Out of the Woods

See­ing Na­ture in the Ev­ery­day

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Ju­lia Cor­bett, Univer­sity of Ne­vada Press (SEPTEM­BER) Soft­cover $17.95 (232pp) 978-1-943859-87-0

In Out of the Woods, Ju­lia Cor­bett writes about na­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment around her with a sense of won­der but also a kind of self-re­flec­tive melan­choly. She rec­og­nizes, for ex­am­ple, that de­spite see­ing and hear­ing the birds in her own back­yard in Salt Lake City, she chooses to en­joy na­ture by es­cap­ing to the nearby Wasatch Moun­tains. In the moun­tains, she writes, “the ‘wild’ na­ture … seems free of con­tam­i­na­tion by hu­man de­sires and ac­tions.”

This dilemma sets the tone for many of her in­sight­ful, of­ten poignant es­says. About re­cy­cling: Cor­bett sees the prefer­ablil­ity of alu­minum, bet­ter be­cause of its close con­nec­tion with the earth through baux­ite, and the dan­gers of plas­tic, which re­cy­cles poorly, as ev­i­denced by the fact that five of the seven re­cy­cling num­bers stamped on plas­tics “are rarely or never able to be re­cy­cled.” She ag­o­nizes over a lo­cal re­tailer who keeps the doors to his estab­lish­ment open to welcome cus­tomers; his lack of en­ergy con­scious­ness “mod­els this waste­ful be­hav­ior for oth­ers.” Even when it comes to main­tain­ing the grass in her yard, she is con­flicted; in­stead of fol­low­ing the lead of her neigh­bors with their neatly man­i­cured lawns, Cor­bett cul­ti­vates a “Free­dom Lawn” which “en­cour­ages a hardy poly­cul­ture where all kinds of plants grow.”

Through­out this well-crafted, con­tem­pla­tive col­lec­tion, Cor­bett writes elo­quently about the en­vi­ron­men­tal co­nun­drums she faces in the hope that they will im­pact the sen­si­bil­i­ties of oth­ers. With some amount of angst, she ob­serves, “It is hard for an in­di­vid­ual liv­ing within our dom­i­nant en­ergy sys­tem to ques­tion and dis­rupt the sys­tem it­self; it is far larger than the en­ergy; it is the en­tire sys­tem and the con­sumer cul­ture that en­ergy pro­duces.”

Cor­bett’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with the en­vi­ron­ment comes across as gen­uine and au­then­tic. Her provoca­tive, timely mes­sage sug­gests we are not “out of the woods” quite yet.

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