Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

I read most of this book fast first, and I’ve been picking it up again and again since I bought it while on a July vacation in Georgia. What a powerhouse it is. Since this one, I’ve discovered two others Janisse Ray has written, Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Change on Home, and Pinhook. One reviewer wrote this about:“The most effective scenes in Wild Card Quilt are moody, impressionistic pieces that evoke the old South of Faulkner, but with an important difference: With Ray at the helm, you pretty much understand what the hell is going on the first time through.” She indulges her passion for a life lived close to the land, and doesn't mind the blinding sun sometimes.

Welcome, sister, to my world. Or I am glad to have discovered yours. Pull up a chair, a pillow, a plank. I do love to meet strident sisters of the heart, whose voices ring so clearly with such raw power and beauty. It is, to me, like finding family members in the woodwork – literally.

Another reviewer, a tree farmer,self-described conservationist who lives an hour from Janisse Ray's home, adds that Franklin Ray's family history was brutal, and that a history of mental illness was present. "A clue to Georgia's mental illness history is given through the words of a doctor. The doctor credits poor diets and eating an excess of corn during the Civil War as a leadin cause of southern mental illness." The family was fundamentalist in their religion, followers of radio evangelist Bishop Johnson, whose believers were called Apostolics. Flannery O'Connor meets Rachel Carson? What we have to learn about our need for self-preservation and survival, our healing ways, why brutality is of an old order without logic or love in an evolving world.

I love the descriptions of growing up by a junkyard, a highway, and the constant presence of her father and brothers, mother, all part of that make-use-of world. The solitude of certain trees she shared, the shining of broken down cars and pieces of other things, the foraging, hunting and gathering. This book is full of love for nature, its fragility and grandeur, and its interactive energy with the air, with water, people, times and change. Deeper and deeper she goes, into the turmoil of causes and effects, in her own microcosm of life in the yard, into the life of long leaf pines and their forests, then beyond her own small borders of life to a broader geography of moving, and life of the earth everywhere.

Now I understand the jacket cover sentence about the long-leaf pines finding their Rachel Carson. Thank you, Janisse, for writing this book. I’m learning from it, and what a pleasure it is.
Ecology review

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