cover image Hoagland on Nature: Essays

Hoagland on Nature: Essays

Edward Hoagland. Lyons Press, $27.95 (498pp) ISBN 978-1-58574-652-1

Hoagland's singular blending of urban and natural observation ranks him among the best American essayists on any topic. He sees cows and dogs with the same reverence he does bears, deer, and cougars, avoiding what he calls ""unnatural distinctions between those wild and tamed."" Writing of life in rural Vermont (in ""Nature's Light""), he exhibits both the joy of a city boy unbound and the melancholy ambiguity of a lonely country man. In pieces like ""Of Cows and Cambodia,"" Hoagland refuses to separate humans from nature and insistently includes our problems--divorces, drugs, politics--in his scrutiny of nature. Because he is honest, he is melancholy about a future in which ""the frontier will be portrayed as merely harsh and not gleeful, or else as simply gleeful and not harsh."" But far from being a hopeless paean to a lost Eden, this collection offers a plentiful and dense stream of witty and uplifting thoughts. Hoagland, who was legally blind for a time until a risky surgery restored his eyes, has been everywhere and done everything, it seems, and yet he is still amazed. ""For me,"" he writes, ""with a lifelong belief that heaven is on earth, not nebulously up in the sky, I see it in every dawn and sunset.... I see it in the firmament at night and in a stand of spruce or a patch of moss beside a brook.""