Preface
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xi Preface We try to save what is passing, if only by describing it, telling it, knowing all the time we can’t do any of these things.  — ​W. S. Merwin, “W. S. Merwin, The Art of Poetry” Reimagining Environmental History presents an ecocritical study examining representations of landscape change, from nineteenth-­ century artist-­ naturalists to pioneering ecologists to twentieth-­ century poets, Native American novelists, and contemporary literary naturalists associated with the Midwest. While the scope is expansive in terms of period and genre, the volume as a whole is unified by focusing on the depiction of environmental history in the region. Many of the authors addressed cross-conventional disciplinary and cultural boundaries: whether they are artists writing about wildlife, Native American novelists tracing the connection of ­ indigenous languages to nature in particular places, ecologists writing literary ­ natural history, poets expressing environmental sensibilities, or contemporary literary naturalists incorporating anthropology, archaeology, geology, and linguistics into essays about nature and place. While each chapter explores the work of a single author in depth, cohesion of the whole is maintained by making connections between and among these writers, as well as by considering how their work speaks to current concerns such as stemming extinctions and perpetuating species biodiversity. Each of the authors examined engages place in direct and personal ways, informed by a sense of environmental history, whether in their own bioregion or as they ­ sojourn through less familiar terrain, as well as when contemplating the idea of what is ancient, indigenous, and ongoing. For as Scott Russell ­ Sanders observes , “To become intimate with your home region, to know the territory as well as you can, to understand your life as woven into the local lives does not prevent you from recognizing and honoring the diversity of other places, cultures, ways.” 1 It seems high time to take stock of how this written record of environmental history might in turn inform our efforts toward xii Preface preservation and restoration going forward — ​especially in an era of cascading environmental decline, when the very ideals of wilderness and “wild” are being redefined. By examining landscape change depicted in several genres of texts spanning two centuries, this study is situated on the cusp of ecocriti­ cism and environmental history. What unexpected insights might arise by analysis conjoining the two in light of repeated calls over the past decade for examining how these fields might interact in fruitful new ways (e.g., Cohen, Slovic, Bergthaller)? In what sense might they even prove to be mutually illuminating? Specifically, what insights could these two potentially synergistic disciplines provide together when addressing such complex and perplexing questions as how historical and cultural context shape our perception of, interpretation of, and response to centuries of landscape change? I hope that this work contributes to the ongoing exploration of territory at the confluence of two such complementary bodies of thought. Above all, what forms might ecological restoration best take today — ​and to accomplish just what enduring aims? Lest we underestimate the remarkable resilience of this living earth, consider the truth of naturalist Paul Gruchow’s declaration that “one of the fundamental qualities of life is that it is organized to endure.” 2 What has made the representation of landscape change in the Ameri­ can Midwest especially prescient and compelling has been the severity and pace of the change. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the American Midwest became a crucible for forward-­ looking environmental thought, summoning the courage to hope that we might — ​indeed, we must — ​ find a way to stay the forces of perpetual development before it is too late to save any remaining semblance of the endemic prairie biome and its legacy of fertile soils that have endowed the nation and the world with such agricultural abundance. As prairie and wetland biomes were converted to cropland, the pace of landscape change and its cumulative ecological impact became too rampant and widespread to escape notice. Technology assuredly played a central role in accelerating the process, as steam dredges for the first time enabled the draining of wetlands, steel ploughs broke ­ prairie sod irreparably, and railroads transported crops to burgeoning urban markets from coast to coast. Taken together, such technological advances precipitated the region-­ wide erasure of entire wild landscapes with their self-­ perpetuating communities of indigenous plant and animal species. xiii Preface All too often, however, when the erasure of native ecosystems across North America has taken place incrementally over many years, characterized by increasingly fragmented habitat and the gradual extirpation...


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