Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane

A Sand County Almanac

-Book Cover

I was sent to this book by a blog a friend linked to, and I’m glad I found it. Most of the nature writing I find is preservationist or even worshipful. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but it does tend to romanticize an already romantic approach to the natural world. It’s easy to wind up with an “isn’t it great I’m so sensitive to the world around me” pudding: tons of details and careful observation that together seem more about the author than the place.

This book is interesting because it’s conservationist, a middle-ground voice that I don’t seem to hear very much today. I think it’s probably been killed by double-speak: to many public figures hiding nefarious plans inside their opponents’ language, maybe on purpose, maybe because they’re being used and are too out-of-touch to realize it. Whatever the case, conservationist language just seems like a lie nowadays. Talk reasonably and nobody will trust you.

The Almanac is old enough so that the conservationist voice still rings sincere. In these pages, there is man and there is nature together. Not man in awe of nature. Not man afraid to touch nature. Here he moves gently through the world, touching and being touched. I loved Leopold’s talk about trees, especially the pines that are his favourite and the way the bugs that attack them attack only the new growth that sits in the sun. The closing section on banding birds is glorious. No other word for it. And the essay on leisure time and hobbies is excellent.

This is a book I’d like to teach someday.

April 2011

Posted August 22, 2011