Ray, J. (2000). Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Milkweed Editions
Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is difficult to classify. It is a book about the author’s childhood, a girl growing up in rural Georgia on her family’s junkyard in the 1970’s. From this literary node, she masterfully draws into her writing the far reaching environmental and cultural aspects of the southern cracker life. Almost totally isolated from the influences of the outside world, she could hardly fathom the world a county over. The history of the inhabitants of this land is told anecdotally through her family tree. Arriving hundreds of years ago from the midlands of Britain, they were impoverished and in search of simple livelihood. The mentality of these people is personified in Janisee’s colorful and hotheaded grandfather, Charlie. His appreciation of the virgin forests was largely restricted to coon hunting. Eager to make a living however he could, he in his early years was a scout for timber speculators. The forests Charlie knew as a youth were fire dominated longleaf pine ecosystem. However, the once dominate longleaf pine had all but been eradicated from the southern forests when Janisse was having her first experiences with nature.
Raised in biblical lore by her fundamental Christian father, she had no concept of the once prolific forests that grew where she now played in the junkyard. A pitcher plant growing behind a muddy pond in a remote corner of the junkyard sparked her curiosity in that which can not be explained by religion alone. The carnivorous plant was beautiful, yet predations. It was not a scourge, something to be eradicated, but a perfectly amoral organism. She brought the subject up with a schoolteacher, beginning a lifelong passion for the natural world, and specifically, the southern forests that are today almost unrecognizable from their virgin stands. All of these elements are woven together in one single tapestry, and the knowledge she presents of each aspect of the cracker lifestyle only heightens the readers understanding and interest in the others. A fitting homage to the land of her childhood, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a satisfying and thought provoking read.