Cactus Ed

“Because somebody has to do it, that’s why.” -Hayduke

Background and Context

“I for one am with thee, and who knows hat may avail a crowbar against Billerica dam” -Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)

“One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothing can beat teamwork.” -Seldom Seen Smith, The Monkey Wrench Gang

When you have made some headway in the novel, consider some of the commentary on Edward Abbey (Cactus Ed) as a writer and his place in the history of North American environmental writing. You will want to know about his beautiful nonfiction account of his time in the desert Southwest, Desert Solitaire (a book that I hope you will seek out and read).  In A Few Words in Favor of Ed Abbey, written in 1985, Wendell Berry offers an astute assessment of Abbey as a writer and his commentary outlines some of the reasons why Cactus Ed continues to be a pain in the neck for many of his readers. images

For a broader overview, read Bryan L. Moore’s piece in the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Twentieth-Century American Nature Writers: Prose. Eds. Roger Thompson and J. Scott Bryson. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 275. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 3-21. Edward Abbey (29 January 1927-14 March 1989). There is also an engaging 2006 Commentary on Edward Abbey by Philip Connors, editor of the New West Reader published in Salon, Where have you gone, Edward Abbey? 

Your work is to consider both the roots of Edward Abbey’s distinctively democratic mode of dissent and the legacy of Cactus Ed in the thinking and practice of environmentalism in the United States.


Doing it Well

“The effective use of words to engage the human mind.”

-Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014)

Steven Pinker’s succinct definition of what constitutes style in writing is useful. A cognitive scientist, linguist, and writer, Pinker knows well that the effective use of words is among the most challenging activities the human animal has contrived—and for students, more’s the pity: for whether you are writing a lab report, an abstract, a research proposal or paper, a review article, or a journal entry, writing will challenge you.

Much like an athlete building muscle-memory, writers need to practice and be persistent to become proficient at writing. For this reason learning to write—like learning to ski, surf, or dance—takes time. Writing teaches writing, for sure; but so does reading. “Many times the reading of a book has made the fortune of the reader—has decided his way of life,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson, who happens to be one of the most helpful literary mentors for readers, thinkers, and writers.

There is, in fact, a broad consensus that effective writing is among the most important outcome of a college education. Working scientists need to be effective writers to contribute to peers in their field of study and to communicate and translate complex ideas for a general audience. Educators must communicate effectively with their students and other stakeholders to assure the integrity of educational institutions and methods. In any professional field of work, effective writing matters. No matter your major or academic interest, you should be faced with (and seek out!) writing in as many different situations as possible. Humanities students need to be writing papers in the biological sciences and science students need to be writing research papers.

But there we are, again, back at that word effective.


In our writing workshops during the first half of the course we have focused most of our attention on becoming a bit more clear about what we are actually doing when we we are writing. Questions of purpose and audience are primary. And, as we have discovered, it is often difficult for a reader (and, as we have also found) and for a writer to really understand what one is doing. This problem is particularly acute for people writing in school.

Guiding Principles Let me offer a set of guiding principles that will help you as you work on your essays in the next few weeks:

  • Principle 1: Effective writing requires thinking well. It demands the labor of getting thoughts into words
  • Principle 2: Effective writing earns trust. A reader know when a writer cares and has used that care to write something that engages an informed reader
  • Principle 3: Effective writing is writing that is not (merely) specialized. In this course, as in most courses, whether you are a declared major in one field or another matters very little. Purpose, evidence, and reasoning—these are precisely the expectations in the sciences as well as the humanities. Context and discipline specific conventions will come into play–but in this course, they are secondary. For whether you are describing the steps in a mathematical proof, articulating the relationship among constituent parts of a complex natural and cultural system, or analyzing a cultural narrative or symbol, the standards are much more alike than different
  • Principle 4: Effective writing—in this course and in other courses that involve reading—requires working (or thinking) with a text. Every paragraph you write will more likely than not have at least one quotation from the book. You need to explain clearly and precisely why the language you are citing is relevant to what you are writing about. Once you quote (your evidence) you need to explain with precision why that evidence is in your writing (your reasoning) and then connect the language you take to be important to other passages in the book (or in other books or texts) that you find important.
  • Principle 5: Effective writing is thinking in context In a chapter you read in this course, “The Agricultural Crisis as a Crisis of Culture” Wendell Berry concludes that “moral ignorance” is the etiquette of agricultural ‘process’” (48). Berry is echoing what he calls earlier the cultural dis-ease of specialization, a point that Rachel Carson also makes in Silent Spring when she is arguing for what we might call thinking ecologically or, to use Tim Morton’s formulation, the ecological thought. Both writers are arguing that if we are not asking moral questions our thinking is incomplete.

