New book sums up purity, value of nature

Anthology explores nature around the world, in all of its many forms

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

A Review of "American Nature Writing 2002" selected by John A. Murray (Fulcrum Publishing, paper, 224 pages, $26.95).

"American Nature Writing 2002" is the ninth volume in the series founded by editor and writer John Murray. Murray, who formerly lived in Fairbanks, now resides in Denver and has edited numerous nature anthologies including "Out Among the Wolves" and "The Great Bear."

Of the 17 pieces in this volume, nine are seeing their first publication here. This means a lot rides on Murray's taste - in contrast to the Pushcart Prize volumes where all the material has been previously published. On the other hand, it means that new writing talent gets a shot at the brass ring. All of the material is prose except for a selection of 14 poems by Penny Harter. Murray has chosen well. All selections are worth reading - some more than once.

The locations summoned up by the authors include Yellowstone, Alaska, the Orkney Islands, Patagonia, the Isthmus of Panama, a mountain in Colorado, New York City, Vermont, Southern California and the waters off Connecticut. The talismans they write about include 5,000-year-old bones, powerful landscapes, ailing sheep, births and deaths, reunions and disappointments, remote cabins, love affairs and sexual encounters, peregrine falcons, bear sightings, elk, feathers, striped bass, meteors, fire, the challenges of weather and terrain, difficult decisions, pain and Thanksgiving pies.

Obviously, what David Petersen's piece calls "the one true reality of nature" has many faces, moods and messages.

Some of the selections resemble journals or journal excerpts, with no recollection in tranquility. In this category lies John Nickles' essay, "Paddling Solo in the Fiords of the Far West Shore," a record of three weeks kayaking in Prince William Sound. Most are more contemplative, especially Jill Hindle's "Where There's Hope," which is perhaps the shining star of this anthology.

The volume ends with Murray's essay about introducing his 10-year-old son to camping in the back country of Yellowstone. The sum of these essays is a kind of introduction to nature for those who have only a slight acquaintance with the incense of sage or the trickle of water over moss - or a review or reunion for those who wish to renew their acquaintance with these and other comforts. Yellowstone is to Murray, who has been visiting it for 27 years, "the truest and oldest friend in the world."

Nature is, wherever one finds it, "a place to carry deep inside and hold close whenever you feel yourself in turmoil, and instantly be at peace," he writes.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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