http://www.bloomsburyreview.com/) this way: “I’ve been waiting for this book all my life…I am urged to awe that equals spiritual fervor in the presence of Nature.”
What is it about Nature—Nature with a capitol N as depicted in Sharman’s new book—that moves us so? How can the physical world cause our spirits to have such passionate responses?
On May 4, 2009, Time Magazine chose The Wind in the Willows as its “Book Pick for the Week.” This classic children’s novel, a compilation of stories told by the author Kenneth Grahame to his four-year-old son, was first published in America in 1909. One hundred years ago! Yet here we are today, still falling in love with Mole and Rat and Badger and Otter and yes, even arrogant Toad—creatures great and small who live charmed lives full of missteps and dangerous escapades at, or near, the River. Not just any river, but THE River. As in NATURE. All caps. It is the River that forms the landscape of their lives and serves as metaphor for ours. It teaches them, and us, about the hospitality of community.
Quivira Coalition in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was there to do a book-signing for Home Land: Ranching and a West that Works (Rocky Mountain Land Library). Renowned writer Wendell Barry was the keynote speaker. The Quivira Coalition was formed in 2003, when “twenty ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists met for forty-eight hours to figure out a way to take back the American West…”
A community of people seeking to “find a way to make ourselves worthy of the land we all love” evolved from this initial gathering. And though these individuals were as different from one another as were Mole and Rat and Badger and Otter and Toad, their love of place, of the landscape where they lived their lives, was greater than the divisive issues that had, in the past, kept them apart.
While in Albuquerque at the Quivira Conference, I also had a chance to visit with Peter Forbes, founder of the Center for Whole Communities. “How is it that those of us who care about people and those of us who care about the land, have ended up divided from one another?” the Center asks. “What might we achieve if movements for environmental and social change worked together for healthy, whole communities?” The Center poses this question on their website, where you can view an 8-minute presentation on reweaving people, land, and communities. “Story is the way we carry the land inside of us,” writes Peter Forbes in his book, What Is A Whole Community. “We tell stories to cross the borders that separate us from one another.”
In this same spirit of reweaving, Sharman’s blog, “Love of Place,” celebrates and promotes a “greater relationship and intimacy with the natural world.” She does not advocate a natural world without human beings, though she often writes passionately and with firm opinions about how we interact with the land. (Her perspective and mine on public land grazing probably differ greatly, in great part because she writes about the arid southwest, while my experience is with the forests and grasslands of the Black Hills of Wyoming—much different ecosystems.)
I cherish these points of intersection, where Sharman’s world and mine come together—where I hear the owl hoot as if I were there walking with her, because, on the ranch in the Black Hills where I reared my children, I, too, listened to the hooting of owls and smelled the acrid odor of clay soil.
When Wendell Barry gave the keynote talk at the Quivira Coalition’s annual conference, more than 500 people attended. I could not help but smile when I scanned the room. The audience was filled with men, women, and children, as different looking from one another as the critters in The Wind in the Willows. Some wore cowboy hats. Some wore Birkenstocks. Some wore Forest Service uniforms. Some wore Park Service uniforms. Some wore Wranglers and denim jackets. Some wore microfleece and Sahara pants. Here was a true gathering of people from all walks of life. But they shared one thing in common—their love of Place.
I hope Sharman and I can sit down soon and talk about the issues we hold close to our hearts—those that lead us closer to the Divine and about which Sharman speaks so eloquently in Standing in the Light. “How should I live in the world,” she asks. “How can I face my death?” “How can I be more joyous?” These are intimate questions, soul-piercing questions to ponder while walking on a favorite trail at dusk, as the evening light draws near, or perhaps while floating down a sunlit river with someone who was, only moments ago, a stranger.