Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land, by Janisse Ray

I’ve lived my entire life in Georgia (with five years in South Carolina) without ever having heard of the Pinhook Swamp, the subject of Janisse Ray’s third book, Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005).  People like me are likely among the intended audience for the book, in which Ray recounts the area’s history, its environmental significance, and efforts to preserve and reclaim it. The swamp is so thick that few people ever penetrate it.  Ray has been there repeatedly.  Her descriptions of the animal and plant life in the swamp are among the book’s virtues.  Her efforts to create a mystical significance for the swamp, signified in her subtitle and its emphasis on “wholeness” don’t work as well for me.  I know what she is arguing—that preserving the Pinhook area prevents it from becoming divided up and “fragmented” by farmlands and housing developments—it is thus kept whole.  Moreover, the ecological significance of the swamp, which provides an open pathway for wildlife to move back and forth between the Osceola National Forest in Florida and the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia and Florida, is preserved.  But she also argues for wholeness as a mystical sense of fulfillment in human life.  This part of the book becomes problematic for me. Ray is at her best when she is writing about her own experiences in the swamp, its importance to the preservation of the local environment, and ongoing efforts to preserve it.  Pinhook offers some of her best writing, but the way she has organized it, especially in the latter half, with a number of short chapters that pique the reader’s interest without really satisfying it, leaves the book seeming more fragmented than whole.

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