Quoted: your favorite environmental thinkers

Suggestions from our readers.


We asked readers to quote their favorite writers — those whose ideas are driving much of how we think about the world now and into the future.

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”—Aldo Leopold

As author, scientist, ecologist, forester and environmentalist, Aldo Leopold helped shape the modern conservation movement. He’s best known for A Sand County Almanac, in which he articulated what he called “The Land Ethic” — a broader understanding of the relationship between people and nature. Suggested by Carol Underhill

“All the creatures on earth, and all the birds that fly with wings, are communities like you.” —Quran 6:38

Suggested by Shayan Ghajar

 “The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the
            great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. A passionate cultural critic, he celebrates the small family farmer while promoting an economic and political order that preserves the connections between people and the natural world.  Suggested by Mike Hensley

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a ­ thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”—John Muir

John Muir — the “Father of the National Parks” — was a naturalist, adventurer, author and early advocate of wilderness preservation, who went on to help found the Sierra Club. His eloquent writing continues to influence the modern environmental movement. Suggested by Jerry Welsh

“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.”—Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey inspired a generation of radical environmentalists with his spirited defense of wild places. His writing, rooted in the American Southwest, railed against government and corporate greed and its assault on the desert and canyon country. Suggested by Jim Thurber

“Simplify, simplify.”—Thoreau

When Henry David Thoreau published Walden in 1854,  the notion of “sustainability” held none of its modern cachet. Yet Thoreau’s account of building a cabin and living in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, together with his keen-eyed exploration of the surrounding landscape, helped inspire the modern environmental movement. For him, nature was both an antidote to civilization and a glimpse of the divine, and in celebrating the ground beneath his feet, he proclaimed the value of wild places everywhere. Suggested by Lawrence Walker

“In the desert there is everything and there is nothing. Stay curious. Know where you are — your biological address. Get to know your neighbors — plants, creatures, who lives there, who died there, who is blessed, cursed, what is absent or in danger or in need of your help. Pay attention to the weather, to what breaks your heart, to what lifts your heart. Write it down." —Ellen Meloy

Ellen Meloy wrote about dry places with a strong, distinctive lyricism and a refreshing sense of humor. She saw the irony in the pea-green lawns that dotted the arid landscape she loved but chose laughter over outrage. The Pulitzer Prize finalist was in the middle of her fourth book when she died suddenly at her Utah home in 2004.
Suggested by Amy Maestas

“One of the great dreams of man must be to find some place between the extremes of nature and civilization where it is possible to live without regret.”—Barry Lopez

One of the nation’s leading contemporary nature writers, Barry Lopez examines the relationship between human culture and the physical landscape. His award-winning nonfiction books include Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men. Suggested by Meg Hards

“We must define a story which encourages us to make use of the place we live without killing it, and we must understand that the living world cannot be replicated. There will never be another setup like the one in which we have thrived. Ruin it and we will have lost ourselves, and that is craziness." —William Kittredge

William Kittredge stopped working on his family’s eastern Oregon ranch and became a writer at the age of 35. He’s since explored such themes as the legacy of agriculture in the West and the impact of ownership and dominion on the land and its people. Along with writing numerous essays, fiction and a memoir, he co-produced the Oscar-winning film based on Norman Maclean’s story, A River Runs Through It. Suggested by Ryan Dorgan

“On the edge of the rushes stood the black-crowned night heron. Perfectly still. ... It will be this stalwartness in the face of terror that offers wetlands their only hopes. ... She was showing us the implacable focus of those who dwell there.” —Terry Tempest Williams

Activist and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams explores issues ranging from women’s health and free speech to environmental justice and the connections between identity, memory and place. Her writing is deeply rooted in the sprawling landscapes of her native Utah, with its distinctive Mormon culture. Suggested by Marcia Hanscom

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” —Rachel Carson

Best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, scientist and writer Rachel Carson brought environmental concerns into the consciousness of mainstream America. By spotlighting the ecological consequences of pesticide use, her work challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government and ultimately led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Suggested by Joanne Morris Gores

“For a long time I realized I had only paid attention to the predators, the scavengers, and the birds that were good to eat and the birds that had to do with hunting. … This looking and not seeing things was a great sin, I thought, and one that was easy to fall into. It was always the beginning of something bad and I thought that we did not deserve to live in the world if we did not see it.” —Ernest Hemingway

Although he’s rarely thought of as an environmental writer, Ernest Hemingway anchored much of his work in the natural world. His interests went beyond big-game hunting and bullfighting to celebrate outdoor life in the American West, where he was an avid fly fisherman. In his acclaimed short story, Big Two-Hearted River, Hemingway perceives nature as an antidote to the trauma of war. Suggested by Jeff Foster

“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope." —Wallace Stegner

Often called the “Dean of Western Writers,” Wallace Stegner is best known for his biographies of John Wesley Powell and Bernard DeVoto, and for his acclaimed novel Angle of Repose. His conservationist manifesto, Wilderness Letters, helped lead to the passage of the landmark National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964. Suggested by Matthew R. Durrant

“Places matter. Their rules, their scale, their design include or exclude civil society, pedestrianism, equality, diversity (economic and otherwise), understanding of where water comes from and garbage goes, consumption or conservation.
They map our lives.”
—Rebecca Solnit

San Francisco-based writer and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, ranging from meditations on landscape and community to art, politics and the power of stories. Underlying all her work is a love of wandering, a delight in the many ways in which a person can, and should, get lost — both in the natural world and inside the self. Suggested by Derek Young

"Not the law, but the land sets the limit." —Mary Austin in Land of Little Rain

"All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call 'aware'--an almost untranslatable word meaning something like 'beauty tinged with sadness.'" —Gretel Erlich in The Solace of Open Spaces

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." John Muir

“We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.” Derrick Jensen

“The concept of conservation is a far truer sign of civilization than that spoliation of a continent which we once confused with progress."
Peter Matthiessen in Wildlife in America


Photograph of American author Mary Austin, 1900. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center; P.31989

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