Thinking Like a Mountain: On Nature Writing

Jedediah Purdy in n + 1:

PurdyFantasy answers a lack, however imperfectly. And so much is lacking. Every inhabited continent has been denuded of ecosystems and species. Most North American places have shed wolves, elk, moose, brown bears, panthers, bison, and a variety of fish and wild plants, which were all abundant four hundred years ago. Before those species were driven out, there was the slaughter of the mammoth, the ground sloth, the wild horse. The squirrels, rabbits, and sparrows that surround my North Carolina porch are less signs of burgeoning life than survivors of an apocalypse; so are the revenant coyotes that poach chickens and puppies from the neo-hippie farmsteads outside town. Yet in the restored Arts and Crafts cottages that fill my neighborhood, the children’s bedrooms are as totemic as the Chauvet Cave: covered in animal iconography from the farm, the rain forest, the Cretaceous, and the deep sea. Planet Earth, the BBC series narrated by David Attenborough, makes us invisible participants in lives otherwise as remote as those in the Ramayana. We witness migrations, hunts, nestings, and hatchings. Forty years ago, John Berger called the zoo “an epitaph to a relationship” between people and animals. Today those words could be applied to much of middle-class mass culture: it has become a kind of memorial to the nonhuman world, revived in a thousand representations even as it disappears all at once.

Human isolation from nonhuman nature, from Shanghai to Mumbai to Phoenix, goes beyond extermination and segregation.

More here.