Wild Notions

The Future Of Nature: Writing on a Human Ecology


| November / December 2007


The Future Of Nature: Writing on a Human Ecology
from Orion Magazine
selected and introduced by Barry Lopez (Milkweed Editions)

 “Today’s news must be presented simply and dramatically—with plot, character, scene, motivation,” writes Judith Nies in The Future of Nature. “A complex story that blends economics, politics, anthropology, and history is hard to tell in our free press.” Nies is referring to superficial news coverage of coal strip-mining on Indian lands in Arizona—a story she tells with depth and nuance—but she may as well be spelling out the raison d’être for Orion, the 25-year-old magazine from which the essays in The Future of Nature are drawn. Orion has always been willing to go deep and long in its coverage of environmental issues, and this tradition of green-minded literary journalism yields a rich trove of writing in this compilation, which covers the past 15 years.

The articles were chosen by Barry Lopez, whose Arctic Dreams is a nature-writing classic, and contributors range from big names in the field (Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry) to newer talents (Sandra Steingraber, Derrick Jensen). Most of the writers are intellectually courageous, posing tough questions: Can blue-collar workers and well-to-do environmentalists get along? Is it a good idea to kick out indigenous people all over the world in order to create parks and wilderness? Are superficial lifestyle concessions really enough to make an environmental difference? 

The tone throughout is thoughtful and earnest, sometimes overly earnest; you can almost see the writers’ furrowed brows while you’re reading. But this is a minor flaw, and an understandable one: If there is a topic that deserves seriousness, it is the fate of “all this living complication,” as one writer describes life on earth.