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The Bioregional Imagination

The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 440
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    The Bioregional Imagination
    Book Description:

    Bioregionalism is an innovative way of thinking about place and planet from an ecological perspective. Although bioregional ideas occur regularly in ecocritical writing, until now no systematic effort has been made to outline the principles of bioregional literary criticism and to use it as a way to read, write, understand, and teach literature. The twenty-four original essays here are written by an outstanding selection of international scholars. The range of bioregions covered is global and includes such diverse places as British Columbia's Meldrum Creek and Italy's Po River Valley, the Arctic and the Outback. There are even forays into cyberspace and outer space. In their comprehensive introduction, the editors map the terrain of the bioregional movement, including its history and potential to inspire and invigorate place-based and environmental literary criticism. Responding to bioregional tenets, this volume is divided into four sections. The essays in the "Reinhabiting" section narrate experiments in living-in-place and restoring damaged environments. The "Rereading" essays practice bioregional literary criticism, both by examining texts with strong ties to bioregional paradigms and by opening other, less-obvious texts to bioregional analysis. In "Reimagining," the essays push bioregionalism to evolve-by expanding its corpus of texts, coupling its perspectives with other approaches, or challenging its core constructs. Essays in the "Renewal" section address bioregional pedagogy, beginning with local habitat studies and concluding with musings about the Internet. In response to the environmental crisis, we must reimagine our relationship to the places we inhabit. This volume shows how literature and literary studies are fundamental tools to such a reimagining.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4367-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    On a september evening in eastern Nebraska, several hundred community residents gather at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, a restored tallgrass prairie, for a “Twilight on the Tallgrass” celebration. As people wander the trails, they encounter stations where they learn about native insects, birds, wildflowers, and medicinal plants. At one station, local writers read from their prairie-inspired work. Nearby, a Winnebago tribe dance troupe gets into costume for a performance of traditional pow-wow dances. Outside the visitors’ center, a local astronomy club sets up telescopes they will later use to show visitors a close-up of the night sky.

    In South...

  5. PART ONE Reinhabiting

    • Big Picture, Local Place: A Conversation with David Robertson and Robert L. Thayer Jr.
      (pp. 33-46)

      The buildings of the uc Davis campus assert their verticality amid the flat, agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley. Shrouded in bone-chilling, thick gray Tule fog for much of the winter, Davis is then baked by kilnlike heat in summer. With the sublime Sierra Nevada mountains ninety minutes to the east and the hip San Francisco Bay Area ninety minutes to the west, Davis appears as a podunk exit off of Interstate 80 on the way to somewhere else. Surprising, then, that in the 1990s Davis became a Camelot of place-based culture and bioregional thought, looked to as a model...

    • Still under the Influence: The Bioregional Origins of the Hub City Writers Project
      (pp. 47-58)

      In the late 1970s, I spent a year on the West Coast, and it was as close as I ever got to counterculture. During college, from 1973 until 1977, I stayed pretty close to the middle of the cultural road—short hair and plenty of beer but no pot or lsd. If the doors of my perception were cleansed, it was by poetry.

      My friend John Featherston, certifiably one of Spartanburg’s first hippies, says I really didn’t miss much. There never really was a “counterculture” in upstate South Carolina. Instead, John calls what was afoot in Spartanburg in the 1970s...

    • Representing Chicago Wilderness
      (pp. 59-71)

      In defining bioregionalism, Michael Vincent McGinnis writes, “Bioregionalists stress the importance of reinhabiting one’s place and earthly home. A bioregion represents the intersection of vernacular culture, place-based behavior, and community” (3). Where do cities fit into this vision? How about the people who have come to the city through diaspora, migration, or economic opportunity? How are they to embrace vernacular culture or place-based behavior?

      Many city dwellers have virtually no contact with wild nature or anything much beyond boxwoods and petunias—or weeds and vacant lots. To transform this alienation into a bioregional vision requires organizers to create the motive,...

    • “To Become Beavers of Sorts”: Eric Collier’s Memoir of Creative Ecology at Meldrum Creek
      (pp. 72-85)

      In 1931, in the Chilcotin region of the British Columbia Interior, a watershed was dying. Meldrum Creek, a narrow, weedy waterway, led through “stagnant and smelly” meadows and past the “crumbling façade” of abandoned beaver dams (Collier 5). Around the “sick” watershed were “powder-dry grasses,” and the forests and fields were unusually quiet of the call of waterbirds (5). As described by Eric Collier, author of the memoir Three against the Wilderness, the Meldrum Creek watershed was drying and dying, and the birds and animals that relied on it were disappearing from the creek and the surrounding forests. Collier’s memoir,...

