In his keynote address at the annual Scene Conference for the Kansas Writer’s Association last spring, author William Bernhardt said, “Write. There is no more important work in the world.” The point was that the pen is, indeed, more powerful than the sword in creating change throughout our world. I’ve thought about his statement many times. How have books impacted my life? I am amazed to think how my favorite books seem to parallel qualities and events throughout my life.
From primary school days, I still have A Baby for Betsy byAnne Guy. This story of a young girl follows her wish for a younger sibling. Her parents ended up adopting triplets. Then I ended up raising three children only weeks apart in age. Folks called them our triplets.
Favorite grade school books included Molly’s Miracle by Linell Smith. In this story, an old mare adopts a filly that arrives from a pre-historic land through a tunnel. Molly names this young eohippus Dawn. The filly never grows bigger than a cat, and ends up leading the barnyard friends back through the tunnel for an adventure in the dawn of time. And I chose geology as my major college field.
Jim Kjelgaard wrote books about animals and outdoor life. Big Red, Irish Red, and Outlaw Red chronicled stories about Irish setters that enthralled me. I read all of the Kjelgaard books I could get my hands on. In Wildlife Cameraman, I learned of an exciting career that supported both my growing love of nature and the intricacies of quality photo shoots.
There were other beloved books from my childhood. The Incredible Journey, My Side of the Mountain, and Island of the Blue Dolphins shared adventures in the natural world and fed my growing love for travel and nature.
Thoreau’s Walden became important when I pored over literary lists for college-bound students. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” wrote Thoreau. Nor did I want to live a life that became empty and meaningless through the years.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy kept me entertained for months as I trekked with Bilbo and Frodo through middle earth.
Thor Heyerdahl’s records of adventures in the south Pacific fascinated me with his “back to nature” ideas in Kon Tiki and Fatu Hiva.
W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions told the story of Rima, an arboreal maid of the Venezuelan rain forest who designed her garments from spider webs.
As a college student during the seventies, I took a general education class called “Can Man Survive?” This course used books like Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful as texts. The experience nurtured what would become a life-long advocacy for Earth care and environmentalism.
Early in my adulthood, The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird impacted my relationship with other living things.
Adam Daniel Finnerty’s No More Plastic Jesus changed my life through its pledge to live by teachings of the master.
“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And He will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25: 37-40
For an escape into historical fiction, nothing appealed to me more than M. M. Kaye’s novels of India in the 1800’s. Far Pavilions inspired my visit to India in 2008, where I slept in palaces such as those described in her pages. I walked in Ashok’s and Anjuli’s footprints on the parapets of fortresses.
An article in a writing magazine urged me to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard to study mastery of literary art. Her vivid descriptions of life in the woods filled me with awe for her skill.
Most recently, Bill McKibben’s prophetic words in Eaarth have renewed my quest to take a stand for the planet I love.
The discovery of The Green Bible, with more than a thousand references of God’s love of creation printed in green letters, revived my respect for Scripture. The green letters in this version highlight how God and Jesus interact with and care for all of creation, how the elements of nature are interdependent, how nature responds to God, and how we are charged with the care of creation.
We have been blessed with a jewel among the stars in the universe. We absolutely must find a way to preserve it for the sake of future generations, plants, wildlife, Irish setters, horses, triplets and everything else that writers may write about today or tomorrow.
Can books shape a life? They have mine. William Bernhardt must be right. There is no more important job on earth than to write. The words we share have the power to shape lives for generations to come. We should craft our words with care.