Entering the Conversation: a Checklist for Writers In addition to the principles above I have pulled together a checklist for writers based on words about effective writing students have generated in some of my classes. These words for effective writing include flow/fluency, authentic/honest, authority, concise (no matter the length of the writing), using the text, thinking and writing in context. Here is the checklist

  • Be interesting: Your idea(s) matter. Make sure there is a reason that an informed reader would want to read your writing. Take a reader somewhere: begin but do not end with the commonplace. Move from the commonplace to the surprising, the simple to the complex, the familiar to the unfamiliar, the obvious to the less obvious
  • Be thoughtful Think. Then think again. To make sentences that are smart, engaging, exiting to read you will need to move from first to second and third thoughts. The work of writing is to use words effectively to engage other minds
  • Be Concise Say what you have to say. Blog posts are relatively short. But effective blog posts do more with less. Every word and phrase and sentence matters. Many engaging blog posts have a three-part structure: a subject (a subject, usually familiar, indicating what the post is about), a turn (can be a “yet” or a “however” or a “but,” and an angle (your stance, what you have to say, the move you make in your thinking that makes what you have to say matter
  • Be Authentic and Honest. Cultivate a Point of View Who are you? Where are you? What are you doing/ What are you thinking or feeling? What makes you interesting, worth talking with, or listening to? Your tone matters, too: conversational, strong, sharp, inviting—these are terms we use to describe effective writing
  • Be professional You are publishing your writing. For this reason alone, your prose should be revised, revised, revised. Then (and only then) do you edit. It takes a lot of effort to get things exactly right.
  • Format: Your essays will be more or less 1000 words. Each essay will include reflection / analysis / interpretation. For example, note key points or passages that you noticed in your reading and spend more time with it, dig in, probe it, try to understand it better, raise questions, suggest answers
  • Make Connections Experiment with embedding your thinking in thought: in most of your writing you will be quoting from the writing of the books we are reading; but also, make use of the affordances of the Word Press blog. Learn how to make use of hyperlinks; organize blocks of text using paragraphs or bullet lists; use italics (or parenthetical comments) and bold face type, when appropriate
  • Titles are a lesson in microstyle. Titles will be first and foremost informative, suggestive, substantive; but don’t miss opportunities to write clever, catchy, eye drawing titles. Most good titles are suggestions of better titles. Most often titles are the last thing you revise before you post
  • Beginnings First sentences matter. Make them count. In most case state your purpose and your angle or point of view or argument. You might also try personal anecdotes, a sentence or a quotation, a reference to another college class, an intellectual context, or a field of study. Pay attention to how other writers begin
  • Details, Details, Details Is the writing error free? If you have issues with spelling (one of my issues as a writer, as it happens) you need to build into your writing process a run through focused just on spelling. Are you using a consistent and unobtrusive system for citation: Are titles of books in italics and chapters, articles (and poems) in quotation marks? Are poems cited by line breaks or are dashes used to indicate line breaks? (“I went into the Maverick Bar / In Farmington, New Mexico.”)

The notes of the editorial assistants on the  Workshops page is really instructive. Thank you. I hope that you will talk with one another, too, as some of you have been doing, about what constitutes effective writing.

In-Between Worlds (Unfinished)

Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms & self? Identity? Nature & exactly what does that mean…?


“…The truth was that Dora-Rouge had fought gravity and won…That was why she weighed so little and why she heard what no human heard and saw what none of us could see.” (p. 42)

gravity as a natural law as well as the physical/spiritual ramifications of being capable of breaking a physical law, sentience, self-awareness, consciousness & its definition (our definition), self as a human being, also as what lies beyond the physical.

“…And when I slept I dreamed I fell over the edge of land, fell out of order and knowing into a world dark and primal, seething, and alive as creation, like the beginning of life.”(p. 54)

Connection between the world of dreams and the ‘beginning’, one’s mind as a starting place, the inherence of life within humans as well as life throughout nature, idea of perpetuity amongst canvases of life in the natural world, also that it exists ‘beyond’ the edge of physical land, metaphysical, maybe.

