Scott Russell Sanders
Writing While the World Burns
Suppose the year is 2100, and the mid-range predictions of today’s leading atmospheric scientists and ecologists have come to pass. A quarter of the world’s coastal cities have been partly or entirely abandoned due to rising sea levels, displacing more than a billion people. A third of all species alive a century earlier have gone extinct. Severe droughts have turned large areas, formerly devoted to agriculture, into deserts; in other areas, more violent rains are causing floods, eroding fields, and drowning crops. Higher temperatures reduce crop yields, and higher levels of carbon dioxide reduce the nutritional value of staples such as soybeans and rice and maize. Some crops fail entirely for lack of pollinators. Heat waves are becoming more frequent and more intense, turning cities into ovens and forests into tinderboxes. The forests that survive have lost much of their biodiversity, as have the remaining grasslands and wetlands as well as the oceans. Most coral reefs have died, leading to a drastic reduction in marine life. Most glaciers have disappeared, parching regions that depend on glacial meltwater during the dry summer months. Elsewhere, vast amounts of fresh water have been lost to pollution, to higher rates of evaporation from reservoirs and rivers, and to the emptying of aquifers for irrigation. Each year famine and water scarcity force millions of people to flee their homes and crowd into already overcrowded refugee camps, urban slums, and wastelands. Everywhere on Earth, individuals and tribes and nations compete for dwindling resources, often violently. The cost in human suffering is incalculable. And the future promises no relief.
Now suppose, further, that in 2100 a few Americans still read books, not merely for pleasure or escape but for enlightenment. One of those readers, a young woman named Rachel, has inherited her great-grandmother’s library, which consists mainly of literary works dating from the early twenty-first century. There are collections of poetry, short stories, and essays, as well as novels and memoirs, hundreds of volumes altogether. Rachel handles them carefully, for they are printed on actual paper, much of it yellow and brittle. Many of the books have been signed by their authors, with inscriptions to the great-grandmother, who published a few books of her own. Rachel also aspires to become a writer, partly to emulate her great-grandmother, partly to enjoy shaping language as a potter shapes clay, but mainly because writing is her way of thinking about questions that trouble her. Most troubling of all is the question of how previous generations—especially in her home country, once the richest and most powerful of nations—could have knowingly wrecked the world.
Based on accounts she has read of the period leading up to the Great Unraveling, Rachel feels certain those earlier generations knew they were passing on a bitter legacy. The heating of the atmosphere and oceans, the mass extinction of species, the loss of arable land, the squandering of fresh water, the spread of toxins and epidemic disease, the unchecked growth of human population and consumption—all of these alarming trends were widely publicized from the 1990s onward. The dangers were detailed and warnings were proclaimed—not only in scientific journals and official reports from governments and international bodies, but also on television and websites, in newspapers and books. Americans of that era could have remained oblivious of this unfolding disaster, and of the human role in causing it, only through a determined effort to remain ignorant.
Now in her twenties, Rachel has spent nearly her entire life in school. The more she learns, both inside and outside of school, the more she recognizes the limits of her knowledge. She distinguishes between such routine ignorance, which is common to all of us as finite creatures no matter how devoted we are to learning, and willful ignorance, which requires a devotion to not knowing. As examples of willful ignorance, she thinks of plantation owners in the pre–Civil War South who chose not to acknowledge the suffering, much less the humanity, of slaves. She thinks of Germans during the Holocaust who chose not to acknowledge the death camps. She thinks of fossil fuel magnates, strip-mine owners, junk food tycoons, pesticide peddlers, military profiteers, and other moguls who refused to acknowledge the injury and misery they caused. She thinks also of the ordinary people, evidently a majority of Americans early in the twenty-first century, who ignored warnings about the disruption of Earth’s living systems, shutting out any knowledge that might have required them to sacrifice comfort or money or time.
