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Earth Works: Selected Essays by Scott Russell Sanders
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by Richard Mier, Martinsburg | 2013

A book review of the new Scott Russell Sanders book published by Indiana University Press in 2012

Scott Russell Sanders, he says up front , is an Earth writer, focused on the webs that connect us all to nature, communities, and “on out to the farthest reaches of the imagination.” This collection of thirty essays, written and published over the last twenty years, is full of acute and personal observations, not only about the environment but also about the questions which “must occur to every inquisitive mind.”

His reflections come one-on-one to the reader, diary-like, born of family and experience. He speaks as a gifted teacher—which he is, at Indiana University—about Emerson and Thoreau, René Dubos, Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, and Wendell Berry, to mention only a few. He writes wonderfully: his baby daughter is “a rosy wriggle of a girl;” in the mountains “snowy peaks rose before me like the promise of a world without grief.”

Nature, the environment, “our own indifference to other species, and even to our own long-term well-being” figure prominently. But he writes of other things, too. In “Mountain Music” he tells of a contentious trip to the Rockies with his then teen-aged son who is angry that his father’s deep concern about the environment leads to his “seeing nothing but darkness.” He writes movingly about his father and his father’s alcoholism in “Under the Influence.” Other essays are about a very short career in boxing (“Reasons of the Body”), a stint on a jury in a criminal trial (“Doing Time in the Thirteenth Chair”), and about petroglyphs, going home, looking at women, and money.
He always brings the reader gently back, no matter how far afield he deviates, to the central issue. More often insistent than strident, he makes it clear as glass that we are each of us responsible, including him. The current state of the world is our original sin; anyone with a car or a refrigerator is culpable. But it is also true, he writes, that the “summing together of countless acts of healing could restore the health of individuals, communities and planet.” One doesn’t so much read as listen—this book is worth a listen.

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