little tree

Scott Russell Sanders


“One of the penalties of an ecological education,” Aldo Leopold wrote, “is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” A person need not bear this knowledge alone if he has been blessed, as I have, with friends who care deeply about the fate of Earth as a home for life, human and nonhuman. They have helped me to see not only the wounds but also the ways of healing. I am especially grateful to Wendell Berry, Alison Deming, Elizabeth Dodd, John Elder, Robert Finch, Peter Forbes, Buddy Huffaker, Wes Jackson, Hank Lentfer, Barry Lopez, Bill McKibben, Christopher Merrill, Kathleen Dean Moore, Carrie Newcomer, Robert Michael Pyle, James Alexander Thom, Dan Shilling, Helen Whybrow, and Terry Tempest Williams.

I am also grateful to the editors of journals in which earlier versions of chapters from Divine Animal first appeared: Gregory Wolfe at Image, David Lynn at The Kenyon Review, Christian Knoeller at Midwest Miscellany, Laurence Goldstein at The Michigan Quarterly Review, and David Shields at Seattle Review. My recent essays related to themes in Divine Animal were welcomed by H. Emerson Blake and Jennifer Sahn at Orion, Stephen Corey and Douglas Carlson at The Georgia Review, Kerry Temple at Notre Dame Magazine, Denis Donoghue atDaedalus, and Janet Rabinowitch at Indiana University Press. To these editors and their staffs I give thanks. Among those who read this book while it was in draft form, I wish to thank in particular Patrick Thomas at Milkweed Editions and my agent, John Wright, both of whom offered illuminating insights that proved fruitful as I revised.

My first book appeared in 1973, my most recent one in 2012. During those four decades, I published altogether nineteen books for adults, eight books for children, and one edited anthology. Some of these works appeared from commercial houses—Viking; Morrow; Simon & Schuster; Tor; Franklin Watts; Farrar, Straus & Giroux—some from university presses—Indiana, Illinois, Georgia—some from independent or nonprofit publishers—Beacon, Milkweed, Capra, National Geographic, Wooster Books. Why so many publishers? Partly because I’ve worked in several different genres, but mainly because editors moved, retired, or were fired; budgets were cut; divisions were shut down; contracts were cancelled; books that still enjoyed steady sales were allowed to go out of print; smaller publishers were bought up by larger ones, which were bought up by international conglomerates, which rarely had any interest in books except as a source of (unlikely) profits in their vast portfolios. My experiences have been typical. These trends affect all authors to a greater or lesser extent.

After starting over from scratch time and again in the search for a publisher, I decided to produce this book myself, a decision made easier by the advent of digital technology. Within the span of my writing life the book as a physical artifact made of ink on paper has been gradually supplanted—some would say, doomed to extinction—by the book as a digital file readable on various electronic devices. While I love books printed on paper, and will continue reading them by preference as long as I live, before publishing Divine Animal in this traditional form, I wanted to experiment first with an e-book version that I would be able to give away.

Why give it away? The practical reason is that I earn my living by teaching, not by selling books. In writing Divine Animal, I did not set out to produce a commodity for sale; I set out to tell a story, to inhabit the lives of characters who had captured my imagination, to reflect on how things fall apart and how they might be mended. Of course it is perfectly honorable to earn one’s living by writing. But that was never my ambition, nor would it have been a realistic one, given my subjects and concerns and style. A deeper reason for giving away the e-book version is to make a small return to the cultural commons, that indispensable source for all creative work, including my own—the commons of language, literature, libraries, schools and colleges, the arts and sciences and all forms of knowledge, as well as countless conversations with fellow seekers and makers.

Whether or not a divine animal carries us through the world, friends and loved ones certainly do. I have named a few of my essential guides in the paragraphs above. My nearest and dearest guide is Ruth Sanders, my wife of more than four decades. Without her company, without her voice, I would long since have wandered lost. When I began work on Divine Animal, Ruth and I had one grandchild; when I finished, we had five. They were born into a world less wild, less resilient, and less beautiful than the one into which I was born. They were much in my thoughts as I wrote. For their sake, and for the sake of children everywhere and children yet unborn, I tried in these pages to imagine how we might restore at least some of that wildness, resilience, and beauty.





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