Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a double-barreled treasure of a book, combining a fascinating personal narrative with beautiful nature writing. Her memoir of growing up poor in a south Georgia junkyard on the edge of the piney woods blossoms into a lament for of all that has been lost as yet one more old-growth forest is destroyed.
Ray sees and praises the little things that most of us have missed, hurrying through Georgia to get to the Florida beaches or the Carolina mountains, but her focus is on the majestic long leaf pines that once covered much of the Southeast and she writes of them with beauty and passion.
As I read, I was reminded how those trees formed a backdrop to my youth. The house I grew up in had quite a few of these looming presences in the yard. Our suburb had been built on what was once cow pasture. . . and before that, pine and palmetto woods.
I especially recommend this book to those who are familiar with the southeastern US. But Ray's personal journey is inspiring on its own and the study of the ecosystem of her region might well inspire anyone to take a closer look at where they live, to take note of the intertwined lives of flora and fauna therein, to try to imagine it as it was in the past, and to think seriously about how what remains can be safeguarded.
Janisse Ray's website.