At first, I was suspicious of claims that Kathleen Dean Moore’s “Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature” invokes nature-writing artists like Annie Dillard and Rachel Carson. The author, also a professor and activist, penned the book after the consecutive deaths of three friends. According to the write-up on the back, the book “chronicles Moore’s search for peace in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.” Although I sympathized with her situation, I prepared myself to wade through mud-slow essays exploring someone else’s grief.
However, true to the spirit of effective nature writing, Moore’s focus is not continually on her own emotions. With intensely poetic imagery she tells stories, muses on nature’s mysteries, and skillfully ties them in with her own humanity. The effect is — most of the time — rich, uplifting prose. For example, Moore writes: “A father jogs by on the path, pushing his son in a stroller. He points out the geese to the child, who looks at his father’s pointing hand, not at the sky beyond it. No, up in the sky. Look! the father says. But the more wildly he waves his hand, the more fascinated the child is with the fingers, and what, in fact, could be more marvelous? Why am I looking for meaning instead of looking for geese?”
The only possible exceptions to the excellence of this collection of personal essays are a few occasions in which the poetic imagery is overdone, making Moore’s intent to be profound apparent — an endeavor she accomplishes effortlessly most of the time. I recommend reading these essays slowly, just one or two per day, in order to fully absorb their impact.
Moore divides the book into three themed sections: “Gladness,” “Solace” and “Courage.” In “Gladness,” she explores the concept of happiness by collecting data from her own life — an activity that may inspire readers to do the same.
“Solace” holds together the majority of the essays, and here is where we learn of her grief — the first essay is titled “My Old Friend, Sorrow,” where she writes, “No need to talk. We know each other well enough. A friend, so suddenly passed away. So quickly gone. Another. Another. Have you any words for this pain, my quiet passenger? Let us move carefully. This much weight can swamp a boat.” However, Moore balances areas of grief with lighter moments, like in the pieces “Never Alone or Weary” and “To Mend a Broken Pot.”
In the third section, “Courage,” Moore wraps up with words of wisdom. In “Look, the Rain has Stopped,” she relates: “I don’t know why we live or die, whether that’s necessary or contingent. But I will tell my students this: life and death are all or nothing. When you die, it’s done, the chance is gone. So when you live? When you live, make it all. Don’t wait for the rain to stop. Climb out of your tent with your mind engaged and your senses ablaze and let rain pour into you.”
Overall, “Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature” conveys a powerful message about the regenerative and healing powers of nature — a must-read.
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