Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Nature and Environmental Book Review:
Eating Stone

Book Review by David Yarian, Ph.D.

Eating StoneEating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild
Ellen Meloy

In Eating Stone, Ellen Meloy chronicles a year in Utah's canyonlands – desert bighorn sheep country. She spends much of her time observing the Blue Door Band, a herd of desert bighorns who are her near neighbors. Meloy sits on the rim of the canyon and looks over the river to observe "her" sheep who live, graze, rut, play, give birth and rest on the slopes and cliffs of the redrock canyon's other wall.

This is an inspired reflection on the bond between wild creatures and the human imagination. Meloy revels in the air, light, and dazzling colors of the high desert. She loves the bighorns and, while spending much time observing their doings, acknowledges how it is ultimately impossible to know them. She finds that watching wild animals intensely is very much like prayer.

The book moves between her observations of the Blue Door Band and her travels throughout the West to observe other bighorns and talk with the naturalists and conservationists who focus on helping these endangered animals to survive in the midst of a habitat that has become fragmented by human sprawl and development. She describes backcountry hikes, downriver floats, and travels to Mexico, the Great Basin, and the Chihuahuan Desert. She studies the ancient petroglyphs of bighorn sheep that dot the remote canyons of the West.

Meloy's tone is elegiac yet hopeful; towards the end of the book she describes helping biologists transplant some of the Blue Door Band's sheep to a more remote area, thus putting some "sheep in the bank" to ensure the species' survival should one band be wiped out by infection from domestic sheep.

The language is poetic, heartbreaking, moving: she is observing the currents and eddies of her own heart even as she is observing the rare desert bighorns. Here are the closing paragraphs of Eating Stone:

The animal-longing sector of my brain remains indefatigable. I set the shreds of my imagination to go the distance with all of nature's creation. I hunger for the quiet rapture of observation, the measure of time by the clock of blood, the exaltation that comes with the intimacy of beings so unlike ourselves in homelands so unlike our own.

Humans are creatures in search of exaltation. We crave, someone once said, the occasions when jolts from the universe fly open. This jolt, in this desert with these animals, is a belonging so overwhelming, it can put deep cracks in your heart.

The sun climbed. I was losing the cool of the morning. It will be hot out there, I thought. The heat will rise from the canyon and break the air into shimmering liquid waves. Across the stone, in gaits and patterns older than time, the fine-limbed, amber-eyed animals will move.

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