Books & Essays
Bartram's Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South
Mercer University Press 2010
Thomas Rain Crowe's essay is entitled "A Moral Imperative: Who Will Speak For. . . ."
Bartram?s Living Legacy: the Travels and the Nature of the South reprints Bartram?s classic work alongside essays acknowledging the debt southern nature writers owe the man called the ?South?s Thoreau.? The book was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award.
The anthology includes contributions from sixteen of the South?s finest nature writers: Bill Belleville, Kathryn Braund, Dixon Bynum, Christopher Camuto, Thomas Rain Crowe, Dorinda Dallmeyer, Doug Davis, Jan DeBlieu, Whit Gibbons, Thomas Hallock, John Lane, Drew Lanham, Roger Pinckney, Janisse Ray, Matt Smith, and Gerald Thurmond, strikingly illustrated with Bartram-inspired landscape paintings by Philip Juras.
Book Review #1:
"The ecosystems that once defined the southern landscape have disappeared, as though some cataclysmic geological event had simply obliterated them. We know of them chiefly through William Bartram's Travels published in 1791. It would be about two centuries before a group of southeastern writers/naturalists/activists began to survey the landscape that we are left with, and to think about the consequences of what has been lost, and the power, beauty, and richness of what remains. Dorinda Dallmeyer, the editor of this wonderfully conceived volume, has been at the center of that group. Her idea of combining the text of the Travels with reflections by contemporary southern writers is a brilliant one. Bartram remains an indispensable writer, whose work has been neglected for too long. Now at last he, his book, and the land he describes have their champions. Some of the essayists here focus on Bartram the man, some on Bartram the naturalist, some on Bartram the writer and artist. And some focus, as he himself had done, on the landscape and ecology of the South as it now is, and as it once was.
Some of the essayists in this book I have known and admired for years; some are entirely new to me. They do not speak with one voice, or on behalf of any preconceived agenda. But their contributions, taken all together, indicate that the South now has its own distinctive tradition of environmental literature. Bartram, not Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, or John Burroughs, is its progenitor, and this book, I believe, will come to be seen as its cornerstone."
Poems from Zoro's Field
Holocene Books 2006
Zoro's Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods
University of Georgia Press 2005
After a long absence from his native southern Appalachians, Thomas Rain Crowe returned to live alone deep in the North Carolina woods. This is Crowe?s chronicle of that time when, for four years, he survived by his own hand without electricity, plumbing, modern-day transportation, or regular income. It is a Walden for today, paced to nature?s rhythms and cycles and filled with a wisdom one gains only through the pursuit of a consciously simple, spiritual, environmentally responsible life.
Crowe made his home in a small cabin he had helped to build years before?at a restless age when he could not have imagined that the place would one day call him back. The cabin sat on what was once the farm of an old mountain man named Zoro Guice. As we absorb Crowe?s sharp observations on southern Appalachian natural history, we also come to know Zoro and the other singular folk who showed Crowe the mountain ways that would see him through those four years.
Crowe writes of many things: digging a root cellar, being a good listener, gathering wood, living in the moment, tending a mountain garden. He explores profound questions on wilderness, self-sufficiency, urban growth, and ecological overload. Yet we are never burdened by their weight but rather enriched by his thoughtfulness and delighted by his storytelling.
Book Review #1:
March/April 2006 New Southerner BOOK REVIEW More Thoreau or More Thorough? BY JOE NAPORA Zoro's Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods By Thomas Rain Crowe (University of Georgia Press, 2005) For every problem there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong. ?H.L. Mencken Home. It's easy leaving, even necessary, not so easy returning. In some ways, impossible. Thomas Wolfe wrote his best novel with that theme. But I never wholly believed that Wolfe knew what he meant by home or by going home. I met Thomas Rain Crowe at a poetry gathering, Deer Track, in South Bend, Ind. He had with him a pamphlet he had written called "You Must Go Home Again." He was living near Asheville, and the connection with Wolfe was obvious and appealing. I looked him over. Long hair and beard. Warm smile. Deep voice that resonated out from his chest, heart and into the world. I remember the '60s, when America was seen not as a promise but as a problem, the advanced capitalistic industrial war machine: the solution was to get high and get out, back to the land. Simple. Clean. Wrong. So I was impressed then in the '70s and am even more so now, with Thomas Rain Crowe's refusal to take the "simple, clean and wrong" solution to the most pressing problem of our time: how to live and how to write without lying. Obviously, there are other problems that seem more important: the war in Iraq, pollution of our air, land and water, the corruption of our politicians, press and popular culture. A lot of similarities to the '60s. But these are effects, not prime causes. They flow from the root cause that Crowe was so much aware of that he lived off the grid in a cabin in the North Carolina wilderness for four years to find his solution. Zoro's Field will necessarily be compared