Paper pub. date
January 2003
ISBN 9780870715532 (paperback)
6 x 9 inches, 320 pages.

Paradise Wild

Reimagining American Nature

David Oates

As a lifelong mountaineer and reader of nature literature, as a scholar, as a descendant of naturalist William Bartram, and as a gay ex-Baptist who took to the mountains to test his masculinity, David Oates has thought deeply about how nature and culture interact in our lives.

In this lively, genre-hopping book, Oates tells stories, explores the literature of nature, and analyzes how the misapplied myth of Eden has mired Americans in a hopeless "Paradise Lost" mentality that belies the true, ever-present wildness in our lives. Paradise Wild will move and provoke readers, at the same time that it contributes to the ongoing debate over the meanings of "nature" and "wilderness."

Oates argues that mourning for a lost paradise is a dead end that cannot help us combat the real damage we're doing to ourselves and the rest of the world. He proposes a healthy re-mythologizing of the Eden story as a way of celebrating "wildness"- the Eden in each moment and in each cell, that cannot be lost. His book is about welcoming that wildness into the midst of daily life.

Readers interested in how we think about nature-in ecological politics, environmental literature and philosophy, nature writing, cultural studies, and queer studies-will welcome this bold and original new work.

About the author

David Oates is the author of two books of poetry and four works of nonfiction, including Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature and City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary. His award-winning essays have appeared in Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, and Orion. He was Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and is founder and general editor of Kelson Books in Portland, Oregon. 

Read more about this author

Preface and Acknowledgments

Practice of the Presence of the Wild

I. Be/Longing in Eden
Sometimes Walking
Paradise Lost
The Wildness of Failure
Ending it All
Dealing with Paradise
Eco-fundamentalism and the Forests of Oregon
The Flower Hunter
Our Nature to Read
Good Indian, Bad Indian or, The Opposite of Queer is Still Queer
Queer Pants
A Mutability Canto

II. Up the River
Up the River
Real Losses: the Hanford Reach
The Unintended Sits by her Window and Smiles
Every Rich System is a Nature

III. Walking After, Walking With: Muir, Thoreau, Bartram
Thoreau is the Literalizing Century: Scientism, Fundamentalism, and the Golden West
Muir's Eden: Landscapes of Heaven
Muir's Arcadia
The Method of Palimpsest: Eternal Returns
Bartram in Georgia Notes

"Paradise Wild is the most exuberant blend of reflection, scholarship and persuasion to come along in many years. The book breaks open the hollow pieties of nature writing to reveal how an engaged and embracing mind-and body-is itself one of nature's most beautiful expressions of wildness. Oates writes lyrically and with healing irreverence about experience and literature in a way that makes all the old polarizing categories-'saved and damned, straight and gay, sacred and profane'-melt away. This is an important and illuminating book-way overdue as a new look at nature, mind and body."

--Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Writing the Sacred into the Real

"Paradise Wild stands out as a unique text among the recent crop of environmental studies books. I know of no other book that touches on a diverse range of issues to the extent that Oates does: … interconnections between nature, the body, sexuality, society, writing, thinking and spirituality. Paradise Wild incorporates personal narrative with critical analysis, producing in the process one of the best attempts I know at writing for both an academic and popular audience."

--Susan Kollin, author of Nature's State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier

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