Books inspired and continue to fuel the environmental movement, from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and to today’s frontline writers, including David Gessner, Bill McKibben, Frances Moore Lappé, Carl Safina, Terry Tempest Williams, and many more. Consequently, The Orion Book Award honors environmental writing. The finalists have been announced on the eve of Earth Day 2012:
The five finalists for the 2012 Orion Book Award are:
• Oil on Water, by Helon Habila (W.W. Norton & Co.)
• Fire Season, by Philip Connors (Ecco)
• Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell (Vintage)
• The View from Lazy Point, by Carl Safina (Picador)
• Raising Elijah, by Sandra Steingraber (De Capo)
The winner will be announced on May 3rd.
The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, the brain child of Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, who went on to serve as chairman of the Wilderness Society. April 21 is the birthday of nature visionary and advocate John Muir (1838-1914), born in Scotland and raised in Wisconsin. Muir’s acutely observed and ravishing essays and books about his adventures in the wild awakened the nation’s conservation spirit, while his tireless activism on behalf of wilderness protection led Muir to help establish Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Club.
Muir was an “earth ecstatic,” to use a coinage of Diane Ackerman’s, trekking for miles, lashing himself to trees during storms, collecting plants, climbing glaciers and mountains, absorbing the wild with every sense, then writing about his immersions in exalted language. For Muir, the earth was holy. In “My First Summer in the Sierra,” he wrote,
“Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever.”
“The great sun-gold noons, the alabaster cloud-mountains, the landscape beaming with consciousness like the face of a god. The sunsets, when the trees stood hushed awaiting their good-night blessings. Divine, enduring, unwastable wealth.”
And yet waste it we do.