Readers of the Landscape
When I was 11, an old friend of my family gave me a small brown notebook and suggested that I make a record of each book that I read. And so I mostly did for the next 33 years. Not only does this record show the evolution of my handwriting, but it also provides a window into the formation of my character, my tastes, my thinking.
I’ve been a reader all my life. I love books, magazines, newspapers, blogs. Indeed, I probably became a writer because I was an avid reader. The invitation to transport others through the power of the written word — as I have been transported — is irresistible.
Telling stories, reciting poems, painting word pictures — this is how we humans build our culture. Henry David Thoreau’s account of his solitary experiment living in the woods, published as Walden in 1854, became a centerpiece of American literature — and changed the culture.
Nearly 100 years later, Aldo Leopold also wrote, in A Sand County Almanac, about a place he knew intimately and had watched over time. In his essays Leopold proposes a “land ethic” for humans, suggesting that we have an obligation to care for the soils and waters and creatures with which we share habitat.
Chicago Wilderness, too, is rich with gifted writers whose work can change the culture. We highlight many of them in our review of great books of conservation. These writers — some of whom, I am proud to say, have written for this magazine — offer a portal into the precious world of nearby nature.
For laughter, I suggest you turn to Jerry Sullivan’s Hunting for Frogs on Elston, a collection of his essays recounting adventures and misadventures with frogs and birds. For insight and lament, dip into May Watts’ Reading the Landscape or Ron Engel’s Sacred Sands or Dr. Betz’s introductory essay in Torkel Korling’s The Prairie, Swell and Swale. These books describe the vast and wondrous landscape that greeted the first European settlers and that is re-emerging through restoration today.
Chicago WILDERNESS is founded on the hope that we can change the culture — that through the power of words and images and action we can write the next story, that of the age of restoration. Bill Stevens, Bill Jordan, Stephanie Mills, Peter Friederici all issue reports from the front, describing and celebrating a new paradigm of people caring for local nature as humble stewards. The concerned citizens of the Harvard Seed Group are vibrant examples of this paradigm in action, dressing the wounds of prior abuse and healing the land.
If these stories of stewardship become part of our mainstream culture, as central as Thanksgiving and Little League, then we will have lakes and rivers and forest preserves that will inspire great writers, and all of us, for years to come. There’s work to be done. It’s up to us, eager readers.