Writer Profile

Books & Essays

  • Book Cover

    Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark

    Date Published:
    Mariner Books 2005

  • Book Cover

    Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination

    Date Published:
    Mariner Books 2003

    n these nine evocative essays, Barbara Hurd explores the seductive allure of bogs, swamps, and wetlands. Hurd's forays into the land of carnivorous plants, swamp gas, and bog men provide fertile ground for rich thoughts about mythology, literature, Eastern spirituality, and human longing. In her observations of these muddy environments, she finds ample metaphor for human creativity, imagination, and fear.

    Book Review #1:
    Essayist Hurd posits that the creative spirit thrives in "the sodden ground of swamps where the profusion of growth defies the old image of a wasteland." Judging from this collection of imaginative, evocative essays inspired by Maryland's Finzel and Cranesville swamps, she may be right. Vivid, unusual analogies ("trying to define the edges of a swamp is like trying to put a neatly folded shadow into a dresser drawer") and clever parallels between swamp and human life provide lively and engaging reading. Reflecting on the prevalence of animal-like plants in the swamp, for instance, Hurd infers that "there's a camaraderie here, a tolerance for hybrids and mongrels, a kinship among the patrons of an all-night, half-sunken bar for cross-dressers." Knitting together such diverse subjects as Buddhist philosophy, mythology and her own childhood, Hurd evokes the landscape through a series of unexpected and sometimes fascinating physical and mental wanderings. A pair of shoes left behind in the swamp prompts musings on the allure and taboo of mud. A trip through the New Orleans bayous yields insights into the elusiveness of our thoughts and our very identities. A late fall foray into the swamp in search of a bear becomes a consideration of longing. Hurd's reflective style makes for a relatively slow pace, and the occasional digressions can seem forced. But her musings are poetic, and her loving descriptions of the wetland world will likely convince some readers that there are universal truths lurking out there in the mud and mire. from Publishers Weekly

    Book Review #2:
    Swamps and bogs and their mysterious ambiguity??their perch between liquid and solid??hold a peculiar fascination for Hurd, a naturalist and poet who lives near Maryland's Finzel Swamp. Delving into these wetlands, she finds in their array of strange fauna and flora an objective correlative to the place in the mind where artistic inspiration occurs: a place of blurred borders, shifting identity, and strange odors, of rot and death, of Zen peacefulness. "To love a swamp," she writes, is to love "what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised." Copyright ? 2005 The New Yorker

    Book Review #3:
    "Barbara Hurd writes about people with the canny poise of Cheever, and about nature with the loving exactitude of Thoreau. And everywhere in her work is a speculative energy and elegance that make her essays a rare achievement." -J. D. McClatchy, author of The Rest of the Way "The deceptive surfaces and disorientations of the swamps of the world are Barbara Hurd's territory. Whether she is tramping the Finzel Swamp of her backyard, or paying homage to Monet's watery vision, or staring into the bog-stained face of Tollund Man, Hurd's essays reverberate with an intimate, reverent understanding of nature, history, and art. The bog-metaphoric, historic, actual-has its large life here, in a book that is gracefully written and fully imagined." -Jane Brox, author of One Thousand Days Like This One