The rant comes easily to nonfiction writers—especially environmental and nature writers. Most feel the need to write about nature either out of pure love for the natural world or out of concern for its well-being. Inherently, the writer will offer opinions on who is at fault for perceived ills and what we should be doing about it.
Earlier in this series of essays on nature writing in America, I have noted that Edward Abbey rants plentifully (I even admit that I often feel he’s kicking me in the butt). The targets of Abbey’s criticism are very specific, beginning with the National Park Service and certain corporations and extending in some cases to specific individuals associated with projects he hates.
Not so with Edward Hoagland. In my previous piece on Hoagland, I mentioned how this author’s early works hooked me hard and how I wasn’t entirely sure why. Curious, I looked more closely, comparing his early work to the most recent collection, Sex and the River Styx. Beginning in The Courage of Turtles and on up through the big compendium Hoagland on Nature, the writing is nearly devoid of finger-pointing. I didn’t notice it at first because I clearly understood Hoagland’s message about caring for the natural world without throwing humanity out with the pond-water, as it were. But a careful reading brings no villains—characters, yes, even characters acting in ways Hoagland seems to want us all to avoid, but there is never any specific criticism, like Abbey lofts at the Corps of Engineers or Loren Eiseley levels (more softly) at academia.
How does he do this? In this installment, I’m taking a short break from the regular personal-reflections-on-a-mid-century-environmental-writer format to provide a craft essay. And like any good craft essay (especially one to be read on-line), I will narrow my scope—to one work.