One exhibition of willful ignorance that Rachel finds particularly disgraceful, even by the low standards of that day, occurred during the 2012 presidential campaign, when seven of the eight candidates seeking nomination by one of the major parties refused to admit that human actions were heating the planet. Fortunately, in Rachel’s view, that party has long since withered away, and so has its chief rival, but not before the two parties sold the American political system to corporations and billionaires. Those corporations and billionaires also funded tv channels and so-called think tanks that pumped out propaganda as thick as smog, all aimed at obscuring any link between the accumulation of financial wealth and the desolation of the planet. Advertising, largely paid for out of the same deep pockets, pervaded every medium and every space, pushing all the buttons of human appetite and fear to sell everything from sugary drinks and gas-guzzling trucks to gambling weekends in Las Vegas and blissful eternity in heaven.
Eventually, the most irresponsible of the giant corporations were dismantled, or buckled under the weight of their own obliviousness, and the billionaires died off or were rendered harmless by the collapse of the world’s financial systems. Their hoards of money, which they had guarded with the ferocity of dragons defending heaps of gold, were revealed to be nothing more than digits in databanks. Eventually, no amount of propaganda could hide the ruin that was overtaking the planet, nor could the parade of electronic toys, the chatter of celebrity gossip, or the spectacles of sex and sports and violence. At long last, people woke up. But by then it was too late to stave off the global devastation that everyone alive in 2100 must now contend with.
Most of what Rachel has learned about those decades leading up to the Great Unraveling fills her with fury, especially the behavior of the world’s richest nations during the period between 1980 and 2020, when it would still have been possible to avert the worst of the damage. In the face of clear warnings, those rich nations—the U.S. most prominent among them—continued their frenzy of mining and burning and paving and plundering.
Rachel’s anger is tempered, however, by her discovery that a substantial minority of Americans back then were appalled by the ruinous effects of their culture and economy. Among them were scientists and teachers, civic and religious leaders, dedicated journalists, courageous politicians, the staff and supporters of conservation groups and social justice organizations, and millions of ordinary people who chose to live in such a way as to cause less damage. A surprising number of people, young and old, went to jail for trying to slow the industrial onslaught: they lay down in front of bulldozers, chained themselves to the doors of banks, pulled up survey stakes, camped in the branches of old growth trees, sabotaged coal-mining equipment, harassed whaling ships, interfered with auctions of drilling permits, defaced billboards, or demonstrated at stockholder meetings. Others set out to amend some of the damage by cleaning up rivers, restoring prairies and wetlands, protecting endangered animals and plants, or creating gardens in schoolyards and backyards and vacant lots.
Rachel feels grateful toward that minority, for without their efforts the web of life would have become even more tattered and the conditions of life even more desperate. Trained in restoration ecology, she spends her days struggling to revive one of the last remaining salmon runs on the Pacific coast. The work is hard, constrained at every turn by the leavings of the fossil fuel era. Poisons, floating plastic, crumbling dams, high acidity, denuded shorelines, and other hazards endanger the salmon from the headwaters of their native streams to the depths of the ocean. Despite her efforts and those of her fellow scientists, despite the labor of volunteers who remove trash from streams and plant willows to shade the spawning beds, the salmon may perish—the Sockeye, Coho, Chinook, and all the rest—as over a million other species have perished. But she will not give up as long as any fish remain.
Meanwhile, in the evenings, tired from work and often discouraged, she keeps reading. After learning all she can from histories and scientific reports, she turns to the books she has inherited from her great-grandmother, the volumes of poetry, fiction, and essays, to see what American writers of the early twenty-first century had to say about the rush toward the Great Unraveling. Their language can seem as antique as that of Shakespeare, but she makes the effort to decipher it. Perhaps in the yellowing pages of these books she can find consolation, even guidance, for living among the ruins.