    • The Poetics of Water: Currents of Reclamation in the Columbia River Basin
      (pp. 86-99)

      Since 1902, western watersheds in the United States have been managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, an extension of the U.S. Department of Interior that was established to ensure the equitable distribution of water for purposes of settlement, irrigation, and hydroelectric production in seventeen arid and semiarid states. During the 1930s, federal engineers identified the Columbia River Basin as a latent powerhouse and planned to put it to work with hydroelectric dams made to serve regional and national interests. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal supported the Columbia Basin Project (1933), which was followed by the Reclamation Project Act (1939), and...

    • Restoring the Imagination of Place: Narrative Reinhabitation and the Po Valley
      (pp. 100-117)

      When you travel along the countryside of the Po Valley, it is hard not to feel like a stranger.” The speaker of these lines is a native writer, Gianni Celati, who was born in Sondrio, Lombardy, and grew up in Ferrara, near the river’s mouth. In such a rich and culturally specific bioregion, one in which territorial stances based on place identity led an autonomist party in the government coalition called the Northern League, a native feels like a stranger. Why might this be so? Maybe because a profound crisis, both cultural and ecological, is fatally affecting these places, a...

    • “This Is What Matters”: Reinhabitory Discourse and the “Poetics of Responsibility” in the Work of Janisse Ray
      (pp. 118-132)

      Just as bioregions are more than purely physiographical entities, reinhabitation, one of bioregionalism’s core concepts, has always been about more than planting trees and building sustainable homes from recycled materials in degraded and abandoned places. Acknowledging the centrality of cultural transformation to reinhabitory projects of every kind, founding bioregionalists Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann defined bioregion in their 1977 essay “Reinhabiting California” as both a “geographical terrain” and a “terrain of consciousness,” both “a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place” (218). As vital as their overtly physical engagements with place have been,...

  6. PART TWO Rereading

    • Mapping Placelore: Tim Robinson’s Ambulation and Articulation of Connemara as Bioregion
      (pp. 135-149)

      The stories of ireland’s Connemara bogland bear a formidable and sometimes inchoate legacy for how humans dwell in place. Tim Robinson’s ambition reveals an authentic desire to honor the complexities of these histories, finding their depth in both the human and nonhuman layers of a place that is too often held hostage to narratives of colonial conquest and rebellion. Born in Yorkshire, England, trained at Cambridge as a mathematician, experienced in the London art scene as a visual artist, Tim Robinson, along with his partner, moved to the Aran Islands in 1972 in an effort to find the sustenance that...

    • The Challenge of Writing Bioregionally: Performing the Bow River in Jon Whyte’s Minisniwapta: Voices of the River
      (pp. 150-163)

      With these words, Jon Whyte introduces a poem he never completed, but one that raises intriguing questions about what it might mean to write from a bioregional perspective, especially for a poet like Whyte, for whom place meant literally everything. The following discussion first explores those aspects of Whyte’s idea of place that make him a candidate for the title “bioregional poet” and then examines the poetic strategies of his river poem, strategies that develop directly from this conception of place. First, however, it might be helpful to locate Whyte’s subject, Alberta’s Bow River, and then to place his poem...

    • Figures of Life: Beverley Farmer’s The Seal Woman as an Australian Bioregional Novel
      (pp. 164-180)

      The otway plain bioregion, in the southwest of the state of Victoria, Australia, is bordered on one side by the Otway ranges and on another by the western shore of the vast Port Phillip Bay, with the town of Queenscliff sitting on its furthest point.¹ On one side of this outpost town is Bass Strait, a major shipping lane that separates the mainland from Tasmania (Antarctica is the next landmass to the south); on the other, formed by the small peninsula on which Queenscliff sits, is Swan Bay. Close by is the township of Point Lonsdale. Between them, Queenscliff and...

    • Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith’s Bioregional Poetic Imaginary
      (pp. 181-199)

      Bioregional literary criticism is demonstrably productive for readings of modern and contemporary authors, but can it be fruitfully applied to authors from earlier periods? My essay explores the poetry of a major pre- Romantic author, Charlotte Turner Smith, whose collection of Elegiac Sonnets (first published in 1784 and revised in multiple editions to 1800) revived the sonnet form for the first generation of English Romantic poets. Together with her loco-descriptive and politically radical poems such as The Emigrants (1793) and the posthumously published blank verse topographical experiment Beachy Head (1807), her poetry is the subject of sustained critical attention.¹ Many...

