This summer the National Park Service turns one hundred years old, and many Americans—including the presidential family—are taking summer vacations to enjoy what Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea.” In order to better appreciate what makes our National Parks so valuable, these vacationers might want to bring along the latest book by one of Stegner’s students, Wendell Berry.
A Small Porch is an unusual book; the first half contains poems, while the second half consists of a long essay on how poets and farmers have imagined the persona of Nature over the past one thousand years. These two sections complement each other, offering a nuanced vision of “Dame Nature” as a spiritual, cultural, and economic guide. While the National Parks can unfortunately reinforce a sentimental view of wilderness, permitting visitors to simply consume its scenery as tourists, Berry’s poetry and essay remind us that as members of the natural world we have a more complex responsibility, one that requires humans to be Nature’s “student[s] and collaborator[s].”
Read all of the essay by Jeffrey Bilbro at National Parks Traveler.