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Father Nature:   Fathers as Guides to the Natural World
Edited by Paul S. Piper and Stan Tag
202 pp.
University Of Iowa Press. US$39.95
ISBN: 0877458464

In a world where nature is almost universally associated with the female, a book like Father Nature: Fathers as Guides to the Natural World is a startling, refreshing surprise. It is a an illustration and a reminder that most of us were introduced to the world of nature by our fathers. It was our fathers who took us camping and fishing, our fathers who pointed out minute details of the natural world that appealed to our childlike wonder, but that might have escaped our childish notice.

Father Nature: Fathers as Guides to the Natural World is a collection of deeply personal essays. They are essays that describe the deep connection each of us has with nature, but at the same time, they are richly explored variations on the father-child relationship. The essays capture the challenge of both being and having fathers and go beyond that challenge to the contemplation, joy, satisfaction, and love.

In "The Unexpected" by Charles W. Luckmann, a father takes a much delayed trip to Canada and contemplates his experiences of raising a developmentally different son. At first, while on a hike, his thoughts stray to his own father who, like many dads, left his son with a legacy of brief, remembered moments...the feel of a large hand on his hand, the father's help steadying his son's too-small hand while teaching him to shoot, his love of gardening. Luckmann's memories of his father are concise and moving, ranging through canoeing, fishing, hunting, mosquitoes, and rain. After painting his own portrait in words through these recollections of his father, a descent into the darkness of a forest and "the flapping of large wings and the primeval call of a pileated woodpecker -- balanced somewhere between hysterical crying and laughter" begin to direct his thoughts toward his own 10-year old son. Here, the tone of the essay changes. Succinctly, painfully, endearingly, he describes life with his child. He talks about what it was like for him and his wife when they first learned their son was "different." Through the different reactions of both American and Native American friends, the author shares with the reader the ever evolving lesson that life with his son has become. And through it all, Luckmann's connection with nature is the strength that guides him and the world that provides him solace.

This collection mixes in a dose of the comedy of life. In "Eating Dirt," Brian Doyle brings a humorous touch amidst ruminating on nature and child-rearing. He has three small children, two twin boys and a slightly older girl. At the opening of the essay, the boys, who are two years old, "were seized with dirt-fever an instant ago and as admirably direct and forceful young men, quick to act, true sons of the West, they are going to eat some dirt, boy, and you'd better step aside." What follows is a funny, engaging description of what is in the dirt they're eating (worms, grubs, and other items that might delight the two-year-old palate), marked by an utterly enjoyable lack of panic on the father's part over items consumed.

The cross-section of "father" and "nature," two words not ordinarily so juxtaposed, has inspired the authors in this book to reveal funny and sad vignettes that are appealing without being sappy.

Paul Piper has worked as a biologist, landscaper, writer, web-master, and librarian. He is currently employed as a teaching librarian at Western Washington University, where he specializes in Internet research and teaches an occasional creative writing class.

Stan Tag teaches American literature and culture, writing, and natural history at Fairhaven College, a small inter-disciplinary college within Western Washington University.

Contributors include Lorraine Anderson, John Bower, Brian Doyle, John Elder, Mark Harfenist, Bernd Heinrich. Ted Kooser, Gretchen Legler, Charles W. Luckmann, Stephen J. Lyons, Jessica Maxwell, James McKean, Mark Menlove, John Rember, Scott Russell Sanders, David Sobel, and Frank Stewart, as well as Paul Piper and Stan Tag themselves.

Maria Davies, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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