    • The Nature of Region: Russell Banks, New England, and New York
      (pp. 200-211)

      The line between the idea of cultural region, generally delineated according to human criteria, and ecological region and bioregion, defined by natural factors, would seem to be fairly sharp and clear. Sometimes, though, that line becomes blurred in ways that force closer examination of these spatial concepts and the ways that they relate to each other. For example, northern New England can be seen as a distinct literary subregion distinguished by the differences that writers more or less self-consciously draw between dominant tropes of New England regional identity as a whole and the ways of life that they feel characterize...

    • Critical Utopianism and Bioregional Ecocriticism
      (pp. 212-225)

      In his important study of bioregional literary criticism, David Robertson discusses some of the key components of bioregionalism: a delineation of place in terms of a bioregion, which reflects properties of the natural world rather than human artifice; a holistic integration of the individual person with that bioregion; and the interconnectedness of physical world, human psychology, and spirituality. Bioregional literary criticism, Robertson continues, is characterized by the drive “to identify and understand the niche of writers in their bioregional habitat” (1017).

      Although Robertson deftly articulates several components of bioregionalism, much more is involved. As a concept and as an ecosocial...

    • Critical Bioregionalist Method in Dune: A Position Paper
      (pp. 226-242)

      A disclosure: in proposing “critical bioregionalism,” I assume that diverse bioregions are functionally homogenous. In other words, claims about the cultural life of bioregion X must be significant and meaningful to those who live in bioregion Y. As Pavel Cenkl observes in his essay in this collection, productive labor is one such function common to all bioregions; he argues that the qualities of that labor make the North both distinct from and comparable to any other bioregion. Absent the assumption of functional commonalities, one could only speak responsibly of a bioregional culture by celebrating its cultural artifacts and practices without...

  7. PART THREE Reimagining

    • “Los campos extraños de esta ciudad”/“The strange fields of this city”: Urban Bioregionalist Identity and Environmental Justice in Lorna Dee Cervantes’s “Freeway 280”
      (pp. 245-262)

      Bioregional practice begins with understanding place and, correspondingly, self. Most bioregionalists emphasize that cultivating sustainable dwelling requires not simply acquiring technical knowledge about the natural possibilities and limitations of one’s geologic, biotic, or climatic region but also reconnecting to place through personal experience and rediscovering, in the words of Gary Snyder, “the ‘where’ of our ‘who are we?’” (A Place 184). The movement’s most prolific poet and essayist,Snyder posits that although place and personhood are mutually constitutive,many people ignore their interrelations: “There are tens of millions of people in North America who were physically born here but who are not...

    • Bioregionalism, Postcolonial Literatures, and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road
      (pp. 263-277)

      The primary goal of this book is to consider what it means to read a text bioregionally. As we ask ourselves this question, it is important to also ask what kind of bioregional literary criticism particular texts can offer. How does the bioregional imagination of one writer differ from the next? How does the place-based aesthetic of one bioregion differ from the next? In this paper I’m particularly interested in considering what contribution postcolonial literatures can make to our growing understanding of bioregional literary criticism. The marriage of the two discourses promises to be fruitful: at first glance bioregionalism and...

    • Seasons and Nomads: Reflections on Bioregionalism in Australia
      (pp. 278-294)

      As the world moves beyond nationalism into larger global corporate communities, one response has been to retreat to proximity and, in Kirkpatrick Sale’s terms, to “dwell in place.” The “imagined community” (Anderson) of the bioregion is human sized: it is a homeland not a nation. The notion of the “bioregional imagination” as explored throughout this book is created by place-conscious literature, art, natural-history writing, and thoughtful daily living. It is an effort to cultivate the sort of community Sale and others imagine, one that, many believe, might enable us to dwell more sustainably in place. What I investigate here, however,...

    • Reading Climate Change and Work in the Circumpolar North
      (pp. 295-311)

      My students and i typically begin the first day of our “Literature and Film of the North” class by considering the question, “What is North?” We start by looking at a wide range of documents that includes the 550 ce Voyage of Saint Brendan, which recounts the episodic narrative of Brendan’s crossing of the North Atlantic in an ox hide boat; passages from Homer and Dante; and for a visual cornerstone, Gerhard Mercator’s 1595 map, Septentrionalium Terrarum Descriptio.

