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Monday, January 4, 2016

What Would Holling Say, Write and Paint Now?


Holling Clancy Holling wrote Paddle-to-the-Sea at least two decades too soon.  While he was an outstanding artist, storyteller, and educator, he wrote this book in 1941.  The insect-killing properties of DDT had been discovered only two years earlier.  The world was embroiled in a war that concentrated all efforts on industrialization — not nature.  We as Americans seemed to simply accept nature as being unchanging and immutable.

It would be 1962 before Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring with its clear warning of a looming ecological disaster.  It would be another year before Stewart Udall wrote The Quiet Crisis, warning, as Richard Telford reports, that “we live in a land of vanishing beauty, of increasing ugliness, of shrinking open space, and of an overall environment that is diminished daily by pollution and noise and blight.”

I just ran across Richard Telford's well-written commentary on Paddle-to-the-Sea and the environmental questions we now have: “The Things We Carry: Revisiting Holling Clancy Holling’s Paddle-to-the-Sea” (online at http://theecotoneexchange.com/2014/10/20/the-things-we-carry-revisiting-holling-clancy-hollings-paddle-to-the-sea/).  His comments bear reading and considering why this book from 1941 still resonates among readers of all ages.  We wonder what the carved canoe’s adventures might have involved if there had been pollution for it to contend with.  Would Minn have recognized its Mississippi home where aquatic life is dying?

Telford writes graphically in the Ecotone Exchange blog about Holling’s description of the Nipigon country, “All this time the world was changing.  The air grew warmer, the birch twigs swelled with new buds.  A moose pawed the snow beside a log, uncovering green moss and arbutus like tiny stars.  And then, one morning, the gray clouds drifted from the sky.  The sun burst out warm and bright above the hills, and under its glare the snow blankets drooped on the fir trees.”

One reason parents of home-schooled children often turn to Holling’s works is for their depiction of nature, which is disappearing from the children’s lives.  Indeed, nature seems to be disappearing to a greater or lesser degree from all of our lives.  What would Holling have written about sites requiring environmental cleanup, about waterways covered with a sheen of oil, about forests in a parched land threatened by fire?

 Will Holling’s books someday be looked at as a memory of nature in the past tense?  And can he still serve as the voice of conservation of a land that holds so much wonder and meaning?  We hope so.

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