Monday, March 20, 2017

Listening to Nature


Priscilla Stuckey's Kissed by a Fox and Other Stories of Friendship in Nature is my kind of book. I hope to do more of sort of reading in the future and predict I'll enjoy nonfiction more if I do. 

It's no surprise to me that Stuckey opens her book with a quote from Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone to Talk; Dillard is a favorite essayist who illuminates the natural world and restores my faith in the value of slowing down, listening more deeply, and allowing Nature to manifest herself. We can all do it, if we take the time to be open.

Stuckey's work reinforces that message in a memorable way. She tells of wishing an eagle into an appearance--calling it in, as it were, while she's on vacation, because she wants to see an eagle during her stay--and then realizing the human hubris inherent in her desire to call the eagle away from its own business simply because she desires a visual souvenir. That's a wonderful shift in perspective that illuminates our blindness to the ways of the other creatures. It's difficult to see our own blind spots, and even those of us who love the world surely have some, just as even kindly, decent men can still fail to understand the essence of their contribution to the patriarchy.

Along with her experiences, Stuckey blends in the history of environmentalism and the work of Thomas Berry and others to shift our viewpoint away from defining nature as "resources," a view that's embedded in Western philosophy and culture as the linchpin that allows us to use and abuse all things "non-human." Against the backdrop of her own life, she quotes Aldo Leopold and other conservationists, as well as those she personally encounters, including a variety of wild and domestic animals, all in the name of demonstrating that Nature is so much more than we usually give it credit for and urging us to open our experience to it. 

To say that a memoir is well-researched and well-supported sounds odd--yet that's exactly what this book offers, blending a personal narrative with academic information to recreate the voice of your favorite professor who's become a friend as well. I was delighted to find some reflections of my own learning in Stuckey's book and I hope that others are getting their first exposure to these concepts and experiences through her.

I closed this book with a handful of new quotes to savor and new books to add to my TBR list. That's a solid measure of a great book: its link to other great books and great ideas. For its charm and its substance, it will find a permanent place on my shelves, as perhaps will Stuckey's next book, Tamed by a Bear, due out later this year.   

Excerpt:

I learned to take time with trees because illness forced me to, reducing my life to the simplest possible activities of lying down and looking. Watching the beings of nature seemed a logical extension of watching and listening to my body--no matter that those beings were made of bark and cellulose and sap instead of skin and bones and blood. . . . People who experience a feeling of connection with nature, especially people who grow up feeling connected as children to the nature around them, are less likely to act in the heedless ways that are now destroying our air, water, soil, and environment.

And if we deepen those connections by regarding other creatures as having messages to offer and wisdom to share, are we not treating them as beings of mind and spirit? What if "having a soul," after all, is less about possessing a disembodied core that lives on after death in some other world than it is about contributing to the marvelous complexity of this world? What if it means simply taking part in the life force that flows through all earthly veins? If it does, then we needn't be surprised when responding to a tree as if it had a life of its own . . . brings about more than we bargained for. In meeting a tree with respect, we may just be surprised at what--or who--we find.

Note: This book contributed to my numbers for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and provided the M (for Mt. Ranier) in the Where are You Reading? Challenge.

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