Gordon, for wonderful editing; to Tyler Volk, author of What is Death?, Gaia’s Body, and Metapatterns, for all the fine discussions since our faculty days at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts; to David and Sandy Williams, conservationists, adventurers, exemplars; to Marion McPhaul, for friendship and island conversation; to Julian and Adrian Ashford, for immersion in France on their organic farm; to Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, and Abundance, for her friendship and longtime support of my work; to Ellie Bryant, author of The Black Bonnet and Father by Blood, for steady encouragement; to Dennis Pearson, Tom Newman, James Newman, Terry, Brownie, and Buddy Hairston, and Tommy Weeks, partners in experiencing the big woods; to Roy Hoffman, author of Chicken Dreaming Corn, for late night writing secrets; to Kaylene Johnson, author of Portrait of the Alaska Railroad, for spirit like her mountain west; to Betsy Woods, writer of bayou and heart, for sharing both; to Kathleen Driskell, author of Laughing Sickness, for support and co-editing, with Sena, the anthology High Horse; to Katy Yocum, for kindness and tiger revelations; to Karen Mann, for friendship and generous reading; to Ann Buttimer, author of Sustainable Landscapes and Lifeways: Scale and Appropriateness, for sharing geographic projects in teaching and publishing at University College Dublin; to Steve and Ellen Eder, dear friends and fine filmmakers whose Terra Nova documentaries have done so much; to Wendy Knight, for conceiving and editing Far from Home; to Lloyd Kelly, Jr., for endless ideas; to Jennifer Deane, for careful reading; to John Twomey, for many secrets of nature; to Jack & Beth Reed, woods neighbors with a complex forest view; to George Bonno Wenckebach, for the years of friendship and sailing; to Bob Yaro, Andy Scheffey, David Laws, Terry Blunt, and everyone from my time at the Regional Planning Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; to Louise Habicht, Mike Lannon, Ray Dumont, Ed Thompson, Jerry Blitefield, Chris Eisenhart, Rick Hogan, Diane Barense, Phil Cox, Catherine Villeneuva Gardner, and all my supportive colleagues and students at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; to John Cook of the Nature Conservancy, for insight into the Malpai and other projects, and to Phoebe Cook and friends at the Sakonnet Preservation Association, for their dedication to preserving green acres; to Clyde Barrow and colleagues at the Center for Policy Analysis; and to Joyce McDonald and other colleagues and students at the Spalding University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program; to Bonnelle Strickling, author of Dreaming About the Divine, for friendship and insights since the sixties; to Bill Moor, for fierce philosophical spirit; to Jennifer Sherlock and Anitra Carr for their enthusiasim, to Bryson Ley and Marsha Fretwell, Carolina comrades who conserve bodies and spirits; to Ivor Hanson, author of Life on the Ledge, and Christina Carlson, for warm friendship. I thank my wife Mary Elizabeth Gordon for the cover painting, design, editing, and many substantial ideas; Smoke, Clay, Rain, Brooks, and Eva, my children, and Sarah Wallin, my daughter-in-law, for lively interest and support; Skye, Cameron, Sierra, Talli, and Terra Sage, my grandchildren, whose mission, should they choose to accept it, is to apply the suggestions in this book. For financial support during various stages of this work I thank the J. William Fulbright Program, for my appointment at University College Dublin, Ireland, and I thank both the Sabbatical Leave Committee and the Provost’s program of research grants of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. For design and technical support I thank John Souza and Melissa Jones; for formatting help I thank Richard Legault; for administrative support I thank Andrea Davis. Finally, most of all, I’m grateful to my mother, Ruth M. Wallin, for her love of the garden of nature, and to the memory of my father, Luther Wallin, Jr., who practiced sustainable forestry from the 1930s onward.

    Table of Contents