Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

My new eco science fiction Knocking on Heaven's Door is just released. A number of early reviewers have been enthusiastic, including the website Geeks of Doom, which makes me smile. Not many people know me as a geek of doom! But I am happy to embrace the complexity of my personality.

I'm also so pleased that Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World has been awarded the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, as well as the 2014 WILLA Award for Creative Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World won the 2015 Arizona Authors Association Award for best Children's Literature and was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards.

These are nice landmarks in a writer's life. I would be writing regardless--but, still, whew. It's good to have some encouragement.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On Walt Whitman, Chapter Eight

Of all the Transcendentalists in the nineteeth century, Walt Whitman stated his pantheism most clearly and is the one I blame the most for who I am. Whitman proposed to write an “indigenous” or uniquely American poetry that reflected the country’s abundance of resources, energy, ambition, and political idealism. He brought together mysticism and scientific theory and fused them in a fiery circle. He would allow for no separation, certainly not the separation of humanity from the natural world. He infected me when I was young and impressionable with his dreams of democracy and his cries of celebration. His “barbaric yawp” proclaimed that this was our job--to celebrate and be joyous.

I read his long poem “Song of Myself” like the Book of Psalms. We were all meant to be Walt Whitman, children of the cosmos, male and female, young and old, plantation owner and slave. Like him, our bodies are made of earth and sidewalk. We spread sideways into nature. We burrow into people. Animals adorn us. Plants grow in our ears. We have lived a trillion summers and will live a trillion more. Unlock the doors, unscrew the door jambs, take down the walls! We experience everything. We are everyone. We go naked and undisguised to the river bank, mad to be in contact with the air which is for our mouth forever. Logic will never convince. Sermons do not convince. The damp of the night drives deeper.

Walt Whitman urged me to connect with the world, and in 1975, a college student at the University of California at Berkeley, I thought I could do it standing on a street corner--behind me a shop that sold falafels in hot pita bread, the taste peppery and exotic, before me a traffic light blinking green and red. Just past the light, I could see the papery trunks of the eucalyptus trees on campus, their sharp medicinal smell, the life of the mind, the life of the senses, people jostling by. I could make contact, naked and undisguised, and I didn’t have to go to parties and talk awkwardly with other college students or go on dates and find a boyfriend. I could do it much more easily through the cadence of Whitman’s poetry. I am the old artillerist. I am the mashed fireman. I am the captain on deck. I am the mother of captains. The language was a little archaic, but still, it seemed that I was all those things. And that the bigger questions about life were answered here or would be answered:

And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I, who am curious about each, am not curious about God;
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God, and about death.)

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then;
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropt in the street--and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.


Today, re-reading “Song of Myself,” (which was originally titled “Walt Whitman” in 1855 and which turns out to be the only poem I really read in that famous collection of poems Leaves of Grass) I am still struck by how well Whitman held the enormity of it in his mind and body, in his hand and words. He saw God everyday. He understood God not at all. Does he contradict himself? Very well, he contradicts himself. We are large and contain multitudes. Joy and pain are braided. With broken breast-bone, the mashed fireman lies on the cold earth. The voices of his comrades hush. Elsewhere, the judge also proclaims the death sentence in a hushed voice. Elsewhere, stevedores shout heavy-e-yo and strong men laugh and homely girls croon to babies. Agonies. Good times. The procreant urge.

Elsewhere--everywhere--birds, wheat, whales, cows, and blackberries. A leaf of grass, the egg of a wren. We could live with these cows all day long. We are staggered and triumphant. We are braided into nature. We are reflected there. Celebrate every part, mollusk and hat.

Dazzling and tremendous, how quick the sunrise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

We also ascend, dazzling and tremendous as the sun;
We found our own, my Soul, in the calm and cool of the daybreak.

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