Sierra Club scores big with nature writing collection

May 29, 1994
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

The Sierra Club has published a wonderful new paperback book, ``American Nature Writing 1994,'' which I highly recommend.

If you're casting about for a book to take with you on a fishing trip, Tahoe weekend, or Yosemite camping trip, take this along.

At $12 it's a bargain, full of excellent writing and bound to inspire the most jaded environmentalist.

Most good nature writing also is good travel writing and that's the case with this collection, too. While the writers are all American, the selections focus on Mexico, Montana, Iceland, North Carolina, the Galapagos Islands, Norway, Alaska, Japan, New York City, Honduras, Arizona, Hawaii and Cuba.

None of the 24 writers (12 men and 12 women) collected within these 229 pages writes about the Sacramento Valley - an oversight that could be set straight in next year's anthology.

Instead, there's a wonderful essay, never before printed, by the late Edward Abbey called ``Sheep Count.''

Taken straight from the field notes he kept in his journal, this essay is the story of Abbey's participation in the 1988 bighorn sheep count in extreme southern Arizona.

He tells the tragicomic story of being stuck for three days and nights deep in the sand of a roadside wash and being unable to jack, crank or wedge his two-wheel drive truck out of the sand and dust.

``How long would my water last in this horrible inferno?'' he wrote. ``Always thirsty. I reached for my faithful Desert water bag last night, in the dark, where I'd hung it on a scrawny mesquite - no decent trees anywhere around, no real shade either - and found the bag alive with tiny ants as I raised it to my lips. Instantly, hundreds of them were swarming over my hand, arm, face, whiskers.''

And 5:30 the next morning Abbey finally got his truck unstuck and continued on his mission.

Nine months later, in March of 1989, Abbey, the father of radical environmentalism, died at age 62.

Another essay in the collection also concerns Abbey.

``Where Phantoms Come to Brood and Mourn'' is by Colorado resident David Petersen, who is the editor of Abbey's forthcoming journals, ``Confessions of a Barbarian.'' His essay is about his 1992 search for Abbey's hidden grave in Saguaro National Monument.

Essays are included by nature writers including favorites like William Kittredge (a recent visitor to UC Davis), his partner Annick Smith, Terry Tempest Williams (also a recent UCD visitor), Rick Bass, Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez.

But the collection, edited by John Murray of the University of Alaska, also includes some surprises. I knew of Russell Chatham, the Western artist whose impressionistic works hang in the Montana State University museum in Bozeman. But I didn't know that Chatham also was a die-hard fisherman and writer whose essay, ``The Deepest Currents,'' about an Atlantic salmon expedition to Iceland, first published in Esquire magazine, also is included in this collection.

Fishing, Castro, politics, drinking and Ernest Hemingway are the subjects of a piece by Florida resident Bob Shacochis, who snuck into Cuba to observe the Hemingway International Classic Billfish Tournament.

Berkeley resident Kenneth Brower, son of conservationist David Brower (also a frequent Davis visitor) contributed an essay on ``Island Beaches'' in which he describes swimming with a large green turtle in the Virgin Islands.

Sherry Simpson, a journalist from Fairbanks, Alaska, describes her participation in a helicopter bear-count on Admiralty Island.

When a tranquilized she-bear was brought to the ground, Simpson came over to take a look.

``I have never been this close to a living bear,'' Simpson writes. ``Her eyes flicker under half-closed lids. Does she see me? Does she dream of being scented out by strange and roaring creatures? Does her heart lunge in her chest? With each shuddering breath, she groans deeply, a sound laced with menace to my ear. Is she snoring or growling?''

Fiction, journal writing, poetry, personal essay and feature articles are all represented in this collection.

Next year's collection, ``American Nature Writing 1995,'' is already being planned. Editor John Murray asks for readers to recommend selections to be included. Let's take him up on his request and send him a writer representative of the Central Valley.

Send recommendations to him in care of the Sierra Club at 100 Bush St., San Francisco, Calif. 94104.

[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Printed Matter Home]
The Davis Virtual Market