Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a memoir by Janisse Ray that chronicles her childhood spent in rural isolation and steeped in religious fundamentalism. The book interweaves family history and memoir with natural history writing, specifically descriptions of the ecology of the vanishing longleaf pine forests. Ray’s childhood experiences inspired her to become an environmental activist and fight to save the almost vanished longleaf pine ecosystem that once covered the South.
The book is written in language that is colloquial, elegiac, and informative. Ray redeems her home and her people while also cataloging the source of her childhood hope: the Edenic longleaf pine forests, where orchids grow amid wiregrass at the feet of widely spaced, lofty trees.
Today, the forests exist in fragments, cherished and threatened, and the South of her youth is gradually being overtaken by golf courses and suburban development.
The main themes of the book include environmental activism, family history, memoir, and natural history writing. The book is a clarion call to protect the cultures and ecologies of every childhood. It is a heartfelt and refreshing memoir that has inspired thousands to embrace their beginnings, no matter how humble, and to fight for the places they love.
What I Liked
Everything. I’m biased toward the setting, since I live in Georgia and absolutely love Longleaf Pine trees – we even have a few specimens in Grant Park, Atlanta. The “childhood” in the book is also 90% reminiscent of the childhood of my Mom, Aunts & Uncles.
It’s fascinating to read about rural Georgia in the 1960s. It was a time very much still in an agrarian past…but rapidly becoming modern. The book is very elegiac and poetic.
What I Did Not Like
Nothing – the book is a classic for a reason.