Although I rarely read non-fiction, I recently read A Land of Ghosts, by David Campbell, for the second time.
This extraordinary book explores the hidden streams and valleys that give rise to the Amazon River. It also painstakingly describes the ongoing devastation of that land.
Despite its tragic subject, A Land of Ghosts is a work of great feeling.
I came to the River for science, but I stayed for the beauty. My memories of the species I found—each an invocation of sunlight and water and minerals— and of the play of light in the canopy, the night sounds, the aromas and textures of the forest, the time and space shared with friends on the frontier make up a tapestry of experience so rich that now, years later and thousands of kilometers away, it imbues my papery life with dimension and perspective.
I once wrote a book about Antarctica, a place where form and light are distilled into a few simple, evocative phrases, where only a few species have managed to climb ashore and survive. Antarctica is parsimonious and therefore easy to characterize. It is biological haiku. But how do I describe the inchoate green tapestry of the Amazon Valley, this apex of earthly diversity? Imagine: there are more species of lichens, liverworts, mosses, and algae growing on the upper surface of a single leaf of an Amazonian palm than there are on the entire continent of Antarctica. How do I reduce this voluptuous diversity to words?
Where do I begin?
We humans depend wholly upon this whirling blue sphere. And yet we deforest 9,000 square miles of the Amazon basin each year. Might we want to know more about our home?
Land of Ghosts is a fine place to begin.