In Northwest Ecolog, Late Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti Tackles a Kaleidoscope of Themes

Northwest Ecolog does not contain a misspelling. Instead, “ecolog” is author Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s portmanteau for a blend between a sort of pastoral ode–or eclogue–and ecology (based off Allen Ginsberg’s “ecologue,” meaning the same thing.) Ferlinghetti thus incorporates environmentalism into a pastoral sensibility with a light sense of humor in this book of poems, suggested by the portmanteau itself.

Ferlinghetti learns about nature through a journey across the Pacific Northwest and a Greenpeace voyage. Yet, he stays deeply in connection with himself. Ferlinghetti’s book is a collection of both musings about his inner world and observations about the outer one. This insightful balance of selfhood and engagement with nature carries through much of the collection.

For example, he describes a trip boating in rapid conditions as tumbling “on down, as on a rollercoaster, laughing and shouting, some hilarious god in charge of us.” It is about exploration and delight in the face of the author’s approaching mortality–and how that mortality cannot be bargained with. Is that god truly “hilarious”; is His humor actually a bit darker than that? In the midst of all of nature’s beauty and bounty, that’s one of the questions the book asks. 

But this short book can also veer into tangents. For example, he judges the inhabitants of a town he travels through as rural stereotypes; after a brief description of local life, they are never mentioned again. In addition to its scornfulness, the episode is irrelevant to Ferlinghetti’s larger narrative.

This book is still worth reading, despite its rough-hewn qualities. Ferlinghetti allows us to feel both wonder about nature and anxiety about our mortality (and perhaps the planet’s own incoming fate). Feelings that are all too easy to squirrel away.