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Back on the Fire: Essays Paperback – January 28, 2008
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His latest book, "Back on the Fire" ($24 in hardcover from Shoemaker and Hoard), features recent essays, most previously published, that intermingle autobiography, reflections on the place of the writer in the modern world and a concern that those who have benefited from the natural world (all of us) become more thankful and "give something back."
Snyder sees the world through Daoist-Confucian-Mahayana Buddhist eyes and has little patience for those who romanticize nature with their "quasi-religious pantheistic landscape enthusiasms." In Snyder's "literature of the environment," "we will necessarily be exploring the dark side of nature -- nocturnal, parasitic energies of decomposition and their human parallels." He adds, in another essay: "Nature is not fuzzy and warm. Nature is vulnerable, but it is also tough, and it will inevitably be last up at bat."
Many of the essays deal with the forest, and fire, as a kind of symbol of changing public policy toward the wilderness. "Our wild forests have long had an elegant and self-sustaining nutrient and energy cycle, and staying within that should be a key measure of true sustainability." Periodic low-level fires are necessary for keeping the forest healthy; logging practices that remove the surviving trees after a major fire make it more difficult for the forest to sustain itself.Read more ›
Though there may appear to be no unifying theme, and though the specific subject of the role of fire in healthy forests recurs, this volume is a whole defined by itself, and by the quality of Snyder's observation, thought and expression. For me, the connection between his immersion in East Asian writing, in Buddhism, in the realities of living and working in the natural world, in American literature (Native and non-Native), and his own writing and approach to the world, has never been clearer. That impression is nourished by reading together such essays as "Ecology, Literature and the New World Disorder," "Thinking Toward the Thousand Year Forest Plan," "The Mountain Spirit's True (No) Nature," "Writers and the War Against Nature," "Coyote Makes Things Hard."
Some pieces are short and specific, and thanks to Snyder's writing, evocative, including a short piece on the death of one of the best known of his fellow poets who began in the "Beat" era, Allen Ginsberg, and a fond and informative remembrances of one of the least known, Philip Zenshin Whalen. But even these are important because of Snyder's knowledge of them and perspective over time. Others about particular people and places (especially about Snyder's own family, as in "Helen Callicotte's Stone in Kansas") are also fun to read, but always connect to larger mysteries.
In these essays Snyder writes with warmth as well as pith, and with occasional bursts of exuberant humor.Read more ›