To describe what she finds in those books requires me to return from 2100 to our time, and to proceed with an awareness of my own inescapable ignorance. I can speak with confidence about Rachel, since I invented her. What I say about the condition of the world in her day is necessarily more speculative, but the scenario I’ve sketched is well within the mainstream projections offered by today’s scientists. Though not infallible, those projections are the most reliable we have, for they arise from the careful gathering and analysis of data and the building of computer models by thousands of highly trained researchers.
I cannot draw on any such collaborative knowledge in describing the trove of books handed down from Rachel’s great-grandmother. Of course, I am free to fill that imagined library with whatever books I choose. But in doing so I am limited by my own tastes and concerns, and by the scope of my reading. I love the American land and I am disturbed by the reckless way we have treated it, so I read by preference books grounded in this country—the actual country, the fields and forests, rivers and mountains—and therefore books largely written by authors who do not live in our great cities. Perhaps it goes without saying that my reading has also been influenced by my gender, age, race, and social class. No doubt there are many books, beyond those I have read, that would stir me by their artistry and vision if I were to open them.
Conceding these limitations, and assuming others I’m not aware of, let me name a few of the American writers actively publishing after 1980 whose works I want Rachel to inherit from her great-grandmother: Edward Abbey, A. R. Ammons, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Louise Erdrich, Jim Harrison, Robert Hass, Barbara Kingsolver, Galway Kinnell, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, W. S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gary Snyder, Wallace Stegner, and Terry Tempest Williams. The list could be greatly extended. In fact, the notes from which I draw this sample contain more than a hundred additional names. But the names I have offered should be enough to serve my purpose, which is to characterize the literature from our time that I consider most pertinent to the challenges Rachel and her contemporaries are likely to confront a century from now.
The works of these writers are diverse in form and voice, yet they share, to varying degrees, certain defining features. These works are not preoccupied with the lives of their authors, but more broadly with human culture and its place in the natural order. They recognize that we are born from this living web, we are sustained by it while we live, we return to it when we die, and we share our astonishing transit with millions of other species. They decry the devastation caused by the violent application of technology, whether in agriculture or mining or war. They champion values contrary to those of the marketplace—values such as cooperation, fairness, frugality, stewardship, generosity, and reverence—and they resist the drive for perpetual growth, which Ed Abbey memorably called “the ideology of the cancer cell.” By their painstaking use of language, these works also counter the shallow, shoddy, often deceitful rhetoric of merchants, politicians, military apologists, and corporate hacks.
I am tempted to quote from all of these authors, for I would like the readers of this page, as well as my imagined Rachel, to hear their voices. But I will content myself with four samples. The first comes from Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild:
We can appreciate the elegance of the forces that shape life and the world, that have shaped every line of our bodies—teeth and nails, nipples and eyebrows. We also see that we must try to live without causing unnecessary harm, not just to fellow humans but to all beings. We must try not to be stingy, or to exploit others. There will be enough pain in the world as it is.
Such are the lessons of the wild. The school where these lessons can be learned, the realms of caribou and elk, elephant and rhinoceros, orca and walrus, are shrinking day by day. Creatures who have traveled with us through the ages are now apparently doomed, as their habitat—and the old, old habitat of humans—falls before the slow-motion explosion of expanding world economies. If the lad or lass is among us who knows where the secret heart of this Growth-Monster is hidden, let them please tell us where to shoot the arrow that will slow it down. And if the secret heart stays secret and our work is made no easier, I for one will keep working for wildness day by day.1
The second example comes from the closing lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Wild Geese”:
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.2
Third is Wallace Stegner in The Sound of Mountain Water:
Not many people are likely, any more, to look upon what we call “progress” as an unmixed blessing. Just as surely as it has brought us increased comfort and more material goods, it has brought us spiritual losses, and it threatens now to become the Frankenstein that will destroy us. One means of sanity is to retain a hold on the natural world, to remain, insofar as we can, good animals. Americans still have that chance, more than many peoples; for while we were demonstrating ourselves the most efficient and ruthless environment-busters in history, and slashing and burning and cutting our way through a wilderness continent, the wilderness was working on us.3
