My friend Melinda Kelley, photographer, activist, scientist, enjoying the soul of nature. Photograph by Rebecca Lawton.

(Updated from an earlier post titled “Language for the Land,” dated December 1, 2010.)

“The lack of language to adequately express our love of the land is the clearest indication that, despite our enormous successes in saving land across the country, we are losing the battle for the soul of America.” — Peter Forbes, author of The Great Remembering: Further Thoughts on Land, Soul and Society.

The above quote is on the fascinating website for the relatively new field of conservation psychology (in 2003, conservation psychology was considered an “emerging field”).  Wikipedia says conservation psychology is the “scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world.”

I agree with some of the quote, but I wonder who Forbes means by “we”? And where is he looking when he says there’s a “lack of language to adequately express our love of the land”?

The insertion of “adequately” in the sentence allows room for argument. Many voices have been and will continue to express love of the land. Still, all the voices in the world raised in chorus for the land, waters, and other natural features of this perfectly imagined planet may never be considered adequate.

Take poetry. What is it if not the language of love and longing?  Every day poets rise from their beds to write their passion for things generally found on this earth. The word-artists explore expression in their work that seeks to deepen everyday conversation.

There will always be more work to do, more love to express, more language to discover and uncover, more art and music to lace with land, water, nature, heart, beauty.

Meanwhile I offer a wisp of a reading list.  These are works I believe help convey love for the things of this globe, even as it changes before us.

1.  “Wild Geese,” “Some Questions You Might Ask,” “The Journey,” and other poems by Mary Oliver
2.  The Solace of Open Spaces, Heart Mountain, and other books by Gretel Ehrlich
3.  “King of the River” and other poems by Stanley Kunitz
4.  How Green Was My Valley, novel by Richard Llewellyn
5.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other plays by The Bard
6.  The Anthropology of Turquoise, Eating Stone, and other books by Ellen Meloy
7.  Orion, a bimonthly journal in print and online
8.  Wild to the Heart, The Ten-Mile Wolves, and other books by Rick Bass
9.  The Log from the Sea of Cortez and other works by John Steinbeck
10. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

My list is always changing. What’s on it may not be on your lifst, and both our lists may change from one day to the next. What moves it is personal, although of this world–this glorious place that sustains us and that we call home.


  1. Becca, did you get to take the Field Quarter class while you were at UCSC? I’ve been reading the last book Ken Norris wrote…Mountain Time. Judging from the others on your list I think you would like it, even if you didn’t get to know Ken. He was an amazing professor who taught many of us how to see nature.

    • Hi Simone! I will get my hands on Mountain Time. I never studied with Ken Norris, although I heard him lecture, and I loved following his work through stories shared by friends who were his students. I did get out in nature a lot during geology and biology classes, thanks to the wonderful focus on field research in the UCSC Earth Sciences department and the leadership of professors Leo LaPorte, Othmar Tobisch, Kay Behrensmeyer, Ray Collett, Jim Gill, Ken and MaryEllen Cameron, Eli Silver, and many many others. A great time and so influential in my life! And as for YOU! One of my strongest memories of time we shared was driving up 395 after skiing in Mammoth, taking in the beautiful, wide Owens Valley, and reveling in all the space.

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