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Nature Essays

June 2024
1min read

Heart of the Land
Essays on Last Great Places

edited by Joseph Barbato and Lisa Weinerman of the Nature Conservancy, foreword by Barry Lopez, Pantheon, 296 pages .

The assignment was simple and clear: Write about a surviving wild area that has special meaning for you. Thirty-one well-known authors accepted and agreed to donate their essays to the Nature Conservancy’s cause. Rick Bass’s essay on his native Texas Hill Country covers sixty years in the life of one family’s thousand-acre hunting ground. Peter Matthiessen can tell his life almost entirely through his involvement with the clam beds, duck blinds, salt meadows, channels, and harbors of “the glacial outwash plain known as Long Island.” Parts of his paradise hang on despite development, but Matthiessen realizes that “the blue water [is] gone, and the clear emerald water, too” in favor of one flat “olive-brown.”

Matthiessen hopes his waters and salt meadows can be redeemed; Jim Harrison feels cautious optimism in Gray Ranch, New Mexico, camping on the site where “a hundred years ago… 400,000 cattle had perished to starvation.” Thomas McGuane fishes Idaho’s Snake River, Louise Erdrich visits the tall grasses of North Dakota and recalls her father stalking deer in the woods or cornfields with a fiberglass bow. Philip Caputo offers the compact, preserved beauty of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard as models for the rest of the country, which, in fifty or a hundred years, will also run out of room but will want to remain somewhat wild.

It took editorial nerve to solicit essays not just from environmental activists but from hunters as well. These essays make the strongest case for conservation because they are eloquently personal and mostly free from abstract platitudes.

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