“A person must be careful what they say about the animals. They have another kind of listening. They can even hear your thoughts.” (p. 84)

The idea of the self as an individual characterized by its belonging to a community larger than itself (contradiction however existent nonetheless) the omnipotent presence of other life outside of humanity among nature, and how we as the only truly contemplative, self-aware species, deal with that. How as a result of our possession of minds, we may have lost through equivalent exchange our ‘6th sense’ so-to-speak, our intuition about all life within nature, our intrinsic knowledge that all life is connected and as a result must be treated accordingly.


Linda Hogan: Solar Storms

Solar Storms by Linda Hogan is the story of a young girl discovery who she is. The main character Angel grew up from a past of abuse and to others is very visible from her scars, particularly a large one on her face.  Throughout the story Angel finds peace from her dark past and finds means of moving forward in her life, “Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing”.

Solar Storms ties along nicely with other readings from this course with a message found between the lines about the environment. The main characters within this story are of Native American decent and have a close relationship with the land and water. These people have lived upon the land and focused their own few of religion based from the land, its animals, and the processes of nature.

The abuse Angel has suffered came from her mother, who too has been abused in her past. Hannah, Angels mother, abused her daughter Angel both physically, and by neglectful abuse. Hannah’s abusive relationship with her daughter Angel is a result of an abusive past of her own. In the first pages of the book the author states from Angels perspective …”for my mother had been taken over by some terrible and violent force. It inhabited her, flesh, bone, and spirit” (22)

Because of the neglect of Angels mother Angel was forced to move from foster home to foster home. Angel never found a family and grew up on her own. Only once she was seventeen was she able to connect with another family member.  This family member is Agnes Iron, Angels great grandmother. They write letters to one another and eventually meet. Agnes helps Angel connect to her Native American roots. She learns respect and and a deep connection to nature. Agnes was a very influential person to Angel in discovering who she was and building a sense of pride in herself.

Angel meets others too who were related to herself, such as Bush and Dora-Rouge. Bush is not entirely related to Angel but knows her family well. Years prior to the main plot of the story Bush took Hannah, Angel’s mother in. Bush saw Hannah’s scars and knew she came from and abusive past, like Angel. Dora-Rouge is Agnes’s mother, or Angel’s great grandmother. Dora-Rouge is a small fragile old woman but has deep ties to nature.  She posses a special skill where she can dream of the location of special herbs and plants. All of these 3 very influential people gave Angel knowledge and pride in their Native American heritage, and Angel becomes self-fulfilled.

Throughout the novel Angel begins to learn more about who she is and where she came from. The main characters of this novel have spiritual ties to nature and the land. Angel soon comes to understand reasons why nature and the land are so important. These main characters take a long journey throughout the novel and throughout their journey Angel discovers much, not only about herself, but the world. As these 4 travel back to their homeland the main conflict and message of the novel is revealed. In their journey they venture to a river blocked by a hydroelectric dam. The construction of this dam was the work of European settler decedents. From the perspective of the 4 women these men had destroyed the land and killed their god. This is especially an interesting thought from the perspective of Native Americans who’s religion is founded upon the Earth and nature.

The Journey of Angel

The Journey of Angel in the novel Solar Storms is not an easy one, although journeys rarely are. Most journeys are full of strife and complications that lead the character down a path of self-discovery, where they learn about whom they truly are and who they can be under the façade of normalcy they shroud themselves in. The truth is it is not about the destination of the Journey but the experiences made along the way; Lord of the Rings is not about Frodo destroying The Ring, it’s about him proving that even the smallest of person can have great power and that perseverance and determination can let you achieve your goals, no one believes that a small Hobbit could possibly hold onto and dispose of the most powerful artifact known to Middle Earth which could determine the future of the land but he does. In a similar case while the destination of Angels Journey is to find her mother who long since abandoned her she instead finds herself and is able to rebuild who she is.

In the beginning of the story Angel is traveling by boat back to Adams Rib where she was born, the fact that she travels by boat through water is an important factor to the story since water has long been a symbol for change and has been around since the story of the River Styx. One example of the use of water for change is the play Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman water plays an integral part in the play with a pool being the most important prop in the center of the stage when the characters of the play enter this pool they change (Metamorphose) and exit the water transformed. This is the beginning of the transformation of Angel and the start of her Journey. She begins her journey with the baggage of her past; she is constantly reminded of her pain that has occurred in her life by the physical manifestation of this baggage and pain which takes the form of the scar that is on her face. She is embarrassed by this scar and often tries to conceal it “A curtain of dark red hair falling straight down over the right side of my dark face. Like a waterfall, I imagined, and I hope it covered the scar I believed would heal, maybe even vanish if only I could remember where they’d come from” (25). She cannot even remember where they came from but only holds the knowledge that they are not a positive moment in her life.

