May 13, 2022 | By Izzie Hicks | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
This is the last Catalyst article I will ever write.
I’m graduating in a few weeks, so naturally I’ve been reflecting on my liberal arts education that got me here and what I want to share with current students as I prepare to say goodbye.
At this point, I’ve taken almost 32 blocks, many of them in the environmental field, and I want to share a list of the five most important environmental books I’ve read during my time at Colorado College. I somehow got lucky enough to find a job right out of college that I’m actually excited about — I’m moving to Montana to cover the future of agriculture for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. I credit this mainly to luck but also to the wonderful classes and professors I’ve had at CC that taught me so much. We know reading is so important to grow our big, big brains, so why not do some over summer break?
As a soon-to-be degree-holder in environmental studies, here are my top five environmental books I read in college, ranked in order of favorite to least favorite (but still worthy enough to make this list).
1) Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
By Robin Kimmerer
This one has to go first since I actually got a tattoo because of this book. Seriously. It’s a strawberry that also looks like an anatomical heart, etched in red and green ink on the back of my arm. What it symbolizes to me is the wider theme of Braiding Sweetgrass: seeing nature as a gift, of respecting traditional knowledge and worldviews that value reciprocal relationships with the land. This book is brilliantly written by Robin Kimmerer, who is a member of the Potawatomi tribe and associate faculty of botany at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. It’s a beautiful critique of only relying on Western objective science to understand nature and provides suggestions for integrating Indigenous worldviews that see nature as a collection of relationships into environmental discourse. Please read it if you haven’t yet. I am not exaggerating when I say I think about this book all the time.
2) Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness
By Edward Abbey
This is one of my favorite books of all time simply because of how beautiful it is. Originally published in 1968, Abbey was a notable voice for the conservation movement during the environmental decade of the 1970s. In his book, Abbey tells stories of his experience living and working 24/7 as a groundsperson at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. It reads as a love letter to the American West and to the desert, instilling a profound sense of place into anyone who has interacted with these landscapes. Abbey advocates strongly for conservation of wilderness, and some heartbreaking chapters of this book describe his raft trip down a river that has since been dammed and no longer exists. This book makes me want to be a nature and travel writer more than anything. Actually, I kind of want to be Edward Abbey himself. Read this book.
3) Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation
By Sunaura Taylor
Okay, this isn’t directly tied to the environment, but I did read it in my environmental ethics class. I’m including it here because it’s one of those books that after you read it, you don’t think about the world the same way ever again. Much like the paradigm of ecofeminism, which argues that the logic society uses to oppress women and the environment are the same, Taylor argues that animals and humans with disabilities are also oppressed by the same logic. She discusses the ways in which humans with disabilities are frequently compared to animals as a way to dehumanize them, and how this act of comparison intersects with the societal assumption that humans are superior to animals.
I read this book when I was deep in my vegan era, and I remember it being everything I needed to hear at that exact moment in my life. It helped me not slip into white, first-world veganism but instead view being vegan as a protest against all forms of dominance and oppression. Even still, I believe this book holds a lot of value for non-vegans too, as in general it opened my eyes to the intersecting oppressions and everyday logic we use to inadvertently uphold inequality and white supremacy.
4) Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
By Emma Marris
I read this book pretty early on in college, in Eric Perramond’s Environment and Society class. It (along with other notable works such as Cronon’s The Trouble with Wilderness) completely expanded my conceptions of what I thought of as nature and challenged the assumptions I always had that nature should be pristine, unpeopled, and away from industrialized society. The book talks about ways of incorporating nature into urban environments, but in order to do that we must first challenge our limited ideas of what nature is and should be. It’s a foundational idea in the environmental studies field and this book articulates it in a beautiful and transformative way.
5) Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country
By William Philpott
I have in fact written an entire Catalyst article on this book before so I thought it deserved a shoutout. Having been born and raised in Colorado, this book blows my mind. It’s a mind-bogglingly complete and accessible history of Colorado’s tourism industry that I read in my American Environmental History block. The book focuses on the construction of I-70 across the state as what made the Rocky Mountains truly accessible for recreational tourism. Now, every time I drive to the mountains, I can’t help but notice the shifts in how the highway is oriented around the landscape, a result of changing environmental attitudes throughout the decades of construction. Read this book if you want to learn more about how Vail and Aspen became international ski destinations and havens for white recreation, and the enormous fiscal, environmental, and social costs it took to turn the Rocky Mountains into the tourism playground they are today.