Right away it’s clear that this is an extremely dense book, filled with essays bursting with such a breadth of knowledge that it can at times seem overwhelming. But upon closer inspection it’s apparent that in Priscilla Stuckey’s first book there is a simple and clean thread that weaves through the myriad of words, the graceful story of a woman trying to realize her own happiness. Of course happiness is different things to different people, and in Priscilla’s case always comes back to community and nature, and finding herself a place. Honestly, nature/environment writing has never been the most thrilling literature to me, but this collection of essays immediately shows itself as so much more than the usual doom and gloom—it’s a book about hope—an ode to what we’ve already destroyed, but also a call to change our ways and live more responsibly.
Though this book is thick with knowledge, Stuckey has managed to successfully break up the exorbitant amount of information, first by beginning each essay with an inspirational quote from her favorite writers (the best is Thomas King’s quote “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”), and then with a style that fluctuates between the past, present and whole lot of history. And since Stuckey is an environmental humanities instructor at Prescott College, with a PhD in religious studies and feminist theory, she knows a lot about various histories. She uses the research of numerous scientists, philosophers and great thinkers through the ages (and her own personal experiences) to back up her main point, that we need to start viewing nature in a new and more respectful way.
I prefer the parts of the book where Priscilla gets personal, the bare and honest elements of her story. It can be a little uncomfortable to read about someone’s anguish, depression and longing for real love, but it’s also refreshing that she isn’t afraid to show the complicated truth. Though Stuckey has always been a nature lover, the point in the book where everything seems to truly begin is when she first sees a bald eagle on Lopez Island, at an especially dark period in her life. After searching fruitlessly for days, right as she’s about to leave the island the eagle seems to sense her need and comes right to her—circling her car, seemingly responding to her call. From this point forth Stuckey’s focus shifts to direct and personal communication with nature. And whether she’s enduring divorce, the death of family members, or finding new love—her bond with nature remains at the center of the story. Many of the essays discuss her relationships with her pets (which I find fascinating), and the ways she directly communicates with them, or with the animals of others. Though this communication that she details in the book may sound farfetched to some, it’s the acknowledgement that things besides humans have feelings, emotions, and intellect that is important to absorb.
Scattered amongst her personal details is also her extremely thorough writing and research about the human relationship with nature, past, present and future. Her arguments are intelligent and logical, and her call for us to live better and more thoughtful lives, earnest and sincere. At one point in the book she quotes the pioneer conservationist Aldo Leopold saying, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” (pg. 310). Stuckey’s book does make you look differently at the things around you, not just your dog or cat, but the trees you carelessly brush by on your way to the bus stop, or the squirrel that darts across your path (or my sadly wilted plants sitting neglected on my bookshelves). And I think that is her point—for us to finally see nature, to remember to take in that beauty as we saunter by. And as Stuckey says in the middle of the book, “…humans as well as llamas, potatoes, maize, beans, ancestors, rains, and mountains all keep life running smoothly by loving and allowing themselves to be loved. Sweet relationships are the foundation of life itself” (pg. 133).
And I’m not going to lie, upon finishing this book I got down eye level with my dog—who in turn stared back at me with her rich brown eyes—and tried to send her my thoughts. Didn’t she want to communicate? But our gentle lab/hound mix just gave me a skeptical look and scooted her butt around to face me. Perhaps it’s just one of those things that will come with time, and with the continued nurturing of my relationship with nature.
Priscilla Stuckey will be reading tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company at 7 p.m., and tomorrow at Ravenna Third Place Books at 8 p.m.