- Elemental South: An Anthology of Southern Nature Writing
In the summer of 2005, The Southern Environmental Law Center gave its Phillip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment to Elemental South. Growing out of the Southern Nature Project, this book emerged as a result of a workshop and gatherings on the University of Georgia campus of a group of writers dedicated to helping people become more engaged with their landscapes and communities, and to be moved to action through their writings. The dozen talented authors whose works are included all have a sense of place and make a contribution to the tradition of southern nature writing. Dorinda Dallmeyer, the editor of this anthology, teaches in the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program at the University of Georgia.
Elemental South is divided into four parts: Earth, Air, Fire and Water, followed by an Epilogue: Why We Write. Melissa Walker, with her contribution on "Home," introduces the Earth part. She tells about growing up in a small town in southern Georgia and how she loved the outdoors. Among the things she learned from her grandmother was that doing what you wanted to do involved taking risks. She remembers her grandmother's voice, "Those snakes aren't interested in you and we're not going to turn this boat over. So calm down and start paddling" (p. 6). Although she has lived with her husband and children in the same house in Atlanta for over 25 yr, she concludes that "Home is more than the sum of its parts, more than a house, a river, cotton field, red clay, a wild rose, or fat little pecans hiding in wet leaves" (p. 7). Walker's work appears in three of the four parts. Her published books include Reading the Environment and Down from the Mountaintop.
John Lane has two poetic contributions in the Earth part, "Hounds Chasing Deer in the Suburbs" (p. 20), and "The Bottom-land" (p. 23). Another, "First Spring Flood," introduces the Water section (p. 95). His recently published book, Chattooga (University of Georgia Press 2004), concerns changes in people and the river in the area where the movie Deliverance was filmed more than 25 yr ago.
Janisse Ray worked closely with Dorinda Dallmeyer in the creation of Elemental South. She has seven selections in the book, three in the Fire section. As in her well-known book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, she extols the virtues of the longleaf pine and vividly portrays the role of lightning and fire needed for its propagation. In terms of our present tragedies along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, her words are particularly prophetic:
I write because I love humanity. I love our faces and the things we say and think and do. I am sorry to see the worst parts of human beings surface [End Page 332] and sad to see us suffer for what we have (collectively) done. Suffer we do, and will continue to do, with the loss of human life due to toxic air, water, and land. With the loss of our senses. With the loss of our knowledge of the world. I write to possibly alleviate a minor portion of suffering. I write because it seems fitting that one of the creatures able to use language, to pass messages across geographies and generations, should speak for those who cannot. Because life is unendingly fascinating. Unbearably beautiful. Utterly fragile (p. 132).
Physical geography is not neglected in this book. In introducing the section on Air, Jan DeBlieu colorfully describes how air is set in motion by changes in temperature. She writes from her home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina:
The wind, the wind. It has nearly as many names as moods: there are siroccos, Santa Anas, foehns, brick-fielders, boras, williwaws, Chinooks, monsoons. It has as well, unrivaled power to evoke comfort or suffering, bliss or despair, to bless with fortune, to tear apart empires, to alter lives. Few other...