From an essayist and poet whose forays into the natural world are also journeys into literature, linguistics, history, science and philosophy comes a collection of lyrical pieces.
Dodd (English/Kansas State Univ.; In the Mind's Eye: Essays across the Animate World, 2008, etc.) moves through landscapes equipped with a keen sense of time and place and a perceptive eye. In Chaco Canyon, N.M., which she visited at the winter solstice, she paid attention not just to the sky and to light and shadow, but also to the ruins and the petroglyphs, subjects that led naturally to the minds of the people who once lived there. She noticed the birds, the most minute plant life, the snakes and the mammals. During her visit to Chimney Rock Pueblo to witness a lunar standstill, her thoughts turned to the biochemistry of time, the ways in which human bodies keep track of the seasons. Although Dodd traveled widely in the American West, hiking and camping in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and collecting pollen samples and counting bison at a Midwestern prairie research station, she also includes chronicles of her trips to the Orkneys and the Hebrides along the coast of Scotland. The megaliths she sees there inspire musings about the region’s medieval inhabitants, and a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula leads to an essay on the language and the numbering system of the Mayans. Throughout, Dodd entwines the details of her camping life—cold nights, hard beds, basic food—with her ruminations on culture, anthropology, geography, time and many other subjects.
These essays, whose opening paragraphs give little clue to where the author is going, are dense, surprising pieces that demand to be read and then reread with care.