to Thoreau's Walden. The books are similar enough to warrant a detailed comparison. Since other reviewers will undoubtedly push the Thoreau connections, I'll try a seemingly unlikely one instead: Thomas Rain Crowe and Arthur Rimbaud. Crowe's "going deeper" reminds me of Rimbaud's prescription for being a poet: "The first test of any man who would be a poet is to know himself completely; he seeks his soul, inspects it, tests it, learns it ?" There is an earnestness, a complete willfulness about Crowe's "going home" that is attractive from the first words to the last. In an age of cynicism, Crowe's total commitment to the truth of his immersion into the four "full season cycles" must seem overly romantic. But if you think "romantic" means dreamy, unrealistic and false, you are simple and you are wrong. Crowe filled much of his time reading books, and he had an active letter writing correspondence with other writers, the two most prominent and influential being his friends Gary Snyder and Jack Hirschman. After his years in San Francisco in the '70s, his literary apprenticeship among the Beats, editing Beatitude magazine, organizing poetry readings, he lived in a community in the Sierras with Gary Snyder and other "Baby Beats." There he learned the reality of Snyder's "real work," which he describes in his memoir: "What we really do. And what our lives are. And if we can live the work we have to do, knowing that we are real, and that the world is real, then it becomes right." Zoro's Field is Crowe's record of doing the real work as a writer, integrating the heart, head and hand. It's his record of learning to live and write without lying. Instead of "simple, clean, and wrong," his solution is complex, dirty and right. Crowe learns early that the complexity of completing the real work would be impossible without the men who become his mentors: Zoro Guice, the old mountain man who once owned the land where the cabin had been built; Walt Johnson, who lived in the farm house of the Guice homestead; and Dr. Gelolo McHugh, a psychologist who had bought the Guice farm and planned on retiring there. Crowe chronicles his life and work in detail: how to build a root cellar, how to maintain hand tools, how to raise bees, how to grow a garden and store the food, how to fish, how to gather wood, how to gather and tell stories, how to learn the new "old" language that would result in writing the real work, both prose and poetry. The poems concluding the chapters are treats, the cake's icing, the physical caress of bodies after long-winded conversation. And, to me, the best is the shortest, a perfect imagist poem that Pound, Stevens, Williams would have envied. After a short chapter on the need for keeping hand tools sharp, an education for anyone longing to do the "back to the land" thing, is this poem: TOOLS Silver and slick as velvet the edge of the old hoe glistens, how I've filed away this day ? I believe that there is a rhythm to everything. I am certain that there is a rhythm to this book, and, though very different, it's a rhythm similar to Walden. The more I read them, the more I sense the integration of form and content, substance and style. Thoreau made much of how he was not so much a nature writer but was trying to write nature, that he learned from the leaves, the bird tracks, the clouds, and mostly from the way his writing was inspired by the mirror images along the shore lines, how nature showed him the inherent quality of writing, its deepening of the quality of reflection. Like Thoreau, who saw nature through his study of Eastern Philosophy, Crowe "orients" himself with the writings of Thomas Berry, the Persian mystic poet Hafiz, and, though he never refers to them, it is obvious that he draws upon his readings and practice of Zen Buddists. I say "obvious" because nearly all of Zoro's Field is about learning and practicing the "beginner's mind." Much of the book is about de-programming the industrial, consumer, war mind, but the Zen "beginner's mind" is the consequence of this return to his childhood mountain home, his roots in the language of rural mountain life, his learning the skills and crafts that have been the work of millions of people before industrial capitalism turned everything, every thing, idea, principle, belief, to short term monetary profit. There is an Afterwards to this book, about his return to the hurried and harried life after he left Zoro's field. It's healthy reading because it's honest. The final chapter, perhaps more than any other, shows just how skillful a writer Crowe is, how much he has learned from his four-season cycles in his mountain cabin living with and learning from the mountain land and the people of the land. Crowe's final and most long lasting lesson, more than how to sharpen a shovel and hoe, more than how to can beans and beets to win a prize in the county fair, more than how to gather stories from Native American and mountain elders, is the lesson of the how to write honestly, what my friend the poet Jack Clarke called the central issue of poetry "learning how to write without lying." Because he also was such a man, eager to learn what nature has to teach, I have no doubt that Thoreau would have appreciated Crowe's doubling his two seasons of "wild selfsufficiency" in order to learn such a lesson. And I think Mencken would have little objection to my turning his phrase to end this review: Zoro's Field is a solution to a problem that is mindfully complex, "dirty" with hand labor and absolutely right. Joe Napora, of Ashland, Ky., has written several books of poetry and is a frequent book reviewer. An avid whitewater kayaker and school teacher, Napora spends his summers at his cabin on the Ottawa River in Canada.
