When we got the call that longtime friend and Orion contributor Brian Doyle had won this year’s John Burroughs Award for Outstanding Published Nature Essay, we knew that the Award’s judges had the right guy. Doyle, who receives the nod for his essay in the September/October 2011 issue, “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” is a writer who, in many ways, picks up where John Burroughs left off: his “ferocious attentiveness” to the small miracles of the world—and his ability to transmit their heat and light on the page—is remarkable and necessary. As if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that the guy can give a respectable acceptance speech (even if he spills the beans about our editors’ tattoos and phone-smashing habits). His remarks are posted below.
I’m honored and delighted to be burroughsed. I admire John Burroughs, and think that he was after ferocious attentiveness as the first step toward reverence and then protection and celebration of the unimaginable gift of What Is. His insistence on witness and celebration changed America, seems to me, and led to a sea change in writing and culture that might yet wake up the world to our roaring responsibility to see and savor and conserve and gape at the miracles in which we swim every instant.
And maybe that is what my essay is about, in its bones: not only the fish in the rivers of Cascadia that are bigger than bears, fish that eat cannonballs and badgers and basketballs, but about all the zillions of things we do not know hardly a thing about; all the agents of wonder, of every species and stripe. The more we see them clearly, the more we witness and pay attention to their astonishing lives, the more we savor, the more we gape, the more we stop murdering so thoughtlessly, the more we realize we are here to provide wonders beyond imagination for children, and those wonders are right here beyond calculation or measurement. Attentiveness is the beginning of all prayer, as the smiling genius Mary Oliver says, and she’s right. As usual.
Also, while we are on the subject of an essay of mine appearing in Orion and then winning a cool award, let me just add that working with the editors at Orion is like dealing with wolverines on acid. The cursing, the slightly misregistered tattoos, the mysterious editorial comments in languages that do not even approach gibberish, the whole worshipping little piles of willow twigs, the little altars to Wendell Berry, the refusal to accept my recommendations that anyone who insists on using lower-case letters for their names, like bell hooks, not to name any names, ought to be taken out back and hosed off thoroughly before using…things like this are the coin of the realm when you deal with the editors at Orion. And the smashed phones. Stuff like that. I’m just saying.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author of ten books, including, most recently, the novel Mink River.