I’m going to have to bow out for a little while. In the middle of life’s way I have suddenly returned to school to study environmental science and law. Whether this is wandering in a dark woods—and if it is, whether I will emerge on the right side of the woods—time will tell. I don’t think of this wandering as a complete career shift, as I still have literary work to publish.
When Karen Armstrong writes “Nature does not figure prominently in Judaism and Christianity,” in a chapter which looks mainly at Islam (she goes on to imply this is not the case in Islam and that in that religion, unlike in the other two, nature is a revelation on par with the Qur’an—which is of course also what Jews and Christians believe about the Bible and nature)—when she makes such a sweeping statement, I balk.
I don’t know the desert. I’ve slept in a palm-branch hut, rented for $1 a night from a Bedouin, by the Red Sea in the Sinai Peninsula when it was under Israeli control. I’ve spent hours in a broken down Jeep waiting for help somewhere in the Sinai. I’ve watched the sunrise from atop Masada in the Judean Desert. Just a few weeks ago, I visited Joshua Tree National Park, where two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, meet.
Henry David Thoreau was a profoundly religious man. He is called a Transcendentalist, and the term is taken to mean a kind of hippie or New Age guru, perhaps something like the founders of the Deep Ecology movement. That’s nonsense. Thoreau was a Yankee, the near descendent of (the grossly misunderstood) Puritans, and he comported himself as such in his life and thought.
I think one of my favorite publications of 2021 was Isabel Fargo Cole’s translation of nineteenth-century Austrian author Adalbert Stifter’s collection of short fiction, Motley Stones. These stories fit into a collection of books I’ve been assembling for over fifteen years, writing I call hypethral.… Hypethral writing finds the natural world iconic or sacramental.
What I’ve realized since my son’s birthday is that Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind did for me something like what I hope the books I bought for my sons will do for them someday: or it is the adult version of it, the fantasy that is like yet unlike that of the child. How does Carson accomplish this transfiguration of the natural world?