I’ve mentioned the joy of good review before. It is always pleasing to read that someone else likes the books that we work so hard on for so long. Of course, the author, most likely receives even more pleasure from such things.
The always intriguing Google Alerts notified me of a new review of Waiting for Coyote’s Call posted on Amazon.com, so I clicked on the link to see what it said. A perfect review is hard to find of course, but this must rank as fairly close. Thanks have to go to the reviewer as he spent time crafting the comments and delved deep into the meaning of the book. So, without further ado, read on:
Excellent, informative, and enjoyable eco-memoir, November 15, 2008
By Dean J. Spader (Midwest) – See all my reviews
Book Review of Waiting for Coyote’s Call:
An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff by Jerry Wilson
(South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2008)
In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold wrote: “Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested.” Leopold’s analogy urges us to harvest the crop of information provided by the specific ecosystem in which we live. Most of us fail miserably at this harvest, and perhaps that explains why humans are the most invasive species on Earth.
Fortunately for us, Jerry Wilson heard Leopold’s admonitions and spent 25 years harvesting this wisdom by daily recording the facts and observations of his bluff habitat in his journal. Now we the readers of this memoir can feast at the banquet that Jerry offers us from his laborious harvest. He serves a multicourse feast (20 chapters) that rivals those offered by his naturalist mentors (Leopold, Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Candace Savage, and many others). The banquet includes vivid descriptions of wildlife, detailed documentation of plant life, lively stories from his early farm life, and a verbal movie of his family’s ongoing experiment of life on the Missouri bluffs. My favorite course is the chapter in which Jerry details the laborious but inspiring years of successfully restoring prairie on 30 acres. Paradoxically, the chapter on the darkness and befriending the night was most enlightening! In short, all readers, especially Midwestern naturalists and Sierra members, should enjoy many, if not all, the courses in the feast of local knowledge and wisdom served in this book.
The book is divided into five parts with each part containing four chapters. The first part, “Rehomesteading the Prairie,” covers their purchase a bluff site and construction of a solar home using their own skills and labor. In the second part, “Into the Woods,” Wilson relates many “long-treasured images of youth,” (such as climbing trees and exploring forests, learning about water in streams and rivers, and probing how to let “darkness become my friend”) to his beliefs and practices.
In part three, entitled “All My Relatives,” Wilson uses extensive research to document the many human incursions into eastern South Dakota prior to 1858, and to tell engaging stories of past owners of the land since 1858. He ends part three with two informative chapters on the birds and wildlife along the bluff. Part four covers the many tasks of living in a “Prairie Home”—log splitting, removing rocks, gardening and raising food, to mention only a few—to show the concrete means used to achieve their goal of living more sustainably. Part five, entitled, “The Bluff and Beyond,” contains four chapters that follow the traditions of Leopold and Thoreau of critiquing destructive, modern practices, such as mono crop farming and surface mining in the Black Hills. The book’s final chapter, “A Year on the Bluff,” takes the reader through one year of the unique, month-by-month changes in bluff ecosystems that simultaneously point to broad circular and continuous patterns in nature.
Interspersing quotes from Leopold, Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Candace Savage, and many others, Wilson reveals a caretaker’s concern for nature’s diverse beauty (“Taking care is our highest calling.”) Though his memoir describes one family’s specific experiences, it contains universal appeal to all who seek a sustainable land ethic. To sustain nature, one must understand nature’s ways—at least enough to allow nature to pursue its own biotic complexity. This book delves into nature’s complex diversity while inviting all readers to imagine and feel its wondrous mysteries still unknown.
We know that nature unleashed becomes nature diversified. Wilson’s goal is to unleash nature and document its growing diversity. He knows that any attempt to describe the complex web of life is a mere snapshot in time, and he often uses the brevity of poetic vividness to add sharpness to his snapshots. But this is not a book of poetry, and he uses mostly a lively prose style to create dynamic verbal images that make his memoir flow like a movie. (A series of color photos in the middle of the book also add the touch of local flavor to his memoir.)
Wilson models the life path of land stewardship that both diminishes invasive footsteps, and labors strenuously to restore nature’s complex diversity. He encourages us to stop, listen and learn as we activate all our senses. He asks us to expand the quantity and quality of our own harvest of nature’s wisdom. Like Leopold, he warns that without both the information to know when to remain passive and when to bring our senses to high alert, we destroy nature’s invisible and interconnected webs.
I greatly enjoyed reading this memoir and profited richly from its intricate details, insightful quotes, stirring memories, critical observations, engaging humor, and lively stories. It is more than a memoir compiled from 25 years of daily journal entries; it is a coherent ethic for sustainable living through ongoing learning and inherent appreciation of nature’s feast of wisdom.
By, Dean Spader, Living River Group, Sierra Club