Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

by Janisse Ray

Overview: From the memories of a childhood marked by extreme poverty, mental illness, and restrictive fundamentalist Christian rules, Janisse Ray crafted a memoir that has inspired thousands to embrace their beginnings, no matter how humble, and fight for the places they love. This edition, published on the fifteenth anniversary of the original publication, updates and contextualizes the story for a new generation and a wider audience desperately searching for stories of empowerment and hope.

Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1, hidden from Florida-bound travelers by hulks of old cars. In language at once 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. A contemporary classic, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a clarion call to protect the cultures and ecologies of every childhood. .

Rona Simmons (05/12/17): Agents and editors look for unique works, voices that they haven’t heard before and topics they hadn’t seen addressed. And Janisse Ray delivers. I would never have picked up the work Ecology of a Cracker Childhood had I not heard Janisse speak and read from her book. The book aside, Janisse knew how to draw her audience in. I bought a copy and fell under her spell a second time. If you weren’t an environmentalist or at a nature lover when you cracked the cover, you will be by the time you are halfway into the book. Janisse, you had me at longleaf.

In alternating chapters that speak of her childhood, growing up in her father’s junkyard, and then turn to the the longleaf pine forests that once dominated her part of the country, Janisse shares the story of how she found herself and the purpose for her life. One passage describes a scene, I’ve come across on an early morning on my property:

“In the morning, a strip of pink pools through the slash pines in the lowland east. The fog is a garden wall made of stone and imagination. In the garden a million million spiderwebs are spun of strands of dew--dream catchers, wind nets, hammocks of dawn. There are thousands of them, a revolution of spiderwebs in an anarchy of fog. It is like an ocean of webs, every tussock slung with a diaphanous nightcap.”

Another captures an experience we had as children, when what you did was “go for a ride” with your parents:

“We rode to see what could be seen. We rode because there was nothing else to do. We rode because it kept us together; close in the car where we could talk.”
Rating: *****

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