Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing is at best a glorious introduction to and seminal collection of contemporary place-based writing, but it is also, undeniably, a love story. The Wildbranch Writing Workshop is entering its 24th year; co-sponsored by Sterling College and Orion magazine, the workshop gathers together like-minded writers — those who engage in “nature writing and beyond.” It is no surprise to anyone who knows the workshop’s history or its participants and faculty that this anthology captures the reverence and appreciation they hold for the natural world.
But the anthology goes beyond reverence to something more intimate, something I would call love. It doesn’t build to that emotion, slowly establishing these writer-nature relationships throughout the more than 60 poems and essays that comprise the text. No, it starts from a place of love. In that spirit, the opening section of the collection is titled “Intimacy,” and from there the collection flows through the themes “Speaking of Place,” “What Comes from the Land,” “On Perceiving and Knowing,” and “For the Children/For the Future.” And though the collection is nonfiction and poetry, a few pieces blur the genre line with lyricism, such as Julia Shipley’s “Aubade:”
This spot of blonde grit that isn’t a spot, the way the river isn’t the same river with water sluicing through it at every moment, is part of it. But what I pick is the middle of the road where we sank to our knees to look at a broken shell, then lowered further till the sand shifted and filled the space between the backs of our knees.
Why a road, why the middle of the road, why the middle of a one-lane, sand-packed track? Because it was ours. Our concentration enveloped it, and it absorbed us, offering us one ant hole and a stunted prickle of grass.
Excerpt from Jennifer McStotts review of Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing, edited by Florence Caplow and Susan A. Cohen