The Green Hour: A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend |
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The Green Hour: A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend

University of Wisconsin Press, 256 pages, $28.95

“The land set me dreaming, summoning memories of my other soulscapes and psychogeographies, layering them over one another in a palimpsest, many times and places present within me at once.” This line offers both description and explanation of Alison Townsend’s recent collection of twenty-six semi-biographical essays. Professor emerita of English from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, Townsend humbly celebrates her own hard-earned wisdom and a ‘deepening awareness’ about how the places she has lived have ‘seeped’ into her creative life, while never losing touch with the original essence of her early years. The Green Hour is both a tale of homecoming and a travel narrative, shared through heartfelt missives from the author’s memory and life.

Townsend writes, “I am not romanticizing or being poetic when I say the sound of running water began me.” And these essays follow a lineage through landscapes, flowing from the creek outside her nursery window, to the ‘five acres of gentle woods and fields’ of her childhood home on Wild Run Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, to a nearly mythic summer spent on a lakeshore in Vermont, to the mountains and ocean of Western Oregon and California, eventually landing in an unexpected but welcome home in Wisconsin. “I am haunted by lost places,” she writes in the prelude, offering the reader an intimate warning of the sadness that has shaped her life. Her mother’s early death left a hole that Townsend continues to peer into, digging up lessons and putting words to feelings that seem best understood in the later years of one’s life. But in this soil of self-reflection, there continues to be wonder and the blooming of new joys. Of the restored prairie and oak savannah she now tends with her conservationist husband, she writes of the thrill in seeing it come back to ‘what it was meant to be, the small tongues of new growth rising through the blackened earth like green flame.”

Like Leopold’s 1949 book of seasonal essays published as A Sand County AlmanacThe Green Hour offers a window into Townsend’s beloved homescape. One can imagine that Leopold himself would enjoy the playful observations presented as “An Alphabet of Here.” A is for Aster and Z for “the zed-shaped folds of the aurora opening its luminescent green curtains on a winter night…the zodiac swirling around us like the wheel of life that is here, now, the only one we are given.”

Green imagery vines through the collection and indeed the cover of the book is verdant and blooming with a detailed watercolor by the Madison-based artist Helen Klebesadel. When I emailed Townsend to ask about the book’s title, she praised her publisher at the University of Wisconsin Press for noting the phrase from the opening essay. She said, “I was just trying to describe the beauty and spirit of the land and how it makes me feel connected to larger things.” In this she has succeeded: The Green Hour beautifully celebrates our human relationships with the natural world.


Jessica Becker is director of digital communications for Wisconsin Humanities and writes Wanderlife, a newsletter to liberate your spirit and light up your brain, for people who love to wander and are open to life, at

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