21 January 2013

How to Learn From the Pines

pine forest near my childhood home in Sharpsburg, Georgia

Recently, I started reading Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. It's about her life growing  up in a junk yard in south Georgia in the '60's and '70's. It's a perfect book to follow Praying for Sheetrock, which documents some striking events unfolding around the same time a couple towns away. And it makes me yearn for more great books about rural Georgia (suggestions?).

The best part about reading these two books for me is how much I've learned about the recent history of my home state. The history my parents were born into, the history my grandparents lived.

Throughout her book, Ray delves into the ecological history of her homeland and often describes what it used to look like - miles of uncut longleaf pine forest, the ground carpeted with wiregrass, crawling with gopher tortoises and the trees flecked with red-cockaded woodpeckers. This is one of my favorite passages:

This is the homeland that built us. [...] I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself [...] I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional than I've ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened, by it. Comforted. It is as if a round table springs up in the cathedral of pines and God graciously pulls out a chair for me, and I no longer have to worry about what happens to souls.


I love that because she gets at the feeling we all yearn to have - to experience wonder and be humbled by it; to understand your place in the world, not just in present terms but in historical ones, too; to have a place you can call home and to connect with that on a deep, sustaining level. All of those are sentiments that any human longs for. In a sense, I think they are what we live for.


Have you read a book or had an experience that gave you a different understanding of your home? I'm curious to know of more books like this.





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