cover image On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature

On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature

Melanie Challenger. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61902-018-4

Award-winning poet Challenger (Galatea) imbues this ambitious meditation with the courage of an explorer, the scientific curiosity of a botanist and a geologist, the excited digging of an archeologist, the compassion of a cultural anthropologist, the long reach of a historian, and the urgent concern of an environmentalist. She travels from a writer’s solitary cabin on the Ding Dong Moor, close by the ruins of a tin mine in Cornwall, England, to a journey to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, back to the North Yorkshire town of Whitby, and on to the tundra of the Arctic where the language and culture of the Inuit barely survive. Eventually Challenger comes to rest in a narrowboat on the River Cam in Cambridgeshire. At every stop in her “peregrination,” she muses on evolutionary changes marked by extinctions past and present. The chief culprit of our “estrangement from nature” in the 20th century is, for her, “the urge to fuse humans and technology.” Throughout this beautifully written, moving, and important book, Challenger yearns to find that feeling of belonging to a particular place. Her connection, one comes to feel, is to the past and present of our whole precarious planet. Agent: Jessica Woollard, the Marsh Agency. (Dec.)