Since its founding four hundred years ago, New England has been a vital source of nature writing. Maybe it’s the diversity of landscapes huddled so close together or the marriage of nature and culture in a relatively small, six-state region. Maybe it’s the regenerative powers of the ecosystem in a place of repeated exploitations. Or maybe we have simply been thinking about our relationship with the natural world longer than everyone.
If all successive nature writing is a footnote to Henry David Thoreau, then New England has a strong claim to being the birthplace of the genre. But there are, as the sixty entries in this anthology demonstrate, many other regional voices that extol the wonders and beauty of the outdoors, explore local ecology, and call for environmental sustainability. Between these covers, Noah Webster calls for our stewardship of nature and Lydia Sigourney finds sublime pleasure in it. Jonathan Edwards and Helen Keller both find miracles, while Samuel Peters and Mark Twain find humor. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne discovers a place to hide his metaphors, while the enslaved James Mars discovers an actual hiding place.
Through it all is the apprehension of a profound and lasting splendor, “the glory of physical nature,” as W.E.B. Dubois calls it, something beyond our everyday concerns and yet tied so closely to our daily lives that we cannot escape it. Nature writing cultivates our sense of beauty, inflaming curiosity and the passion to explore. It opens us to deep, primal experiences that enrich life. Anyone wanting to understand our relationship with the world must start here.
David K. Leff is an award-winning essayist, former deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and poet laureate, town meeting moderator, and historian of Canton, Connecticut. He is the author of six nonfiction books, three volumes of poetry and two novels in verse, including The Breach: Voices Haunting a New England Mill Town. His 2016 travel adventure, Canoeing Maine’s Legendary Allagash: Thoreau, Romance and Survival of the Wild won a silver medal in the Nautilus Book Awards for memoir and a silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for regional nonfiction. Another Thoreau oriented book, Deep Travel: In Thoreau’s Wake on the Concord and Merrimack was published in 2009 by the University of Iowa Press. In 2016-2017 the National Park Service appointed David poet-in-residence for the New England National Scenic Trail (NET). His journals, correspondence, and other papers are archived at the University of Massachusetts Libraries in Amherst.Eric D. Lehman is an Associate Professor at the University of Bridgeport and the author or editor of ninteen books, including seven from Globe Pequot Press: Insiders’ Guide to Connecticut, A Connecticut Christmas, Connecticut Waters, Connecticut Town Greens, Quotable New Englander, Yankee’s New England Adventures, and New England at 400: From Plymouth Rock to Present Day. His biography of Charles Stratton, Becoming Tom Thumb, won the Henry Russell Hitchcock Award from the Victorian Society of America, and was chosen as one of the American Library Association's outstanding university press books of the year. His novella, Shadows of Paris, was the Novella of the Year from the Next Gen Indie Book Awards, won a Silver Medal for Romance from the Foreword Review Indie Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award.