THERE is a long tradition of "nature writing," typically
literature focusing on the wonders and beauties of the natural
world or at least uniquely including such elements as part of the
scenery. But for some of these writers - Thoreau may be the best
example - nature was a way of examining deeper values.
With the growth of the conservation and then environmental
movements in the 20th century, writers increasingly have explored
the philosophical and spiritual aspects of nature and mankind's
place in it.
In "Nature's Kindred Spirits," James McClintock (professor of
English and director of the American Studies program at Michigan
State University) focuses on five well-known writers: Aldo Leopold,
Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder.
Taken together, they "constitute a community of interest by
sharing a cluster of ideas and values that arise from their intense
relations with nature and which, while consistent with what they
know about science, are political, philosophical, and religious,"
"Their essays, stories, and poems sustain a vision of
contemporary possibilities that counters mainstream pessimism,
fragmented sensibility, politics of self-interest, and spiritual
confusion," he goes on. "Running counter to the main literary
tradition represented at first by Ernest Hemingway and lately by
Thomas Pynchon, they intuit that our knowledge of nature, our
social arrangements, and our spiritual conditions can be integrated
This is a profound observation, and the author thoughtfully and
with a firm grasp of his subjects explores these important ideas -
for this is a book more about ideas than life histories.
There is a larger group of 20th-century American writers,
McClintock acknowledges, who think and write in the same
neighborhood: Wallace Stegner, Sigurd Olsen, Edwin Way Teale, Loren
Eiseley, Rachel Carson, and more recently John Haines, Ann Zwinger,
Peter Matthiessen, Edward Hoagland, Barry Lopez, Richard Nelson,
David Rains Wallace, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Paul Nabhan, Terry
Tempest Williams, and Wendell Berry.
Looking at such a list, one is struck by how many came out of or
adopted the West as home. In considering his five "kindred
spirits," McClintock notes that "they all have overcome the
malaise of rootlessness; they have found places where they feel at
In his Pulitzer prize-winning poetry collection "Turtle
Island," Gary Snyder told readers to "find your place on the
planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there. …