Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

I dived headfirst into Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray and barely came up for breath until I finished. It magically combined several of my favorite themes including nature, childhood, ecology, Southern lore and family angst, trees, trees, and more trees.

Ray interweaves the story of her childhood growing up dirt poor amongst her family junkyard. We have the phrase "poor trash" in our society to denote those souls that grow up in our back country rural places, and Ray lived the story on the soil of Georgia as they survived to make it day by day. The interesting thing about the trash - both in human and physical items - is that there are jewels of interest for things that we might normally throw away.

She played school and wrote with chalk on the sides of abandoned automobiles, made a raft of car gas tanks to sail on tree rimmed ponds, and her Daddy could pull a vacuum out of a heap and tinker with it a bit and soon it hummed just right. Pieces of things would have a second life and provide an meager income for a family growing up in the 1970's.

As a naturalist author Ray intersperses her story with information about trees of the South, mostly the longleaf pine. One of my favorite parts of the book describes the birds partial to nesting in the trees of a longleaf pine, and how they like old growth trees the best. The Red Cockaded Woodpecker is a unique little bird that nests in the nooks and cavities of a live pine tree and carves it's nest out year through year. Ray weaves an eloquent chapter on this little bird and incorporates many of the facts about the species in this chapter. She includes tidbits about the threats to the habitat of this breed of Woodpecker, and I found myself captivated by the information. If you investigate the link above you will journey to the Cornell site that tells you more of this interesting little bird.

Incorporated into the book are nuggets that stay with you, such as the commentary on clear cutting forests. She writes, " If you clear a forest, you'd better pray continuously." " God doesn't like a clear cut. It makes his heart turn cold, makes him wince and wonder what went wrong with his creation, and sets him to thinking about what spoils the child. You'd better be pretty sure that the cut is absolutely necessary and be at peace with it, so you can explain it to God, for it's fairly certain he's going to question your motives........" And she goes on to describe clear cutting, the impact, and the effects on the diversity of the forest with replanting.

Her novel (slash) non-fiction (slash) autobiography is almost a snapshot of many of my experiences in the South. Her descriptions of her grandmother mirror my own Grandmaw in many ways that I was startled. The food, the cooking, the heart of a Southern woman are captured in her descriptions of family and relatives. Add a dash of mental illness in the family history and it makes for a mighty interesting story.

The book won the American Book Award, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern environment. It was also chosen for the "All Georgia Reading the Same Book" project by the Georgia Center for the Book. (info from Wiki) Ray went forward beyond her junkyard childhood to become a noted author, naturalist and environmental writer. Her works have been published in Audubon, she is a known environmental activist and has been featured on NPR.

I'm quite intrigued to discover an author that blends many of my favorite elements together so well while prompting me to learn more, to go further, to dive deeper into the environment around me. She blends her facts and narrative elements together so well that I feel she would be a wonderful author for our Green readers to explore - and the combination of a book non-fiction readers will enjoy while satisfying the desire for just a good 'ole read adds up to a 5 out of 5 stars on my tally sheet.


Donna said...

Fascinating! I've never heard of this book before, but I love the title! I might have to look this one up. Thanks for a great review.

Going Crunchy said...

Thanks Donna!

Edit note: Fixed a typo or two and tightened it up. I was writing bleary eyed in the middle of the night! Shan

Kale for Sale said...

I know next to nothing of the south but love reading memoir and by an activist is a huge bonus. Many thanks as I've not heard of this book and it's exactly the way I enjoy immersing myself in a place, with a real story to lead the way.

Electronic Goose said...

Thanks for this review! I've had this book on my to-read list for a long time, and now I'm moving it up to the top. Time to head to the library! (And funny, cuz word verification wants me to write "hoping.")

Going Crunchy said...

Kale: I love exploring places through stories. Windows to the world, eh?

Goose: Yeah - Library!!!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Her book WILD CARD QUILT is excellent also!

Going Crunchy said...

Ooh, gotta look that one up too!

kate said...

I am about half way done with this book and don't know how I am going to finish. It is required reading for my son - and I like to read the same books he reads. This book is HORRIBLE! It is poorly written, difficult to understand, and has no real story that even attempts to catch the reader's attention. I figured someone at my son's school new the author and that this was the only way she could even sell a few copies! AWFUL!!!

Anonymous said...

We had to read this book in honors english this week and i dont remember what happen in chapter 2 o below the fall line..i need a chapter summary can anyone please help.