One of the most important factors in the transformation of Angel is the help of the strong women both related and not that help her understand who she is and how strong she can truly be. Through these women (Dora Rouge, Agnes, Bush) Angel learns about herself and the history of her ancestors as well as the history of her immediate family. She also learns valuable skills such as how to swim, fish, canoe, and see underwater. These women also take the place of Angel’s parents and take her into their home and provide her with love and support, something that she did not have while in the foster system. Though she is not directly related to Bush, Bush takes Angel under her wing and guides her, in a way Bush is more of a mother to Angel than Hannah (Her actual mother) ever was and ever will be. It is during this time (winter) that Angel begins to break down that she was at the beginning of the novel and begins to work on lessening her baggage that she has carried with her, she begins to build her positive memories of her new found/rediscovered family. She also begins the process of forgetting the bad ones that she believes define her, though she does not totally forget the bad since they are still a part of her life. She becomes more positive from this and less embarrassed by the scars that she believes dictate her past; she becomes a strong woman like those that have been taking care of her. As spring approaches she has emerged from the winter like the trees and the flowers anew, she has become a new woman and has left the baggage of her past behind her. This renewal becomes apparent on page 325 where Angel states “Decisions are made in a person’s life by small moments of knowing, each moment opening until, like pieces of a quilt, one day everything comes together in a precise, clear knowing. It enters the present as if it had come all of a piece. It was in this way that I began to understand who I was. Every piece of myself was together anew, a shifted pattern”. Through this quote Angel is aware of how much the culmination of the experiences she has had on Adams Rib which range from her learning to swim to the death of Dora Rouge to finally finding and meeting her mother and realizing that she is not in any state to be her mother or to be the mother of Aurora, a sister Angel never knew she had. She takes Aurora into her care to raise and nurture her and break the cycle of abuse that has been a constant for the last few generations. Angel now has the opportunity to provide the life she never had to her sister.

Notes Toward an Ecological Identity

Writing that expresses environmental concern circles back, again and again, to the recurrent story of a return to nature—a journey motivated by a desire to close the widening gap between the human and the natural, or the self and the world. “Where do we start,” asks Gary Snyder, “to resolve the dichotomy of the civilized and the wild?” (Practice 15). Both Linda Hogan and Terry Tempest Williams, who we will be reading over the next two weeks, propose that there is a place to begin this challenging work: we can begin with our selves.

Solar Storms and Refuge are books about the self, or identity—more specifically, both books explore how we define or to know the self in a changing and unpredictable world. But what constitutes a “self” or an “identity?” And what do we mean by the world or the word “nature?” These two stories (a novel and a memoir) chronicle the struggle to overcome broken connections between the self and the world. These two dramas of identity unfold as the protagonists in each narrative realize that memory, tradition, community are fundamental to what we might call an ecological identity. For identity in both narratives is defined in cultural, topographical, historical, and personal terms.

Think about how Angel, late in the novel, recalls “what it felt like to persist. . .to stand up with my people” (313). And think about Williams, who concludes, following her mother’s death, when she finds herself on the front lines protesting nuclear testing, “The price of obedience had become too high” (286). Is it a coincidence that in both stories an attempt to establish one’s self in relation to the land leads to political action in the face of social, economic and environmental injustices?

Solar Storms: A Personally Natural Development.

The Coming-Of-Age story has been used many times in our world’s literature to interpret or explain some of the challenging lessons we face in our early lives. Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms uses the coming-of-age format to illustrate an ongoing struggle of land annexation and racial prejudice that indigenous people of North America face even today. Hogan uses the protagonist’s development of maturity and growing knowledge to better understand and the problems she deals with.

