Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was blessed to be surrounded by trees, the sweet smell of hay, and some avid skiers. Thanks to my body’s sometimes-painful aversion to the cold, I didn’t quite take advantage of everything the outdoors had to offer, but the good news is there is much to be offered! Despite the extensive timber industry in its past, Wisconsin still has 17.1 million acres of forestlands1 and over 80 state park and recreation areas.2 Lots of wilderness to explore!
Other than my blatant refusal to go ice fishing or sit in a deer stand for longer than 30 minutes, I find the Wisconsin outdoors to be very serene. So many pines, so many lakes, so many cows.
Fun fact: “At the federal level, the U.S. Geological Survey does not have an official definition of lakes, but it does lump together ponds and lakes as water body features. The USGS counts 124,522 water body features in Minnesota and 82,099 in Wisconsin.”3 You win this time, Minnesota.
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to explore the relationship between literature and nature, and there is a term for this: ecocriticism. So, am I an ecocritic? I am willing to say yes, because we can all be ecocritics when we explore with an ecocritical mindset. I am a novice just beginning to orient myself on this new path – and there are tools we can use to view our surroundings through the lens of ecocriticism.
What is ecocriticism? The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) notes the following definition: “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.”4 This includes more than the pastoral-themed essays I had once thought encompassed all environmental literature. In fact, rural settings are not just a getaway for the stressed urbanite. The Purdue OWL presents the following specific tropes: pastoral, wilderness (something to be conquered), and ecofeminism (“interconnection of the oppression of women and nature”).4
My next TBR theme is environment-related. Are you, like me, a more consistent reader when you read books thematically? (More posts about that to come!)
Hope Jahren, geobiologist and author of Lab Girl, released a new book this year called The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here and I’m excited to add it to my repertoire.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has published multiple books out about the importance of nature. His bio states “His books have been translated and published in 24 countries, and helped launch an international movement to connect children, families and communities to nature.”5 Community access to recreation programs is one of the topics I want to explore in my upcoming Master’s program, so Louv’s books will be making their own TBR pile on my bookshelf very soon.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading snippets of The Singing Wilderness to my son before bed. It’s very soothing and enjoyable. Tthe last one we read was “The Red Squirrel”. They’re so mischievous and playful! Who doesn’t enjoy squirrels? I don’t have a squirrel tattoo for no good reason.
When I lived in California for a year, I was surprised when we went to a restaurant, asked for a round of waters at our table, and the response was, “We actually aren’t allowed to do that, everyone has to ask for their own water.” Years later, I’m a little more conscious about my choices (I have some reusable straws that I need to use more), but I want it to be more than that. When we view through the ecocritical lens, we learn new ways to interact with the environment and those around us.
Now that I’m older and no longer live in the frozen tundra, I appreciate the Northwoods in a new light, and I recognize that the landscape has shaped the people who call it home. Yet to be surrounded by such natural beauty and mainly taught the importance of recycling when Earth Day rolled around, is a shame but not surprising. It was a regular part of the lifestyle in California, sowhy didn’t it seem to be in Wisconsin? To learn the answers to this and my many other questions, I’ll have to dig a little deeper and develop my practice as an ecocritic.
- 1 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Accessed 19 July 2020. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/forestry.html
- 2 Accessed 19 July 2020. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/findapark.html
- 3 Brown,Heather. 2019, 4 June. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2019/06/04/which-has-more-lakes-minnesota-or-wisconsin/
- 4 Accessed 19 July 2020. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/ecocriticism.html
- 5 Accessed on 19 July 2020. http://richardlouv.com/about/