WHAT TO READ by Tom Montgomery Fate

Tom Montgomery FateFriends of Ryerson Woods seeks to contribute to the development of an environmentally literate citizenry that has the skills, knowledge and inclinations to make well-informed choices that consider future generations. We believe environmental education extends beyond science to embrace human interaction with nature and its expression, including literature.  As such, we periodically invite individuals we respect to share a list of books that have influenced their thinking about nature and the environment.  As such, we invited our friend, author Tom Montgomery Fate, to share a list of books that have made an impression on him and his writing.  Some excellent food for thought here.  Enjoy!


“What is religion?” Thoreau once asked in his Journal.  His response:  “That which is never spoken.”  He describes taking a bath each day in Walden Pond as a “religious experience.”  From William Wordsworth to Mary Oliver there are dozens of books by writers who attempt to explore the spiritual components of observation and engagement with the natural world.  That said, I can recommend a few in recent years that might be of interest:

Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore

In an effort to make sense of the deaths in quick succession of several loved ones, Kathleen Dean Moore turned to the comfort of the wild, making a series of solitary excursions into ancient forests, wild rivers, remote deserts, and windswept islands to learn what the environment could teach her in her time of pain. This book is the record of her experiences. It’s a stunning collection of carefully observed accounts of her life—tracking otters on the beach, cooking breakfast in the desert, canoeing in a snow squall, wading among migrating salmon in the dark—but it is also a profound meditation on the healing power of nature.

The Force of Spirit by Scott Russell Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders reveals how the pressure of the sacred breaks through the surfaces of ordinary life-a life devoted to grown-up children and aging parents, the craft of writing, and the natural world. Whether writing to his daughter and his son as each prepares to get married, or describing an encounter with a red-tailed hawk in whose form he glimpses his dead father, or praising the disciplines of writing and carpentry and teaching, Sanders registers, in finely tuned prose, the force of spirit.

The Creation by E. O. Wilson

Called “one of the greatest men alive” by The Times of London, E. O.
Wilson proposes an historic partnership between scientists and religious leaders to preserve Earth’s rapidly vanishing biodiversity.  With his usual eloquence, patience and humor, Wilson, our modern-day Thoreau,
adds his thoughts to the ongoing conversation between science and religion. Couched in the form of letters to a Southern Baptist pastor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning entomologist pleads for the salvation of biodiversity, arguing that both secular humanists like himself and believers in God acknowledge the glory of nature and can work together to save it.

Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

Living for almost 40 years on a family farm in Kentucky has led Berry to place a high value on local knowledge born of a long and affectionate engagement of the intellect and imagination with a particular place. To readers of his poems, novels and essays, it will be no surprise that in his latest essay collection, he argues cogently and passionately against the proposition E.O. Wilson puts forth in Consilience, that our best hope for preserving the biosphere lies in linking facts and fact-based theory across disciplines under the hegemony of the natural sciences.

Writing the Sacred in the Real by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Descended from the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alison Deming appropriately begins this philosophical autobiography along the shores of the North Atlantic – on Grand Manan Island, in the Bay of Fundy. Moving on to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then to Tucson, Arizona, and Paomoho, Hawaii, Deming describes places that are dear to her because their ways are still shaped by terms nature has set, though less and less so. With vivid ideas and passion, Deming writes about the importance of nature writing for these peripatetic times. Because people’s lives are materially less connected to the natural world, they are also spiritually less connected. Through the arts – through the story of the captain whose boat honors the Kwakiutl “Wild Woman of the Woods” or the fisherman who sacrifices his catch to save two whales – people fall again “into harmony with place and each other”; they write the sacred into the real.

The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough

In this eloquent volume, eminent biologist Ursula Goodenough reconciles the modern scientific understanding of reality with our timeless spiritual yearnings for reverence and continuity. Looking at topics such as evolution, emotions, sexuality, and death, Goodenough writes with rich, uncluttered detail about the workings of nature in general and of living creatures in particular. Her luminous clarity makes it possible for even non-scientists to appreciate that the origins of life and the universe are no less meaningful because of our increasingly scientific understanding of them. At the end of each chapter, Goodenough’s spiritual reflections respond to the complexity of nature with vibrant emotional intensity and a sense of reverent wonder.  A beautifully written celebration of molecular biology with meditations on the spiritual and religious meaning that can be found at the heart of science, this volume makes an important contribution to the ongoing dialog between science and religion. This book will engage anyone who was ever mesmerized–or terrified–by the mysteries of existence.

And if you prefer audio to print, here is a wonderful series exploring the relationship between science and religion from PRI’s To the Best of Our Knowledgehttp://www.wpr.org/book/GOD/index.html

Tom Montgomery Fate is a professor of English at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and the author of five nonfiction books.  The most recent is Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild.  For more information on Tom’s work, please visit:  http://tommontgomeryfate.com/

Book descriptions drawn from Amazon.com.