Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reading Outdoors

What are you reading on Earth Day?

It’s a question many must be asking, as evidenced by today’s laudatory review of a new anthology, American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau in the Washington Post (regretably, you must register to see the full review).

Happy as I was to see praises of writings by Thoreau, Lopez, Carson, Kingsolver, and other icons, selected quotes emphasized environmental destruction (from Lydia Huntley Sigourney’s poem, “Fallen Forests” to Marvin Gaye’s lyric, “Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas/Fish full of mercury.”). The books I’ve seen on Earth Day displays at a local library and church also lean toward global warming, overharvesting fish, and other distressing topics. Can’t Earth Day, like other holidays, be a little, um, fun?

For my kids, I’d hoped to celebrate by reading aloud a Jane Goodall essay, “The Dragonfly’s Gift,” kindly recommended by Cyberthrush. But the anthology, Kinship with Animals by Michael Tobias, is not at my library or bookstore. Surely one of my friends in the humane community has a copy, but in the meantime, I think I’ll take Charlie’s advice over at 10,000 Birds and find the new The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by Bill Thomson. The author worked with bona fide children, in his 11-year-old daughter’s class, to develop a truly kid-approved guide that Eli will probably like even more than our Peterson’s.

But as useful and lively as The Young Birder’s Guide sounds, it won’t be a read-aloud candidate. Instead, I think I’ll share my personal Earth Day reading ritual with the kids. April 21st is John Muir’s birthday, so I like to read some of his words between tree plantings and woodland walks. Since we’re headed for Yosemite this June, our first time ever, my pick for today’s family book is My First Summer in the Sierra. In 1869, Muir herded sheep into the high mountain pastures that would captivate him for the rest of his life. His journal of the wildlife, plants, and rocks he grew to know and love is devoted to clouds on June 12, the day my family will arrive in Yosemite Valley:

A slight sprinkle of rain—large drops far apart, falling with hearty pat and plash on leaves and stones and into the mouths of flowers. Cumuli rising to the eastward. How beautiful their pearly bosses! How well they harmonize with the upswelling rocks beneath them. Mountains of the sky, solid-looking, finely sculptured, their richly varied topography wonderfully defined. Never before have I seen clouds so substantial looking in form and texture. Nearly every day toward noon they rise with visible swelling motion as if new worlds were being created. And how fondly they brood and hover over the gardens and forests with their cooling shadows and showers, keeping every petal and leaf in glad health and heart.

Instead of learning more about climate change, biodiversity declines, or mountaintop removal, my kids and I will climb virtually into the Sierra, resting under Muir’s cooling clouds and dreaming of summer. That’s my idea of an Earth Day celebration.


cyberthrush said...

Just to let you know Julie, the original edition of the Tobias book was titled "Kinship With THE Animals" while later editions were just titled "Kinship With Animals" (because I think the first title was actually already taken), and it should be easily available from Amazon or any of the online used bookstores (at low cost) if you're willing to shop that way. And it contains many great essays besides Jane Goodall's. Michael Tobias has written or edited a lot of other great stuff as well.

Dave Coulter said...

Those are terrific choices. Right now I'm in my springtime rush, so I'm having trouble reading anything much beyond bird guides myself!