"The casual picture is, as always with living processes, multifaceted. A host of different effects act upon, and counteract, each other to form a complex web of mutual dependencies--in other words, an organism--as is the case in any ecological community." (p. 69)What is Eco-Geography you ask? 250 pages later I can't tell you as I still don't know. The book lacks focus. I'm not sure if it has to do with the translation, or something else, but Suchantke seems to just meander along a variety of paths and subjects without making much of a point or pulling things, or his purpose, together.
Some of the landscape and animal descriptions were very well done--not exactly Edward Abbey--but not bad either. Suchantke's illustrations are professional, to say the least. They are outstanding. But I still had to force myself to finish the book as I never felt like I was getting much out of it. Most of the text appears to have been written, or at least researched, decades ago as the references are to works from the early 1970s or before. Not only is it dated, but the science is, at times, questionable.
I suppose you could call some of Suchantke's science or theories a "science by analogy." One of his favorites early in the book (and which he brings up again late in the book, for instance on page 168) is to equate seemingly everything with the term "organism." A single species is a large organism. Multiple species are a larger organism. Even multiple continents are considered "to be so attuned to each other that their behavior can only be compared to that of organs within an organism." (p. 112) While there are things that can be learned, and imaginations can be sparked, from such analogies there are limits to them, and they shouldn't be beaten to death. For instance, his use of it in relation to overpopulation is apt.
The predators also form a part of this organism. They fill the role of the regulatory system, without which the great herds of wild grazing animals would not be able to exist. Strange as that may sound, it is nonetheless true. What would happen if lions, leopards, and hyenas no longer took their tithe? There would be overpopulation, then overgrazing, hunger, and epidemics... If [hunters] fail to [keep populations in check], the populations of deer and wild boar get so out of hand that the viability of any kind of rural or forest economy is put in question. Under such conditions, mountain goats in the Austrian Alps multiply so explosively that eventually there is an epidemic of scabies which then all but wipes out the whole stock. An organism is no longer viable if one of its organs begins growing inordinately like a cancer. It ends in collapse. (p. 14)Will humans suffer the same fate? He touches on that question, but not really directly, a bit less than I thought he would.
As mentioned, the book is hard to pin down (but easy to put down). Sometimes it seems like a travelogue or atlas/guidebook. At other times it moves into topics resembling New Age Science such as his discussion of juvenilization in evolution or his belief in some sort of force driving plate tectonics to provide for the evolution of humans and their culture. He tries to connect rift valleys with consciousness and spiritual development, and I just don't get it. Overall, I was left unfulfilled, unmotivated to action, and unchanged by Eco-Geography. Oh, and I almost forgot, the Introduction by Norman Skillen, the translator, is horrible. I had to skip the second half of it in order to start the book.
from the publisher:
What do we really see when we look at a landscape? Andreas Suchantke, biologist, science teacher, attentive traveler, recounts in detailed and telling observations some of the most fascinating landscapes on Earth: the savannahs of East Africa, the rainforests of South America and Africa, the unique islands of New Zealand, the Great Rift Valley of Africa, and the Middle East. He brings us to landscapes that have been severely damaged by human activity and others, such as the island of Sri Lanka, where nature and human culture have been brought into paradisial harmony. His beautiful descriptions and illustrations alone are worth the trip, but these essays are even more than great nature and ecology writing. Suchantke's real interest is a new way of seeing the physical landscape. This approach is based on precise observation, which is not then just analyzed "objectively," but recreated in an active act of imagination. Nature is then experienced as a form of meaning, a language. And, as Suchantke abundantly shows us, the quality of our relationship to nature is determined by how well we understand this language. The practical use of the imagination is thus an ecological activity.
Eco-Geography is a ray of hope, the sought-after counterbalance to the mechanistic materialism of modern science and the current philosophy of despair that sees human beings as anomalous, unnatural destroyers of nature. It shows the potential we have to develop sensibilities that meet the needs of the planet and to form a true nurturing partnership between nature and human culture.
Andreas Suchantke was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1933. He was trained in zoology and botany at the universities of Munich and Basel and taught natural sciences for nineteen years in the Waldorf school in Zurich. He has worked extensively in Waldorf teacher training programs around the world. Andreas Suchantke describes himself as a "freelance ecologist," and works especially in Israel in cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Nature.