An environmentalist writer’s lifelong struggle with her evangelical roots.
Given her career of writing passionately about nature and her ecological activism, one might think that Peterson (Animal Heart, 2004, etc.) was reared in a family of liberal environmentalists. In fact, her household was just the opposite: fundamentalist, Southern Baptist, and evangelical to the core. She began to doubt her place in God’s Christian army from a young age, when her pensive questions about animals’ souls and the afterlife got her kicked out of Sunday School and regularly rebuked at the family dinner table. She could never come to terms with the way that Christian fundamentalists, who considered themselves “in this world but not of it,” could fixate on a future in heaven while disregarding the beauty and fragility here on earth. This dangerous backwardness was most appalling in her father, who eventually headed of the U.S. Forestry Service. It wasn’t until well after college, newly recovered from a harrowing stint as an editorial staffer at the New Yorker, that Peterson learned to hold her own with her boisterous, highly conservative relatives. After years spent on the West Coast among liberals supposedly more like herself, Peterson began to recognize parallels between the rigid fundamentalism of End Times evangelists and the doomsday environmentalist camp. Both dwelled on the negative and used fear of annihilation as their main conversion tactic, and neither could satisfy her longing for a spiritual home in the natural world. By keeping the thread of her theme running consistently throughout the book, the author offers a selective memoir that blends her unique autobiography with compassionate and levelheaded observations about family, food, religion, life and our relationships with living things.
Whether rabble-rousing at Baptist summer camp or guarding seal pups by the Salish Sea, Peterson has a gift for describing her life’s many adventures with disarming understatement and narrative poise.