Outdoors

The Green Scene

Nature writing’s sage elders

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Robert Michael Pyle is well-known throughout Cascadia as an amiable writer, knowledgeable field instructor and fervent lepidopterist. His nonfiction books, including Wintergreen, Where Bigfoot Walks, and Mariposa Road, have won many awards, and his popular column “The Tangled Bank” ran for 11 consecutive years in Orion. The Grays River-based author reveals a new side with his first collection of poetry in Evolution of the Genus Iris. Many of Pyle’s literary insignia are on display—insightful nature observations, wide-ranging world travels, wit and a generous heart—but these new forms allow him more leeway to be playful with language and leave open spaces for reader interpretations. Pyle reads from Evolution of the Genus Iris at 7pm Sat., May 10 at Village Books, 1200 11th St. Entry is free. More info: http://www.villagebooks.com

It was sad to learn that W.S. Merwin’s planned reading last February in Bellingham had to be cancelled due to the author’s shaky health, but reading his intimate book, Unchopping a Tree, feels like spending time in his hallowed presence. The 89-year-old poet, translator and prose stylist instructs how to reassemble a tree that has been felled, in language that is both direct yet deep with multiple meanings. Part prose poem, part ecology lesson and part Zen instruction manual, Unchopping a Tree shares a mystical blueprint for healing the planet—the intricate, often invisible web of biological life—that our species so casually destroys. The book is made even more unique by artist Liz Ward’s contribution of 11 delicate drawings depicting the cellular life of trees.

Barry Lopez’s keepsake volume, Outside, brings together six previously published short stories by the Oregon-based author together with elegant engravings by artist Barry Moser. Lopez is widely admired for the way he blends natural and cultural history, philosophy and travelogue in his nonfiction writing—he won the National Book Award in 1986 for Arctic Dreams—but his fiction is perhaps more of a secret treasure. Lopez’s prose is expansive and spacious but grounded in the specific details of nature (“gray-white ice,” “salted blood,” “perfume of pear blossoms,” “hollow-boned, crimson-colored shoulders of the bird”). The author often eschews literary expectations in favor of ambience and a deep sense of mystery, of meaning that lingers at the edges of our normal perceptions.

For the past six decades, Kentucky-based author Wendell Berry has thought deeply about the overlapping issues of agriculture, democracy, conservation, social justice and the human spirit, recording his findings in numerous books of essays, poetry and fiction. His latest publication, It All Turns on Affection, contains his 2012 Jefferson Lecture—a lecture series the National Endowment for the Humanities calls “the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” Turning again to the most pressing issues of our time, Berry finds clarity and room for optimism in the ineffable: “Truth, nature, imagination, affection, love, hope, beauty, joy…these words are hard to keep still within definitions; they make the dictionary hum like a beehive. But in such words…we find our indispensable humanity, without which we are lost and in danger.” This slim volume also includes an interview with Berry, as well as a handful of recent essays, including “About Civil Disobedience” and “The Future of Agriculture.”

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