And, fourth, Barbara Kingsolver in Small Wonder:
Protecting the land that once provided us with our genesis may turn out to be the only real story there is for us. The land still provides our genesis, however we might like to forget that our food comes from dank, muddy earth, that the oxygen in our lungs was recently inside a leaf, and that every newspaper or book we may pick up (including this one, ultimately, though recycled) is made from the hearts of trees that died for the sake of our imagined lives. What you hold in your hands right now, beneath these words, is consecrated air and time and sunlight and, first of all, a place. . . . Storytelling is as old as our need to remember where the water is, where the best food grows, where we find our courage for the hunt. It’s as persistent as our desire to teach our children how to live in this place that we have known longer than they have. Our greatest and smallest explanations for ourselves grow from place, as surely as carrots grow in the dirt. I’m presuming to tell you something that I could not prove rationally but instead feel as a religious faith. I can’t believe otherwise.4
Among the crucial “lessons of the wild,” in Snyder’s phrase, that one finds in these four passages is the recognition that humans do not stand outside of nature, but belong inextricably to the community of living beings. This membership is cause for delight, a source of comfort and strength. To ignore it, or to be prevented from experiencing it by layers of human artifice, is to be impoverished. Nature is the primordial world, the reality that preceded us, surrounds us, makes us. Although our technological power may delude us into thinking we can impose our will on the planet, altering it to suit our needs and desires, nature ultimately determines which forms of economy and society will endure, and which ones will perish. A civilization dependent on ever-more violent disruptions of natural systems to feed ever-expanding levels of consumption will either be chastened, as conditions deteriorate, and shift to a regime of conservation and restoration, or it will collapse.
One reason I wish to imagine Rachel and her contemporaries reading this literature is so that they might feel less scorn toward us. I want them to know that American writers were not all fiddling while the world burned. I want them to know that writers of talent and serious purpose, living in the most prodigal nation during the most destructive decades of the fossil fuel era, diagnosed our cultural sickness and proposed ways of thinking and imagining and acting that might heal us.
My deeper reason for wanting this literature to survive into Rachel’s day is because it conveys an understanding of the human place in nature that our descendants will need if they are to rebuild civilization on a more just and durable foundation.
By suggesting that literature might change us for the better and inspire us to mend a damaged world, I am taking sides in a long-running aesthetic debate epitomized by two famous passages from twentieth-century poetry. The first comes from W. H. Auden’s elegy for William Butler Yeats:
[M]ad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper; it flows south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.5
The second comes from William Carlos Williams’ “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower”:
My heart rouses
Thinking to bring you news
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.6
Allowing poetry to stand for literature in general, I agree with Auden that literature by itself cannot cure the madness of a whole society, nor is it likely to sway the executives who hold the reins of power; but I also agree with Williams that literature can provide something vital for our survival. To suggest what that vital contribution might be, I begin with a statement made by George Orwell at an earlier time of worldwide devastation.
Orwell’s essay “Why I Write” was published in 1946, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, during which over sixty million people had been killed, either directly by bullets and bombs and poison gas, or indirectly by starvation or war-related disease. Much of Europe lay in ruins. The full horrors of the concentration camps had recently come to light. A year earlier, the nuclear age had been ushered in with the destruction of two Japanese cities and the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Though some totalitarian regimes had collapsed, dictators continued to rule the Soviet Union, Spain, and other countries. In the Allied nations, wartime conditions had been used to justify the imprisonment of pacifists, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and other forms of repression. The economic collapse that preceded the war had thrown millions of people into poverty, and in 1946 most of them remained there. And all of this havoc was the result of human actions.
In the context of this dire history, Orwell set out to explain why he wrote and what larger purpose he hoped to serve:
Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:
1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc etc. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one. . . .
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. . . .