      Our foray into the literature and cartography from medieval and early modern Europe challenges from the outset student preconceptions of the circumpolar...

    • Douglas Livingstone’s Poetry and the (Im)possibility of the Bioregion
      (pp. 312-328)

      In his wonderful book The Star Thrower, Loren Eiseley relates how, walking along a beach one evening, he encountered a man diligently picking up stranded starfish and hurling them back into deeper sea. The “star thrower” admitted that this was quixotic but simply could not leave the fish to die. I can’t remember if he—or Eiseley—considered the lives lost as a result of his philanthropy: the microbiota invisibly embedded in the sands, tiny carnivorous worms, scavenging crabs, and spiral-shelled plough mollusks that were being deprived of vital fleshy detritus.

      South African poet Douglas Livingstone (1932–96) also writes...

    • “Fully motile and AWAITING FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS”: Thinking the Feral into Bioregionalism
      (pp. 329-344)

      If bioregionalism is viewed narrowly, with a bioregion seen as a distinct natural region or a local place touted for its specialities, the feral may function as an unwelcome or invasive intrusion. In this narrow view, the energy of the local is focused on expelling, demonizing, marginalizing, and even destroying the feral. Generally, the feral can be understood as a state that lies somewhere between domesticated and wild. Ferality is implicitly accepted as a natural process: what happens when a domestic escapes, is released, or is transported into another bioregion; or conversely, what happens when the wild thing shifts or...

  8. PART FOUR Renewal

    • Out of the Field Guide: Teaching Habitat Studies
      (pp. 347-364)

      I like epigraphs: they focus what follows and simultaneously upset it.¹ When you return to them minutes or months later, they seem to question the very propositions you thought were so stable. I begin with Sue Wheeler—you will recognize the poem from the course description on the department website—because it comes from a collection titled simply Habitat. And because while honoring the field guide(s) you will depend on in this course, it hints that other sources of information might be more important. Those sources, the ones not found in print, require us to be good listeners. To be...

    • Switching on Light Bulbs and Blowing Up Mountains: Ecoliteracy and Energy Consumption in General Education English Courses
      (pp. 365-376)

      I’m a native kentuckian teaching Kentuckians, a strange bird in higher education where so many teachers find employment far from their roots. Having a background similar to many of my students—religious, provincial, basketball obsessed—I’m uniquely situated to develop courses in which students can better understand their native state.

      I’m also aware of the complexities bound up with this word native. Shawnee people roamed my home county, called “Barren,” long before I did. I’ve found their arrowheads near the creek bordering my grandfather’s farm. And does merely living in a place make one “native”? Wes Jackson’s essay collection Becoming...

    • Teaching Bioregional Perception—at a Distance
      (pp. 377-390)

      At 1,919 feet it’s not much of a mountain, even by northern Taconic standards, but still people climb through the hickory, beech, and maple to take in the view from Haystack Mountain: Adirondacks to the west, Green Mountains to the east, and the basin of Lake Champlain opening to the north. There’s nothing visible to suggest where a mapmaker’s line separates Vermont from New York, or Rutland County from Bennington and Washington Counties—never mind the fainter lines between the towns of Pawlet, Granville, Rupert, or Danby. That’s why I bring my graduate students here each September, in the company...

    • Where You at 20.0
      (pp. 391-403)

      We are compelled to educate a new generation of environmental leaders. This means we must also understand what our students care about, their views and how they form them. We also recognize that these views and values may not be our own. Mitch was born in 1950; Kate was born in 1974. Our students were born after 1990. Thus, we represent three distinct generations of place-based experience. In this essay, we seek to tease out the distinctions that arise from such generational differences and how these distinctions affect a person’s sense of bioregionalism.

      We begin with a hypothesis: to be...

    • A Bioregional Booklist
      (pp. 404-410)

      Andruss, Van, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, eds. Home! A Bioregional Reader. Philadelphia: New Society, 1990. Print.

      A collection gathering many early bioregional articles, including reprints from Raise the Stakes, the Catalist, and the New Catalyst. A repository of definitions suggesting multiple perspectives and initiatives as well as trends (e.g., attention to watersheds, appreciation for indigenous traditions, promotion of decentralized self-government). Features multiple selections by Peter Berg, Freeman House, and Judith Plant; sidebar articles, excerpts, a bioregional quiz, and ceremonies; and intersections of bioregional thought with ecofeminism, urban design, and community planning.

      Berg, Peter. Envisioning Sustainability. San Francisco:...

    (pp. 411-418)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 419-438)