book reviews

Book Review: The Land’s Wild Music

The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James GalvinThe Land’s Wild Music

by Mark Tredinnick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my book reviews

I bought this book at the height of my addiction to Matthiessen. I’d read everything he’d written and wanted more. Mark Tredinnick’s The Land’s Wild Music was advertised as a collection of nature writers, including Matthiessen, so I assumed I’d get a boatload of essays with a similar passion, insight, a like innate ability to see into the soul of nature.

I now know that was an unreasonable goal, but, unfortunately, my opinion of Tredinnick’s encounters (his word) has forever been shaded by my sky high expectations. There is no other Matthiessen. If I’d known that going in, I would have been more accepting of the writings contained in this book. They are, after all, excellent examples of some of the best names in the nature writing genre–

  • The Edge of the Trees by Barry Lopez
  • The Heart of an Arid Land by Terry Tempest Williams
  • The Real World by James Galvin

As I look back on the book, I realize that it did expand my horizons of nature writers by presenting a side of the genre I hadn’t experienced, one that I’m not entirely comfortable with, but valid none the less.Here are some excerpts:

  • …that kind of enterprise, that sense of geologic time, that feeling for the larger order of life, that placement of the present human moment in the broader scheme of things…
  • …I point to a shrubby tree, one of many of its kind I’ve noticed crowding a logged slope, its leaves the shape and color of an olive.
  • We are standing high above the Horse Creek drainage, looking inland over the Three Sisters wilderness area. The spine of the Cascade range, running north and south, rises in three places before us.
  • I find myself swimming toward an eddy in the river, slow water, warmer water. We are whirling, twirling in a community of currents.
  • Both the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau belong to the same weather; they are dry and full of sage.
  • The section borders the three hundred and twenty acres– ‘that almost imaginary thatch of peat bog surrounded by low hills and tall stands of lodgepole pine, with its own ocean of sage-gray-prairie lapping on tits shores and the whole Medicine Bow Range to drink in every day’.

Do you see what I mean? At times, it reads like talking to a brilliant scientist whose thoughts rest more in theory than the world around him. These essays hover above the land, not quite plumbing its true nature (although that last excerpt is pretty close). The words are slightly off center because I don’t believe the writer felt it as Matthiessen does. I don’t either, which is why I gave up the goal of being a nature writer. The best I could do was appreciate a well-written essay, not reproduce it myself.

Do you get those feelings when you read about nature in books? That feeling of oneness, of respect, of a shared goal?

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a weekly columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Land’s Wild Music

  1. Interesting review. As I was reading the excerpts, I thought, these aren’t really that captivating, I wonder why she chose these . . . then when I got to your point, I realized that they were perfect examples of what you were trying to say.

      • Not sure if it’s in the category, but Wes Jackson’s Altars of Unhewn Stone is one I like a lot. Haven’t read My Antonia (Willa Cather, of course) in ages but I remember liking it a lot. (Though as an adult, not as a child when it was given to me.) I like to think the nature writing is my book is at times luminous, would be happy to give you a copy if you like. :)

    • Gee, Rachel, I should have asked. These are all non-fiction books I dig through for background on early man’s life. I extrapolate based on what’s around today, climate change, paleogeology, but since there weren’t records 1-2 million years ago, I have to extrapolate backwards.

      Now, with that rundown–does that fit your book? Are your plants all true and not fictionalized? If it is, I’m getting it!

  2. I wrote about the tallgrass prairie in Kansas, as it is today (though the book takes place in the future), with a few alien additions such as tigers and alligators, which ought to be easy to spot. There are a few real plants and animals that live here, though it takes place in the fall and there wouldn’t be a lot of plants still growing. Some description of the landscape.
    I’m not sure this ecosystem existed 1-2 million years ago. It was maintained by the native Americans, currently by individual landowners. Without active intervention, it would go to woodland, and cease to be tallgrass prairie. I don’t know when the ecosystem arose.

    • …and I’m over in Africa, when the swath of rainforests had receded just enough to force early man into the savannah. When we were first considering seeing what’s over the horizon. What a time. I love the research.

  3. Jacqui and Rachel,
    Your conversation is illuminating – so interesting to read how you incorporate landscape into your work.
    Did you imagine a book review would generate such discourse? The power of the blog.

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Letters From the Field Part II | WordDreams...

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