Book Review #2:
"Thomas Crowe?s phrasing of the voices that resound throughout the hill country of western North Carolina echoes the mutually enhancing presence of humans and the Earth, which is the high experience to which we are called. He reminds me of T'ao Ch'ien, the fifth-century Chinese poet." ?Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth "I have known Thomas Crowe for thirty years or so, as poet, writer, editor, and community activist. Before he returned to North Carolina he was a neighbor in my part of California. I have always respected his work and dedication as someone who has truly found both his place and his work, and recommend him highly. His writing speaks from a fluency with landscape and an ease with language like water. At home in both." ?Gary Snyder, author of The Practice of the Wild
Book Review #3:
"With this book Thomas Rain Crowe adds his voice to the classic prayer of the True Warrior, ?Not for myself alone do I ask, but that all my relations may live.?" ?Marilou Awiakta, author of Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother's Wisdom "Crowe's writing arises from his close connection with the land, his poetry, and his devotion to uncovering the spirit of the place of his habitation. The result is that the work sings with the music of his own voice." ?Joe Napora, author of Portable Shelter "This book will appeal to anyone (and we are many) who has imagined unhinging from the cumbersome structures of 'progress' and consumerism in order to know the rhythms of quiet work and nature." ?Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of The Edges of the Civilized World: A Journey in Nature and Culture "Straightforward and heartfelt. . . . a hymn to the simple life and its virtues. Crowe does not expect everyone to unplug and head for the woods as he once did, but the lessons he learned contain valuable truths that we ignore at our peril. Like Thoreau, he is a chanticleer, hoping to wake us up." ?John Sledge, Mobile Register "For those of us who have a love affair with these southern mountains, this author speaks our language. . . . Crowe's sharp intellect, his world experience and a deep-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach love for the Appalachian landscape make this book pure treasure." ?Roanoke Times "For my money, this book is sacred writ." ?Ina Hughs, Knoxville News-Sentinel "Written plainly and beautifully, Zoro?s Field is part instruction manual, part personal narrative and part nature musing. The whole is quite worthwhile." ?Danny Bernstein, The Charlotte Observer "The strength of this book is found not only in the endorsement of philosophical thinking that is in tune to nature?s rhythms, but also in Crowe?s ability to weave his own observations with those of other nature writers, as well as the stories of local mountain legends. From Paul Rhodes ??a walking encyclopedia of human history?? and local folklore to stories told by the Cherokee Indians, Crowe gives us an insider?s look into the lives of those in the mountain community." ?The State "A contemporary twist on Walden Pond . . ." ?Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Though different in ways from Thoreau?s classic which it cannot help but be compared with, Crowe?s work in this same genre holds its own as an engaging, thought inducing memoir." ?Midwest Book Review
Book Review #4:
"Crowe?s phrasing of the voices that resound throughout the hill country of western North Carolina echoes the mutually enhancing presence of humans and the Earth, which is the high experience to which we are called. He reminds me of T'ao Ch'ien, the fifth-century Chinese poet."
?Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth
Elemental South: An Anthology of Southern Nature Writing
(edited volume) University of Georgia Press 2004
Thomas Rain Crowe has three essays in the anthology: "You Are What You Eat," "Sun Time," and "God Willing and the Creeks Don't Rise."
Nature writers know that to be fully human is to be engaged with our natural surroundings. Elemental South is a gathering of works by some of the region?s best nature writers?people who can coax from words the mysteries of our place in the landscape and the human relationship to wildness.
Arranged by theme according to the basic elements by which many cultures on earth interpret?earth, air, fire, water?the writings consider our actual and assumed connections in the greater scheme of functioning ecosystems. As we read of bears, ancient magnolias, swallow-tail kites, the serenity of a country childhood, the pleasure of eating real food, the remarkable provenance of ancient pottery shards, and much more, these works lure us deep into the southern landscape, away from the constructs of humanity and closer to a recognition of our inextricable ties to the earth.
The writers are all participants in the Southern Nature Project, an ongoing endeavor founded on the conviction that writing like the kind gathered here can help us to lead more human, profound, and courageous lives in terms of how we use our earth. Some of the featured writers are originally from the South, and others migrated here?but all have honed their voices on the region?s distinctive landscapes.
Book Review #1:
"Provides a chorus of voices that blend harmoniously despite their different geographies, backgrounds, and styles. By tracing the fault lines and fractures of southern landscapes, society, and spirit, this anthology helps the South begin to heal stronger in the broken places."
?Will Harlan, editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors
Book Review #2:
"Published 150 years after Thoreau's book, it is another Walden. I shall urge each of my grandchildren to read it." Southeastern Geographer, November 2006
Book Review #3:
"This lush collection of works by members of Southern Nature Project showcases the idiosyncratic impact of our region?s natural surroundings on its writers, arguably a stronger influence than the predictable Southern Gothic theme of family secrets."
Book Review #4:
"If you like to curl up with a good book on cold winter days and you also love the outdoors, read Elemental South. Each leads us to broader truths through careful observations of our natural surroundings."
Book Review #5:
"Contains poetry and prose that is deeply philosophical, richly textured, arresting."