Friday, May 13, 2011

The Outermost House

Henry Beston, nature writing, Outermost House, biodiversity
I've just finished Richard Ellis' book, The Empty Ocean, about how we are plundering the oceans in a war that we've been waging over the last 400 years. Needless to say, we're winning. It's not the sort of book you can plow through in a few sittings because the depressing facts about this or that species being annihilated keep getting to you, whether it be cod or tuna or turtles or whales or seals... but Ellis is a fine writer and does his own illustrations, which enhance the text, and his storytelling is good enough to keep coming back to.

Ellis uses quotes from other writers to great effect and I am enormously grateful for him for turning me on to Henry Beston and The Outermost House, published in 1936. This, I've now found out, is a classic of nature writing, and details, according to the subtitle, Beston's year on "the great beach of Cape Cod".

Beston is an amiable companion and there are many intimate moments in the The Outermost House, but here is the quote that Ellis excerpts, which is what made me seek out Beston in the first place:

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, we greatly err. For the animal should not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."

The semester here at BU is over... go and get caught in the net of life and time and read The Outermost House. This book really should be better known.

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