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  • Every Grain of Sand: Canadian Perspectives on Ecology and Environment
  • Alan Bewell (bio)
J.A. Wainwright , editor. Every Grain of Sand: Canadian Perspectives on Ecology and EnvironmentWilfrid Laurier University Press. 181. $24.95

This collection of fourteen essays brings together political activists, university academics, and creative writers in order to introduce contemporary [End Page 167] ecological concerns from a uniquely Canadian perspective. In presenting a wide range of theoretical perspectives on what ecology is and why it is important to Canadians, it succeeds admirably. Ecofeminism is well represented by Trish Glazebrook, who presents an 'erotics of nature' as an alternative to the more masculine conceptions of nature provided by contemporary science. Anne Marie Dalton discusses the impact that the work of Thomas Berry had upon her intellectual development in order to suggest that the prevailing assumption among many ecologists that Christianity has substantially contributed to our current environmental crisis needs to be balanced by a recognition that a religious ethos can play a powerful role in furthering ecological commitments. Leanne Simpson sets First Nations ecology in the context of Native peoples' continuing resistance to colonization and their struggle for social justice. Lionel Rubinoff adopts the biological perspective of writers such as René Dubos, John Livingston, Paul Shepard, and E.O. Wilson to suggest that because our bodies have evolved through an interaction with nature, our humanness cannot survive without it: 'the world is your body.' More historical approaches to ecology are also present in the collection, including Onno Oerlemans's sophisticated account of the importance of ecology to English Romanticism and Peter Armitage's account of the changing representation of Labrador, an essay that sets the history of how Europeans have imagined this place (as primeval wilderness, romantic frontier, touristic escape, or resource Eldorado) against how it is understood by Innu and Inuit people.

Readers familiar with ecological theory will find much that is familiar here (and the book would serve as a good introduction to contemporary ecological theory), but they will also find much that is new. Most of the contributors seek to convey in deeply personal terms how their interaction with nature has laid the ground of their environmental commitments. The book is very much about the biographical underpinnings of ecology as a reflection on the manner in which experiences with different kinds of nature underlie and motivate ecological writing. Often to know why the experience of nature matters requires a journey into the past, so the influence of William Wordsworth on this collection is strong. One learns of the impact that a frequent summer trip to a pond in Newmarket, Ontario, had upon J.A. Wainwright. Karen Krug writes how she has come to understand growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan. In arguing that environmental studies is a border-practice, straddling nature and culture, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands speaks of the discoveries made by her child, while playing on a beach near Victoria, British Columbia. Adopting Florence Krall's idea of 'ecotones,' the transitional regions between two different habitats, she suggests that much of the complexity of ecological thought derives from its commitment to exploring these spaces of transition. In ecology, the personal is often the political, and this is both a [End Page 168] strength and a weakness, for increasingly, those who speak for the importance of preserving the natural world must address their arguments to people whose experience of nature, through increasing urbanization, is limited and, sadly in some cases, non-existent. As Ehor Boyanowsky, a past president of the Steelhead Society of British Columbia, observes in explaining his deepening commitment to salmon and steelhead conservation: 'A person has to experience a thing of value before she or he can become concerned about its loss.' In insisting that 'one of the most potent forces of opposition to end-of-nature scenarios is positive human memory of the experience of nature,' J. A. Wainwright places this book within a tradition of nature-writing that combines a clear-sighted recognition of the irreplaceable gifts that the experience of nature can give to those who are fortunate enough to receive them with an anxious recognition of the precarious state of such experiences in the modern...


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pp. 167-169
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