3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
4. Political purpose—using the word “political” in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.7
Orwell speculated that “in a peaceful age” he might have been guided by the first three motives, producing “ornate or merely descriptive books,” substantially avoiding politics. But he had served in the British imperial police, slept on the streets with paupers, interviewed striking coal miners during the Depression, watched the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, fought in the Spanish Civil War, served in the Home Guard during World War II, and walked among the bomb craters and bread lines in London. How could he avoid “political purpose”? Having watched totalitarian governments and unjust economic systems wreak so much havoc, how could he refrain from trying, through his writing, “to push the world in a certain direction, to alter people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after”?
The havoc wrought by our own economic systems and plutocratic governments, and by our unchecked appetites, is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. But it is easy to avoid paying attention, at least for those of us living in rich countries. We can retreat inside our buildings and vehicles, turn keys and throw switches to enlist the power of fossil fuels, immerse ourselves in the phantasmagoria served up by the electronic media. Inside our bubbles, we may remain oblivious to the rising seas, the spreading deserts, the vanishing species, the resource wars, and the swelling numbers of refugees. The worst of the havoc will be visited on coming generations, long after we are gone, and is therefore even easier for us to ignore.
We must thank the scientists for documenting this planetary catastrophe and our role in causing it, and we must hope they will continue their valiant efforts. But scientists can study only what they can measure. They can provide statistics about the rapid decline in populations of amphibians, for example. But they cannot measure the joy of hearing the exuberant ringing calls of tiny frogs known as spring peepers, calls that announce the year’s rebirth, nor can they measure the grief one feels over the diminishing and eventual silencing of that spring chorus. The scientists cannot measure the cost of sacrificing a forest for a parking lot, a swamp for a soybean field, a mountaintop for cheap electricity, a child’s life for a toxic dump.
Such costs do not register on meters or spreadsheets. Numbers and graphs, valuable as they are, cannot move us to radically change how we live, and nothing short of a radical shift from consumption to conservation will be adequate to the crisis we face. To change—not out of fear or coercion but deliberately, willingly—we need affection as well as information, compassion as well as reason; we need visions of a society more peaceful and sustainable than the one we have, visions that speak to our senses and sympathies and imagination. And that is why we need the arts. I mean all the arts, but I focus on literature, the one I know best.
In Chekhov’s story “Gooseberries,” at one point the narrator reflects on how easily, amid our comforts and routines, we ignore the suffering of others:
Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It’s a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree—and all goes well.8
Less bluntly than the tap of a hammer but just as vividly, Chekhov’s stories remind us of the human beings behind the statistics. Whether or not Chekhov had a political purpose in the sense defined by Orwell, he clearly sought to inspire in his readers the compassion he felt toward the landless peasants, jilted wives, neglected children, victims of cholera or consumption, and other “unhappy people” on whom so many of his characters were modeled.
The novelist Marilynne Robinson has described how our engagement with fictional characters can shape our feelings toward real people:
I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of—who knows it better than I?—people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced by the nonexistent, that great clan whose numbers increase prodigiously with every publishing season. I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.9
The desire to reduce the suffering of other beings, whether human or nonhuman, arises from this imaginative love, and that is true regardless of the cause of the suffering—racism, sexism, war, illness, injustice, poverty, or environmental degradation. Literature nurtures this love by making those suffering beings present to us, making them familiar, making them seem no longer like strangers or alien tribes, but like kindred.
Seeking to bring into our care people not yet born, as I have sketchily tried to do with Rachel, may seem quixotic or even perverse, given the unmet needs of people alive today. But what are the most pressing needs of people alive today? Wholesome food, drinkable water, clean air to breathe, shelter, education, adequate healthcare, meaningful work, access to birth control, and freedom from violence. The changes in our ethics and politics and economy required if we are to provide these basic necessities for the world’s neediest people are precisely the changes required if we are to assure a more hopeful prospect for coming generations.
