9. Time’s Horizon: Elizabeth Dodd (B. 1962)
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194 9 Time’s Horizon Elizabeth Dodd (b. 1962) This is the world that dies and comes back, that dies and goes on or this time doesn’t.  — ​Elizabeth Dodd, “Dieback” Elizabeth Dodd has emerged over the last two decades as a major voice among contemporary midwestern literary naturalists, publishing three volumes of essays as well as two collections of poems that form a ­ cohesive body of work probing our relationship to place. Many of her essays describe journeys that represent personal pilgrimages to view archaeological sites in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest as well as the storied Paleolithic cave paintings in France. She finds the tug of the ancient on the imagination to be irresistible, reading each landscape in terms of both environmental and cultural history. In the process, she reflects on the history of language itself: the etymology of words in relation to geographical context, as well as the origins of individual languages, especially how those of the indigenous peoples of North America hold “ancient histories of migration and assimilation.” 1 In addition, each of her books offers keen perceptions of the natural world, while frequently contemplating the vast expanses of time associated with geology, evolution, and anthropology . In its repeated return to these themes, her writing might be likened to Loren Eiseley’s. Indeed, they share a fascination with enigmatic and often animistic aspects of the distant past. Critic Susan N. Maher ­ credits­Eiseley with “inventing a new form of nonfiction essay, one that could embrace the depths of time and geology...within a literary line of descent 195 Time’s Horizon: Elizabeth Dodd that ­ commences with Thoreau...illuminating cross sections of natural, national, and personal history; [exhibiting] a reflective tenor of loss that leads to the retrieval of lost worlds and honors vestiges of the past.” 2 His work has been linked to the pantheon of American nature writers “who imaginatively delve into environmental explorations, forging connections to ecological and evolutionary dynamics...close observation of phenomena , keen awareness of environmental processes, appreciation of species and their habitat, aesthetic engagement with the natural world, philosophi­ cal reflections, and a recognition of the deep kinship between humans and the biosphere.” 3 I would contend that Dodd’s work follows in this lineage while extending the hybrid narrative genre, deploying the same range of rhetorical means to address a consistent constellation of themes but with an added emphasis on the history and perspectives of the continent’s indigenous peoples. Having grown up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, Dodd’s interest in studying the natural world was first inspired by experiences exploring the second- and third-­ growth woodlands near her childhood home. She recollects “numinous moments that bring the outer to the inner realm, unstructured by will,” such as an early memory of listening with her family on a forested ridge to the hauntingly beautiful call of a hermit thrush.4 Such recollections suggest a spiritual aspect to our relationship to nature, a quality that much of her writing conveys. Like several of the literary naturalists whose sensibilities originated in the region — ​including Paul Errington, Paul Gruchow, and Scott Russell Sanders — ​ she has a deep regard for environmental history and landscape change. Her underlying aim is “to look at time itself,” as she declares in the opening of her third collection of essays, Horizon’s Lens, to examine “a biological legacy from our evolution...to feel the pulse of our existence synchronize with deeper cycles.” 5 Even as an adolescent, Dodd had begun to read local landscapes in terms of environmental history, which she perceived as “a kind of historic frontier where we examined the hillsides for bits of history: hidden pathways of old roads, former homesteads, the current communities of maturing hardwood.” 6 Wildlife had been trapped out long before, and many of the original homesteads had been deserted. The land had been cut over and cleared, but farms were abandoned here and there, leaving a patchwork forest of varying ages. She and her younger brother would stumble upon the foundations of abandoned farmsteads in the woods: gardens that 196 Contemporary Literary Naturalists had gone feral, patches of daffodils that had naturalized. She characterizes the woodlands that remain after several waves of settlement and development as “second- and third-growth forests that had reclaimed southeastern Ohio from the nineteenth-­ century attempts at subsistence agriculture on steep clay slopes.” 7 During her college years, she hiked wooded hillsides of Ohio that showed unmistakable evidence of clear...