Hogan gives the character a dark past that is not initially revealed to the reader, with hints about the horrors and difficulty faced before the novel begins. “In my life this far, there had been two places, two things that shaped and moved me, two things that were my very own, that I did not ever leave behind or allow to have taken from me. They were like rooms I inhabited, rooms owned, not rented. One, the darkest, was a room of fear, fear of everything—silence, closeness, motionlessness and how it made me think and feel. Fear was what made me run, from homes, from people. Moving made me feel as if I left that fear behind, shed it like a skin, but always, slowly, a piece at a time, it would find me again; and then I would remember things that had never quite shaped themselves whole” (Hogan 43). This quote stands out to me in a multitude of ways. I believe this is Hogan directly linking Angel to her ancestors, the native people who were systematically killed or relocated throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th as well as 20th century. She shares a haunting past, her family history shrouded in mystery, it is not surprising that this girl struggled to make sense of her surroundings in the first half of the text. Angel grows to respect and enjoy the company of those around her as time passes, but learns to adjust and accept others. Although some personal values are contrasting, the women she encounters all share the same respect for the ecology of their land and their people. It is also important to remember that often, the native people would not identify their practices as that of Western Civilization, but one of their own respective land and or ecosystem. Many tribes had sacred animals that were a major part of their religious and natural connection to the Earth. “There were tribes of bears in those days. They were around for thousands of years, clear back to when we lived by the laws of nature. A bear could only be killed at a certain time of the year and that was for meat and medicine and fur. Even then it was a rare thing when an Indian killed a bear, because bears resemble men” (82). This particular quote stands out to me as it shows a shows an active knowledge of the other inhabiting organisms, and the choice to sustainably hunt them, even if needed. Agnes is depicted removing all parts of a special bear she had tried to save in this emotional flashback, “When all the life had flowed out of it, Agnes took the knife and slid it under the skin. I went to her. “What are you doing?” I said, but she didn’t answer me. She knew I’d been there all along, and that I was crying. It was hard work to skin and quarter the bear. She removed the liver, the heart. She knew that bear inch by inch, where every muscle joined bone” (85). This sort of practice is recurring in Native American literature, where the relationship between man and beast is closer to “natural neighbor” than prey. Although the role the animal might play is defined as sustenance, the respect is universal. Angel also begins to understand the darker side of the human being as her past is opened up. It is revealed that multiple matriarchs of her family, Loretta as well as Hannah, had suffered immensely in their lifetimes. The pain that they shared is in a way, bottled up inside of poor Angel, who shows volatility at certain points throughout the text, But like our Earth, the inflicted pain on the body shows at some point. I believe that Angel and her relatives are representative of our Earth as well as the indigenous people of North America. Years and Years of oppression and pain has left a host of problems that are beginning to affect the future of these people.

Solar Storms – Finding yourself

Solar Storms by Linda Hogan is a coming of age story about a young girl named Angel. It’s about how she comes to discover herself and define her own identity. She learns about her past, where and who she came from. Angel learns how to absorb and except her past, and also how to forgive and forget events and people that she cannot change. This  novel shows that even though your past experiences may shape who you come to be as you grow, you have the power inside yourself to decide who you want to be, no matter the circumstances you find yourself to be in. Even though Angel comes from a really dark past, and has been tainted by the touch of abuse and hatred by others, including her own mother, she is able to overcome the hatred and find love in herself, enabling her to fight for the land she has come to love with her whole heart.

Angel’s mother is where the majority of her abuse and negativity stem from. Angel’s mother Hannah was known to have a “heart of ice” (76), because of all the men that have abused her. Hannah targeted some of this abuse towards Angel, resulting in an attempt on her life when she was just a baby. Not only was she left out in the snow and almost frozen to death, but her mother physically “like a dog, she bit your face with her teeth” (246).  In result this leaves Angel with physical and emotional scars, even after being separated from her mother.

After being moved around from one foster home to another, Angel is finally reconnected with the women who make her whole again, including Dora Rogue,  Agnes, and Bush. These women help her complete her journey of trying to figure out who she is and where she came from. Not only do these women help her find herself but also help her develop a love and understanding of the natural word that surrounds her.

The connection that stood out the most was the connection that Linda Hogan makes between Angel’s abusive past and the abuse that we put our environment through as a culture in society. The symbol of the hydroelectric dam can be translated as a metaphor for the abuse our society causes the natural world. Angel’s goal is to stop the building of the dam, before it floods the land and causes more harm than good. Another connection that I noticed was the connection between the men that abused Angel’s mother Hannah, and the abuse that the dam was causing to the Native people’s land. When Angel is able to make this connection for herself, she finds it in her heart to forgive her mother comparing both abuses. She sees the land “was being drilled to see what else could be taken, looted, and mined before the waters covered this little length of earth” (219).  Just like her mother was being abused by the men until they took every last ounce of love that was in her body.  It is really interesting to see the connection between the abuse of women and the abuse of the earth, and even more ironic to think that if we did not have women or our earth, life wouldn’t even exist in the first place.

