The Next Chapter

Randy Lundy recommends two of his favourite books about life, death and nature

The Next Chapter columnist reviews Ledger by Jane Hirshfield and Learning to Die by Robert Bringhurst & Jan Zwicky.
Randy Lundy is a poet and short story writer from Saskatchewan. (University of Regina Press)

Randy Lundy is a short story writer, poet and member of the Barren Lands (Cree) First Nation. Lundy's poetry, including 2018's Blackbird Song, reflects on his life, his heritage and his spiritual connection to nature. 

Lundy spoke with Shelagh Rogers about two poetry books that highlight the natural world.

Ledger by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet, essayist and translator. (Curt Richter, Knopf)

"Ledger attempts to draw attention to the facts of the world — the facts of environmental degradation, climate change and species extinction.

"Hirshfield is a Buddhist practitioner. She's ordained as a Buddhist teacher. She draws these large planetary concerns together with the mundane stuff of our lives — the quotidian things, the everyday things like having a shower and having a cup of tea while you're sitting in your bathrobe. That's one of the interesting things for me about the book. 

Ledger attempts to draw attention to the facts of the world — and the facts of environmental degradation, climate change and species extinction.

"We think of ledgers as keeping track of what comes in and what goes out, a kind of accounting. When we're thinking about the environment and climate change and extinction, we're all on a ledge, on a precipice.

"Set alongside these very small, quiet moments of our experience of the world, it reminds us of the wonder that we should feel in the presence of all the transformations that are constantly taking place in the world around us."

Learning to Die by Robert Bringhurst & Jan Zwicky

Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky are the authors of Learning to Die. (University of Regina Press, Counterpoint Press)

"Learning to Die includes an essay by Robert Bringhurst to open in the book, a companion essay by Jen Zwicky, and then there's a jointly authored afterword.

"The thinking is dense, but it's really quite accessible. Bringhurst makes a correct argument that we don't exist outside nature; we're part of it. We live inside it, rather than standing outside of it. We all know individually we're mortal, we're going to die.

"That's true of civilizations. It's true of species. It's true of planets and suns. It's putting us in our place, to give us a sense of perspective on what we're doing to the world that we live in.

It's putting us in our place, to give us a sense of perspective on what we're doing to the world that we live in.

"Zwicky asks the question: what does virtue consist of, or where does virtue reside? And how can we live ethically in this world?

"She goes back to the Socratic virtues and lists them in bullet points: it's awareness coupled with humility regarding what one knows and courage, self-control, justice, contemplative practice and compassion.

"How do we react to our own individual mortality: our civilization's mortality, our species mortality, the planet's mortality, our sun's mortality? That should teach us humility, if nothing else does."

Randy Lundy's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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