It's lines like that one, along with the lines of his excellent detailed artwork, which make me love the books of David M. Carroll so much. His latest, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook, shows and tells his annual observations from the first breaks in the ice through its reforming in a New Hampshire wetland.
The evocative opening page describes his winter pathways in his old house, amidst overflowing bookcases and paintings and art supplies. The words which follow, whether in the forty page title essay in which he describes his route through the wetland, a route you can follow on his detailed map inside the covers, or in a chapter consisting of a single paragraph, are like paintings themselves. You'll want to savor them with the same method he uses in his walks/wades: very slowly, with frequent stops.
Turtles are his first love, and there are many of them here: Spotted, Wood, Blanding's, Snapping, Painted. The early chapters are filled with more suspense than you might expect in such a book as he finds the first turtles of the year. He beautifully mixes his own emotions regarding individual animals he's observed for years with reflections on the never-ending processes of evolution and species interactions. His pain, anger, and despair result not from what occurs in nature but from the modern gods of "development" and "progress".
But it's not only turtles he observes and records. Many fish, insects, birds, frogs, snakes, and plants are also found in these pages. An encounter with a gray fox comes in a fine chapter in which he's exploring a suburban wetland on behalf of a group trying to stop further development, trying to remain out of sight from nearby houses and roads, the roads named after what used to be there--Trillium Way, Ferncrest Drive, Birch Lane. After describing his reluctance to do this because of past frustrations after doing this sort of fact-finding comes this wonderfully understated line: "There is also the fact that paid turtle work is uncommon and sometimes hard to turn down." He's not at all surprised when the police show up to watch him--having spent a lot of time downtown looking for falcons with binoculars and in various other fascinations over the years, I could relate.
The final chapter raises the question of preservation vs. conservation in a very personal way for the author. Should some areas be left completely wild, not "saved" as parkland for people's recreation? Is there any room left on the planet for nature to be nature without human presence? To misquote a famous doctor, "Who speaks for the turtles?"
The merging of an artist's close observation of the natural world with a love for and need of that world, the emotions its destruction stirs in him, and his talent at putting all of that into words is a combination I can't resist. The man is my favorite living nature writer; it's not for nothing that he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" a few years ago. I hope you'll check out all his excellent work.
You can read an excerpt from the book here, and there are also links to a video/interview you should definitely watch and an older article the magazine published about him. If you'd like a t-shirt with his artwork, you have a choice of turtles or a dragonfly here.
Thursday Poem - Bio
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