The Practice of the Wild

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The tradition of writing about the natural world has been on of the most vital subdivisions of American literature. From the work of Henry David Thoreau through the recent essays of Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Bill McKibben, an examination and celebration of the life-sustaining powers of the unspoiled wilderness of the North American continent has been the central subject of an increasingly concerned group of artists and social activists. In a linked series of reflective essays and personal accounts, Gary Snyder continues the work he has done in this vein (EARTH HOUSE HOLD, 1969) both presenting a program for personal renewal and planetary conservation that is by logically convincing and lyrically inspiring.

Snyder has spent most of his life on journeys through the terrain of several continents and through the accumulated learning of many epochs. His command of archaeology, paleontology, etymology, and geology provides the foundation for his argument, but his ability to write clearly, forcefully, and engagingly is what makes his argument so provocative. Readers who might be inclined to ignore a man who shares the Native American and Taoist beliefs in the spiritual life of animals and the animating spirit of landscape will be reassured by the sensible, level-headed, and practical tone of his essays, while serious students of the environment will note the iron intelligence of his observations, a striking contrast to the mystical babble of some other...

(The entire section is 423 words.)