Nia, You know what I feel, all my life, when I'm back, embedded in the land I opened my eyes in. It doesn't belong to you, but it holds us, you belong, a part of it, attached to all that speaks ( the water? Light? the smell of Chinook win?), and what you cannot name. Existence is the encompassing miracle. What industrialism, capitalism.is, is a kind of magical thinking (that law) that pretends reality is - nothing, trivial, annihilated, compared to the claims of greed and money. Yet we find ourselves forced to fight, within the terms that wealth and arbitrary power recognize, for the continued existence of all that has nurtured life since all beginnings. The great strength of the tribes is that they have never forgotten where and who they are. I think people, like animals, know when they belong within a place. As you say, you feel gratitude, and the need to give back, as much as you can. No wonder some speak of civilization as full of hungry ghosts, destroying everything around them.
I am reading this belatedly, for reasons that the essay itself describes well - kids, family crises, a to-do list that never shrinks. But I wanted to tell you how much it resonates with me, as someone who also integrates family and relationship into genres that often prefer the individual hero or adult team, in my case speculative fiction. In nature writing, so much seems to be modeled off of On Walden Pond, even as Thoreau himself had important and little-discussed political reasons for obfuscating the relationships and politics in which he was embedded.
As a new dad this post was what I needed to read. Working on the second draft of my novel, (it's so close to where I can share it!) I like writing first thing in the morning, before work. However, I have a 1-year old who loves to wake up at 5am and seize the day. I read this post in short bursts at 5:30am, taking a break every time my daughter wanted me to read her a book, or pickup something she had dropped behind the couch. Some mornings I find myself feeling resentful, which then immediately leads to guilt for feeling resentful. She's only one. She loves waking up and looking for magpies on the front lawn, she loves crawling (or now walking!) through the backyard, stroking the lilac leaves and playing in the mulch. Why is my writing (or reading) more important than that? It's comforting to read your work Antonia, to hear the struggles of parenting and writing (not to mention trying to understand the broken world we live in), and know that finding the time to help ourselves and help others will is a problem we share. Thank you.
Maybe mothers can’t write about nature in a way that excludes other humans because they don’t have days that exclude other humans!! Wow. This post was just wow. I will be thinking about this for days. Thank you! And I wrote a bit about reciprocity this week and your words about just wanting others to care was so tender and true. It also reminded me of when I read the salt path and how raynor winn made a concerted effort to write about the housing crisis she and many were experiencing and the multilayers of injustice and stigma around homelessness. I was caught off guard by it but also pleasantly surprised because so many writing memoirs have the “fly fishing” feel to them - just off alone in nature, separate from whatever else is going on in the world - but not her book. I am adding Soil to my list. Thank you!
I love everything you wrote—and how Dungy is able to speak to what is so tired and always missing in nature writing. I loved this so much—“ it’s about people and place, people in place, people with place, people of place.” YES. I am also struggling with the questions i have around demands for attention, growth, and how care seems to never be a priority but a hidden margin that somehow others are supposed to tackle. What would it look like to solve all inequities with care—how simple that really is, how impossibly complicated the human created world makes it. It’s very less lonely in those feelings knowing you and so many others are also operating and thinking about and writing so beautifully on all of this. 💜
This post spoke to me in so many ways- as a single mom, as someone tired of the constant new demands made by the internet, as a writer who writes about place and sense of place and the environment, as a person who wishes desperately more people gave a you-know-what about something besides their Instagram feed. Thank you 🙏🏻
Hi Nia. There's so, so much to love in this post.
"but more to the point: always enough for everyone."
I'm going to get a copy of Dunby's book today; thank you for introducing me to her writing!
And dandelions!! I've been preaching this for years. I love them and have never understood the ire they raise in misguided folks! <3
My garden is also late going in, but ... so much is coming up that's reseeded ... I like to think I'm a follower of the One Seed Revolution, but mostly I'm kind of lazy. Threw in lots of aging greens seeds about March, and at last ... greens. And the asparagus is finally coming up, after 3 years!
