Poet, essayist, and memoirist Daniel (Looking After, 1996, etc.) charts his emergence as a writer and environmentalist.
Investigating his interest in and bright sympathy with the natural world, Daniel discovers glimmerings during his youth “in what were then the semirural outskirts of Washington, D.C.,” where he went fishing, observed the shivering mystery of a rumbling underground stream, and dodged hail the size of grapes. By high school, psychedelics were more his cup of tea, but he also went climbing up and down the West Coast. “It turned out that climbing, like fishing before it, had in a way prepared me for creative writing. . . . I knew what is was to labor in tense uncertainty, hoping that one move would lead me to the next.” His writing was helped along by Daniel’s study of Gary Snyder’s compact, tough, and focused poems, as well as Wallace Stegner’s grave, lively works about the western wilderness. Loren Eiseley gave Daniel a creation narrative he could accept. Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry taught him something about being a member of the living community. William Stafford counseled him to give “sustained attention to the promptings of language” and willingly follow where they lead. In Daniel’s case, they led to exploring the whole idea of home, in particular his home in western Oregon among the trees, berries, and incandescent green. Yet writing about nature can also divide him from it, he observes: “The problem may not be that language falsifies experience . . . but that to one extent or another language can come to replace experience.” Spending time outdoors is a counterweight, as is defense of the environment, though the author urges conservationists to “more forthrightly acknowledge our own implication in and insulation from natural resource economies.”
“It is enough, it is plenty, to be a small parcel of Nature’s becoming,” writes Daniel. In this reflective and polished text, he has very much insinuated himself into the process.