Matt Miller is a native Nebraskan living outside Reeds Spring, Missouri and teaching English at College of the Ozarks. He writes reports from his garden and orchard at habitation.substack.com. An essay collection entitled Leaves of Healing is forthcoming from Belle Point Press in 2024.
Lauck is unambiguous that he is engaged in a project of “civic retrieval,” to “remind us of our ideals and how many battles we have already won” and promote the story of the old Midwest as “a hopeful signal to us all in this moment of democratic peril and doubt.”
Instead, we have the opportunity to spur students to true and healing composition through the exercise of creativity, precision, care, and nuance. The best analytical writing assignments in the future may read a lot less like a traditional essay and more like poetry.
It is perhaps that personal search for contentment that makes this book a notable contribution to the literature on the American racial problem: Milliner’s “penitent Midwest regionalism” is first of all an attempt to heal within himself the disease and discontentment produced in those of us who have been told that what matters about us is that we are white.
Perhaps this, above all, is the work of nature writing: to bring the wild and the domestic together and to reveal the mystery at the heart of both. That Springer’s book consistently does this is enough to commend it as a constructive entry in this vexed genre.
Those of us committed to the Midwest and its literature can and should mourn the damages done to our region by our habits of transience. But we must also recognize, as these two books help us do, that it is not just the Midwest, but life itself, that is “fluid and impermanent.”
I have spent considerable time in ravines, drawn to them by an appetite for domestic exploration: though they worry me, I have also been drawn to them; I traverse the ravines to find the spirit of my place.
Anyone who seeks to live with integrity in a place ought to seek to know it deeply, yet such knowledge carries with it the risk of disillusionment. It is hard, not in principle but in daily experience, to continue to find joy and beauty in a place one knows to be riven by abuse and injustice.