I think those birds were saying; I can't write like you do but your words are pleasant to read, I am feeling some of your vibes, hope you like the sounds of mine.🙏
We sure do have an unfair share of commodified nature boys writing and podcasting around these parts. Over a beer I bet you and I can agree on names.
I suppose different folks approach this universal conundrum in different ways. But as far back as I can remember, and this was usually when eating a plate of food, I’ve always preferred to save the best for last. I’ve always wanted the finest flavor to be the one that lingers on my palate, the one that lingers in my imagination. Christmas gift opening was the same way. Savor that one special gift (I always knew which one that was) by saving it for last. This peculiar trend has carried over into my adulthood and now colors my approach to many things in life. But, alas, this has nothing to do with anything, so I’ll move on.
Of the several Substack writers I am subscribed to there are three whom I read religiously. And it dawned on me this morning as I was reading your post that they are all women. I didn’t plan it that way. These are just the writers I am most drawn to.
Heather Cox Richardson is a professor and a political historian. She writes a daily recap of political news called “Letters from an American,” usually with an historical perspective. Heather oftentimes includes short anecdotes (and photos) about her recent marriage, or about her kayaking adventures in the coastal waters of Maine, or about her need to sometimes take a little time just to be still and enjoy the beauty that surrounds her.
Joyce Vance is a professor and a former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. She writes a daily (usually) post called “Civil Discourse.” On their property in Alabama Joyce and her husband have built, at least what appears to be from the pictures she shares, the finest chicken coup I have ever seen. Along with her excellent synopses of the major legal happenings going on in the Country—which usually includes very helpful analyses, breakdowns, and citations—Joyce will sometimes toss in a paragraph about those fine feathered citizens who populate le poulailler de luxe. I think my favorite is a chicken who proudly goes by the name of Pickles. And by the way, Joyce is also a knitter. We’ve seen photos.
My point here is that these women adding a little off-the-clock everyday life to their postings does not interfere with or diminish their writings in the least. Nor does it dilute the enormous respect I have for them both. On the contrary, it enhances the reading experience. It offers a much-needed counterpoise to that parade of horribles forever marching before our eyes. It adds life and wholeness. And after all, once we get beyond all the facts and figures and foibles, isn’t it life itself that draws us in? Isn’t it life that we’re after?
When I awoke this morning I saw that there were posts from each of my three favorite Substack writers. I saved yours for last.
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Yes, great points. When I was into “12 stepping” someone pointed out how Bill got sober while his wife cooked and cleaned.
Thank you for this. 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" has been one of my touchstones for so long, I needed this reframe. Like how we used to think of trees as solitary, but now are beginning to fathom the many ways they are interconnected, in community. As often happens, your writing reminds me of other writing. The brilliant New Yorker piece about Thoreau's not-at-all-solitary "solitary" experiment at Walden, "Pond Scum," by Kathryn Schulz. E.g., his mother and sisters brought him food weekly. The gist: "'Walden' is also fundamentally adolescent in tone: Thoreau shares the conviction, far more developmentally appropriate and forgivable in teens, that everyone else’s certainties are wrong while one’s own are unassailable. Moreover, he presents adulthood not as it is but as kids wishfully imagine it: an idyll of autonomy, unfettered by any civic or familial responsibilities."
The other is "Desert Cabal," Amy Irvine's answer to Edward Abbey's also-constructed solitude. A penetrating imagined conversation with him, this book got her into some trouble with other beloved environmental writers. "How dare she—?"
People who are shitty to each other, for example a prominent figure, Ron DeSantis, Trump etc. They seem broken. I always wonder what their childhood was like. What was wrong with their parents! Or do we have to accept that there are just sociopaths at one end of the spectrum and the other end perhaps people who just have it so hard that they can't help but pass that difficulty along?
At least a dozen sentences and sentiments and ideas that resonated here as I read this at 5am holding my three month old youngest
Why don’t people care? resonated deeply. I have had that thought but verbalising it like you have brings it to the fore to think more deeply about and act upon my caring.