In this novel we learn and understand the importance of taking ones past into consideration and not letting hold you back from shaping your future the way you want it to be. This novel also enables us to see the relationship between shaping our self identity and our culture within society as a whole.

The Waters of Change

Water is a reoccurring theme in Linda Hogans’ Solar Storms. Water represents change in the book. It is a powerful force that the dam builders are trying to harness and control. It is the road by which the main characters in the book travel and it is the way that Angel reveals her past and determines her future. The four women, especially Angel and Dora Rouge, are naturally connected to the water. They can see the fish swimming beneath the surface and can even make pacts with the water to keep them safe. The bond between this natural element and the four women is founded on love and respect. While the dam builders simply want to exploit the water and use it for its energy, the women thrive off its energy by eating its bounty and using it for transportation. The women have a relationship of reciprocity with the river. They want to protect it and the lake from the destruction of civilization.


The first time Angel sees her mother is when she surfaces from the freezing waters of the lake. After seeing her mother, her whole life is changed and she is born anew. Just as a child emerging from the holy waters after a baptism, she sees the world as if for the first time. Water is a symbol of purity and new life. People  are baptized in holy water to wash away their sins and to be born again. Although this symbolism is not identical to that of Linda Hogans’ book, it is apparent that water stands for purifying the soul and believing in something greater than yourself. For Angel, water cleans her body as well as her mind and soul. When angel is bathing in the “black waters” of the lake, she says that it is “Such a cold baptism.” When angel steps into the lake, she feels the icy water washing her skin and freezing her limbs. She “hoped the water would cleanse all the pasts, remove griefs.”


As angel travels, she begins to see things in nature in a much different way. She feels the innate connection her people have with the land and treats it as something that is “deeper” than the material. Angel and her people see water as a spirit that lives and breathes. The dams will not only have an immense effect on the animals (deer, rabbits, bear, humans) that live there, but it will destroy the land and harm the earth itself. The wilderness is meant to be free to change and evolve on its own. The natural landscape should be carved by rivers and glaciers; wind and erosion, instead of by the hand of industry and economic endeavors.


Water truly is an unstoppable force. Even though the dam builders were able to flood Adams Rib and ultimately uproot many people’s lives, those dams will eventually burst and the people that originally operated the facility will be gone. The water however, will still remain. The life of water goes to show you that nothing is permanent and everything will change form at some point. The water cycle itself does not distinguish between beginning and end, because water is always being born into a new existence. From a vapor, to a liquid, to a solid—always changing and evolving. Angel describes the dam builders as those who “would reverse the world, change directions of rivers, stop the cycle of life until everything is as backward as lies.” Rivers represent forward motion both literally and metaphorically in the book. The women are travelling down a river while also progressing on their spiritual journey. For the white dam builders, the rivers are useless and empty. They are trying to exploit the rivers, seeing them only as a natural resource for renewable energy. This is because the men are focused on money and the progress of “civilization.” Rivers are seen by them as barriers, while the travelling women see them as their roadways. Just like water, Angel is constantly changing on her physical and spiritual journey to meet her mother and uncover her past.


All rivers converge at a certain point, into a larger body of water. The native people in this story also have to come together, despite their differences, to fight against the destruction of their home and of the things that are most important to them. Angel says that eventually the women would “unite and become like an ocean made up of many rivers.” An ocean is vast and seemingly infinite, but there are many rivers that feed it and live off of it. Even though the men can block the rivers, the water will still move through its cycle and eventually the quarries and dams and hydroelectric plants will be washed away.


Humans are often put in comparison to animals in this book and are almost made to seem the same. If the rivers are all dammed, the native peoples will not be able to travel in canoe as they have for hundreds of years. Their travel routes will be rendered useless. Just as the dams create incredible troubles for life of the humans living in the area, the native animals are also having their homes and their migration routes decimated. Angel describes the flooding of Two-Town by speaking of “the caribou running across the flats as the water surged toward them, knocking them over, flooding their world, their migration routes gone now, under water.” The dam builders are trying to make the human and the natural world separate; an attempt that at its core is totally futile. The problem for the Cree and many other tribes is that they live off the land as well as with the land. If the caribou are gone and the rabbits and deer have fled due to floodwaters, what will they eat? If the birds have left for good because of the constant sounds of the planes flying overhead, how can the hunter feed his family?