Some people might object that unborn generations do not exist, and in a literal sense this is true. Those who raise this objection, however, usually do so to justify squandering the goods of the world, a sentiment captured in a bumper sticker I have seen on more than one bloated sport utility vehicle: what has posterity ever done for me? To embrace this view is to become a monster of ingratitude. We are born into a world filled with natural goods that have been protected and cultural goods that have been created by previous generations. Think of parks, libraries, works of art, scientific discoveries, schools, medicines, tools, legal systems, breeds of livestock, varieties of crops, remnants of old-growth forests, and blossoming prairies and free-flowing rivers. Simple gratitude should make us strive to pass on these goods undiminished, if not enhanced.
We have also inherited the results of carelessness and cruelty—think of slavery, pogroms, dictatorships, blood feuds, manufactured poisons, and radioactive waste. Compassion should make us determined at the very least not to add to this toxic legacy.
Part of what it means to be human is to bear in mind the past and imagine the future, not just of oneself and not just of one’s own kind, but of the entire biosphere. We belong to an evolutionary procession that includes all life on Earth—the salmon and salamanders, the butterflies and whales. We are not born with this awareness. We must learn it. Long-surviving cultures have taught their children, through ceremony and story and song, to understand themselves as members of this grand procession.
In our own thus-far short-lived culture, driven by consumerism and global capitalism, the most influential messages say nothing of our place in the living community, nothing of what we owe to past or future generations, nothing of our responsibilities toward one another, but speak only of the ego and its hungers, and of products that can momentarily assuage those hungers. In the consumerist worldview, nature is not an encompassing order worthy of love and respect, an order with which we must harmonize our actions, but rather a warehouse of raw materials, a dumping ground for waste and, in certain places, a pretty backdrop for the human show.
What influence, short of ecological collapse, can shake us out of this delusion? Much of what passes for religion in America today is only another form of merchandizing, promising salvation or prosperity or eternal life in exchange for obedience to a creed and payment of dues. Much of what passes for art today is also a product manufactured for sale, a film or tv show or novel designed to suit the market. Still, there are religious communities that embrace material simplicity and spiritual richness, devoting themselves to stewardship of Creation. Likewise, there are filmmakers, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, and other artists who offer visions of a society more peaceful and sustainable than the one we have, visions that speak to our senses and sympathies and imagination.
Such healing visions, including those offered by the writers whose works I imagined bequeathing to Rachel, may seem a frail force to challenge the advertisers and warmongers and profiteers. Easy enough, if one is a writer, to concede that art makes nothing happen, at least nothing as momentous as rescuing a society from madness. Easy enough to dismiss Orwell’s ambition of trying to alter “other people’s idea of the kind of society” we should strive after. Freed of that burden, one could try making what sells or what impresses one’s fellow writers; one could fiddle with form, brood on one’s own history, or give up writing altogether. But if one is haunted by the knowledge that we are rapidly degrading the conditions for life on Earth, that millions of people are suffering now and millions more will suffer in the future because of our actions, how can one refuse to try, no matter the odds, no matter how modest one’s power, to nudge the world in a direction more peaceful, more loving, more sane?
1. Gary Snyder, “The Etiquette of the Wild,” The Practice of the Wild (San Francisco: North Point,
1990), pp. 4–5.
2. Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), p. 110.
3. Wallace Stegner, “Coda: Wilderness Letter,” The Sound of Mountain Water (Lincoln, NE: University
of Nebraska Press, 1980), pp. 147–48.
4. Barbara Kingsolver, “Knowing Our Place,” Small Wonder: Essays (New York: HarperCollins, 2002),
5. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” Selected Poetry of W. H. Auden (New York: Modern Library, 1958), p. 53.
6. “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New York: New
Directions, 1969), pp. 150–51.
7. George Orwell, “Why I Write,” The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,
Vol. 1, eds. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1965), pp. 3–4.
8. Anton Chekhov, “Gooseberries,” The Wife, and Other Stories, trans. Constance Garnett
(New York: Macmillan, 1918), p. 283.
9. Marilynne Robinson, “Imagination and Community,” When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p. 21.