Lyrical nature essays set mostly in the American Southwest, with excursions to the tropics to escape the desert sun.
Meloy (The Last Cheater’s Waltz, 1999, etc.) is the laureate of far southeastern Utah, where she works as a writer and river-runner; it’s turf she knows well, and, though the literature of the Colorado Plateau is crammed with good work by the likes of Ann Zwinger, Edward Abbey, and Terry Tempest Williams, she finds much that is fresh to report. Winding her way through the “geography of asceticism, in broken lands of bare rock and infrequent green,” she contemplates the mysteries of life and death, visits the backcountry of the Navajo nation (and informs us, among other useful facts, that the Navajo language has no word for freckles), considers what it means to be attached to one particular place, and takes a few potshots at the urban civilization on the plateau’s fringes in places such as Los Angeles (or, rather, in one of the book’s few clumsy images, “the platter of human paella that is Los Angeles”). With the exception of a couple of superfluous forays to the Bahamas and the Yucatán, Meloy sticks to country that she knows intimately, and her close knowledge of plant and animal life is evident on every page. There are a few of the humans bad/nature good tropes of other environmental works here and there, though Meloy has a lighter than usual touch: “Every so often, and especially when Homo sapiens, in our unwavering devotion to becoming the first species to witness our own extinction, escalates the pace and level of destruction, the natural world (what there is left of it) seems to respond in a flurry of irksome mischief,” she writes, proceeding to report on the doings of lizards, crickets, ants, birds, and her fellow humans.
Smart, evocative, and memorable: nature-writing done right.