Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis

Scribner. Sept. 2022. 208p. ISBN 9781982173357. $26.99. SCI
Pulitzer Prize–winning author and lifelong environmentalist Proulx follows Barkskins, her 2016 novel about lumbering, with this collection of short essays about peatlands. Draining a swamp, readers learn, comes as naturally to humankind as destroying a forest. Beginning with “Discursive Thoughts on Wetlands,” Proulx recounts childhood memories of swamps, discusses how wetlands are classified, explains general properties of peat and its crucial role in carbon capture, and more. With the exception of “heroes of the bog”—sphagnum mosses—she does not write extensively about wetlands’ flora and fauna. Rather, her focus is on human relationships with wetlands, including a fascinating account of northern Europe’s Iron-age bog bodies. Her eye for folly is sharply trained on the long record of ruinous drainage “projects.” But while there are many occasions for eco-grief in the book, there are also glimmers of hope: e.g., in the scientists who laid the groundwork to the understanding of these ecosystems and the many restoration projects underway.
VERDICT Fans of Proulx’s fiction, even those with marginal interest in peatlands, will be intrigued by the snippets of memoir and the habits of a writer’s mind that this collection reveals.
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