Looking for adventure and continuing a process of self-discovery, Janisse Ray has repeatedly set out to immerse herself in wildness, to be wild, and to learn what wildness can teach us. From overwintering with monarch butterflies in Mexico to counting birds in Belize, the stories in Wild Spectacle capture her luckiest moments-ones of heart-pounding amazement, the discovery of romance, and moving toward living more wisely. In Ray's worst moments she crosses boundaries to encounter danger and embrace sadness.
Anchored firmly in two places Ray has called home-Montana and southern Georgia-the sixteen essays here span a landscape from Alaska to Central America, connecting common elements in the ecosystems of people and place. One of her abiding griefs is that she has missed the sights of explorers like Bartram, Sacagawea, and Carver: flocks of passenger pigeons, routes of wolves, herds of bison. She craves a wilder world and documents encounters that are rare in a time of disappearing habitat, declining biodiversity, and a world too slowly coming to terms with climate change.
In an age of increasingly virtual, urban life, Ray embraces the intentionality of trying to be a better person balanced with seeking out natural spectacle, abundance, and less trammelled environments. She questions what it means to travel into the wild as a woman, speculates on the impacts of ecotourism and travel in general, questions assumptions about eating from the land, and appeals to future generations to make substantive change.
Wild Spectacle explores our first home, the wild earth, and invites us to question its known and unknown beauties and curiosities.
Janisse Ray is a naturalist and activist, and the author of seven books of nonfiction and poetry, including The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River, and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award. Her work has appeared widely in magazines and journals, and she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Nautilus Book Award, and numerous other honours. Ray lives on an organic farm near Savannah, Georgia.
– Georgia Center for the Book "Books All Georgians Should Read" for 2022
– Atlanta Journal Constitution Top 10 Southern Books of 2021
– Gun & Garden's Favorite Books of 2021
"A lover takes nothing for granted. A lover explores, wanders, takes delight in nuance. Says, viva la difference. A lover listens, savors, is patient. Janisse Ray is a writer in love with place and places."
"With its combination of lyrical sentences, heartfelt truths, and profound observations, this book is a gem and a worthy sequel to Ecology of a Cracker Childhood."
– Southern Literary Review
"Ray is more than a knowledgeable observer. Her relationship with the natural world is passionate and spiritual."
– Alabama Public Radio
"The essays in Wild Spectacle span 20 years [...] they show that no matter where or when we are, there's wonders to bear witness to."
– Savannah Morning News
"Just a small town girl traveling the whole world, Janisse Ray's new collection Wild Spectacle showcases her choice to take on heart-pounding adventure while discovering herself and nature."
– Connect Savannah
"Naturalist Janisse Ray's clear, nimble, sensitive writing about wildness and self-discovery is so arresting that it has informed my own writing."
– Latria Graham, Garden & Gun
"Wild Spectacle is prayer to Mother Earth, and like prayers Ray both exalts and grieves Her. This book will surely mark your soul."
– Dawn Major
"An enthralling immersion into the splendor of our natural world told in language that is equal parts rapturous and down to earth."
– The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"An enchanting essay collection about the wonders and lessons that nature provides."
– Foreword Reviews
"Think about epiphany. Think about change. Think about the moments that make your face burn, your fingers tingle. Wild Spectacle is about those shocks, encounters that shift the way we see the world and ourselves in it. Ray is the vortex around which everything spins."
– Joni Tevis, author of The World Is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse
"Wonderful. Janisse Ray has a heart the size of a manatee and the tenacity (and laugh) of a pileated woodpecker. She is incapable of not loving this world and all that is in it. If you don't yet know her work, today is your lucky day."
– Rick Bass, author of For a Little While: New and Selected Stories
"Curious, humble, bright, and compelling. Whenever I read Janisse Ray, I come away feeling both moved and fortunate. She is one of America's best chroniclers of spiritual and physical wilderness. Her prose is as gorgeous as her mind is wise, and lands a necessary punch: how should a human enter a wild place?"
– Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Almost Famous Women
"These seductive and diverse essays evoke wildness themselves, weaving narratives of community, love, and heroism. Ray writes with the heart of a poet and warrior, casting a spell that leaves us wanting to love and protect all that is wild. She urges us to remember what beauty there is in the world, and how much that world needs us."
– Sheryl St. Germain, author of Fifty Miles
"Ray's richness of observation, clarity of expression, and moral purpose are in such balance that this book hums like a gyroscope in your hands. Read and reread it again to savor the scenes and sentences."
– Melissa Fay Greene, author of No Biking in the House without a Helmet: 9 Kids, 3 Continents, 2 Parents, 1 Family
"An urgent love letter to our wild places. Part poet, naturalist, and tour guide, Ray is a gifted observer. We finish this remarkable book brimming with gratitude and alive to the wild spectacles around us."
– Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
"Here is Janisse Ray at her best – fully immersed in wilderness, immersed in friendship, immersed in parenthood. She engages with the world in a way that few can manage in this screened-off age. If there's a more open, honest, and appealing writer today, I've not met her."
– Bill McKibben, author Wandering Home: A Long Walk across America's Most Hopeful Landscape
"Wild Spectacle is a stirring book. To experience the truth of Thoreau's claim that wildness preserves the world, take these journeys with Janisse Ray. She is an exhilarating observer who explores untamed places where that shaping, animating energy is on vivid display."
– Scott Russell Sanders, author of The Way of Imagination
"Janisse Ray's sense of wonder in the presence of the natural world permeates this collection of essays on how to love the Earth and measure the value of a life surrounded by the mother we all share. These essays help us measure the value of life."
– Pam Houston, author of Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
"Seriously great. In its brilliantly detailed celebrations of geography, Janisse Ray's writing suggests Walt Whitman. Hers is a literary ambition that makes no pretenses to modesty."
– Franklin Burroughs, author of Billy Watson's Croker Sack
"Janisse Ray doesn't explore nature so much as remind us of what we have forgotten [...] She is our Rachel Carson and our Walt Whitman, both fierce prophet and loving courage teacher."
– Mark Powell, author Lioness