Solar Storms and Ramifications of the James Bay Situation

“It was a darkness of words and ideas, wants and desires. This darkness came in the guise of laws made up by lawless men and people who were, as they explained, and believed, only doing their jobs. Part of the fast-moving darkness was the desire of those who wanted to conquer the land, the water, the rivers that kept running away from them”… “They wanted to control water, the rise and fall of it, the direction of its ancient life. They wanted power.” (Hogan 268).

The language used by Linda Hogan throughout the novel is powerful, descriptive, and poetic (much like that of traditional Native Americans). This is a quote that I felt encapsulated the theme of the book itself. The exploiters free will to harvest and destroy anything they wish to. While many people need jobs and like the benefits of hydroelectricity, there is an immense repercussion to address in order to understand the big picture. A quote on that same page effectively voices these concerns through Linda Hogans detailed words: “I knew what loneliness was. It was larger than the way I missed Tommy. It was the enormous river now gone. It was drowned willows and alders. It was the three dead lynx caught in a reservoir, ten thousand drowned caribou. It was the river traveling out of its raging, swift power and life into such humdrum places as kitchens with stoves and refrigerators. The rivers became lamps. False gods said “Let there be light,” and there was alchemy in reverse. What was precious became base metal, defiled and dangerous elements. And yet we would use it. We would believe we needed it. We would turn buttons on and off, flip switches.” (Hogan 268).

The power behind these descriptions is the realness it evokes. The natural environment is despicably mistreated in the sake of a new human “accomplishment”. The history behind this book runs deep and is quite a controversial topic. Although many had no idea of the extremity of harm the James Bay Hydroelectric Project, there was a lot of scrutiny following the sights of complete habitats being decimated and poisoned with mercury. Perhaps the most severe overall impact was the diverting the flow of water from four major rivers into a large body of water, ultimately changing the dynamics of the land.

Described by research I conducted, I found it to be true that “The James Bay area’s water flow is most affected by the hydroelectric project from January to April because rivers have their lowest runoff rates in the winter months when freezing occurs. Additionally, runoff rates in the damming system can be altered to meet power needs, which are highest in the winter and lowest in the summer, thereby more completely reversing the natural water flow cycle. As evidenced by the 500% increase in its winter runoff, the La Grande River is the pillar of the James Bay project’s hydroelectric capacity. Because of the change in the runoff rates of James Bay, massively increasing in the winter months, and increasing considerably in the summer as well, there has been more extreme fluctuation in the water levels. This has killed many trees along the shoreline, which are not equipped with deep enough root systems and tolerance of prolonged exposure to seawater to withstand these fluctuations. As well, the increased riverbank erosion downstream of the dams has washed the habitats down the river.”

What a devastating and negative reaction to something that was intended to benefit humankind. Many think they can play God and reaarange the natural world so as they please. It is unbelievably ignorant to believe that one can do this and not face negative ramifications, or even worse, be aware of them and not even care at all. It is a peculiar thing, to see lands where predominately Native People reside be tarnished, even after almost all of their land has been taken from them and they have been subjugated to mass impoverishment and are almost made to be secluded from mainstream society. Ever since the “Indian Removal Act” in 1830, Native people have been forced to relocate over and over until there is almost a miniscule amount left for them. A land that that their people especially, feel so connected to and thankful for, destroyed at the hands of the exploiter yet again.

Even today we still see this happening with the situation of digging oil access lines that would harm the environment at “Standing Rock”. The familiarity of this repeating story is a somber feeling to say least. There has been many wake up calls that this is not the right thing to do and we need to start looking at progress, especially energy, in alternative ways that will not cause as much harm to the innocent Earth. It is unfair to not only diminish habitats, but the peoples lives within them too. We have the means and resources to start being more environmentally conscious, yet progress is always slow, and only time will tell how our generation and future generations ahead will treat this Earth, and hopefully it is with more respect and dignity. Governments can learn a thing or 2 about Native American teachings, perhaps America would be more “green” if we were to listen to them instead of try to kick them out.


external sources:

literature and environmentalism at keene state college

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