by Perry Mann
Mann and Nature is a collection of essays by Perry Mann about growing up during the Depression on a subsistence farm with his grandparents in southern West Virginia, his life-long relationship with gardening, and his reverence for nature. They celebrate local agriculture and hard work and the benefits from both in language that is beautiful and poetic: Suddenly the woods were filled with rays and sparkles and pings of drips, all of which had different pitches and produced a xylophone effect. It was a fairyland of sun and sounds and sights. If I could be frozen in time by some sculptor, like the figures on the Grecian Urn in the poem written by Keats, I would choose to be standing with buckets in hand in those sun-drenched woods transfixed by the glory of sights and sounds of dripping sugar maples.
In the company of Thoreau, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold, Mann reminds the reader of the consequences of plundering the resources of nature for profit. However, at 91 Perry Mann remains optimistic about the human condition: No lobbyist can bribe nature. In the end, all politicians and everyone else must accept the mandates of nature and the consequences of violating them. In that is my optimism.
Through the seasons Mann celebrates the beauty and mystery of nature and encourages the reader to go outside, to plant a garden, to take a walk, to observe the hummingbird, a shrew, an ancient oak, or an ear of corn, and after such observations reflect on the lessons of Mother Nature.
Included in his essays are recipes for his prized bread and butter pickles, his homemade bread, and a vegetarian delight of a cabbage nest filled with zucchini, squash, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, broccoli, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and topped with two ears of corn steamed and garnished with Parmesan cheese. This meal is a testament to his definition of happiness: It may be happiness is producing by hand and mind what is essential to live and the use and enjoyment of it to sustain life with enough surplus to give time for rest and reflection.