Stirring the Mud
On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination

Barbara Hurd

"Hurd is a consummate naturalist, writing with the grace and precision of a Peter Matthiessen or an Annie Dillard."—Los Angeles Times


"Hurd is a consummate naturalist, writing with the grace and precision of a Peter Matthiessen or an Annie Dillard, but she is also remarkably curious about human nature, spinning her discussion to bring in Joseph Campbell, the I Ching, and Thomas Edison. . . . One moment you're holding a bog turtle in the palm of your hand or watching a dragonfly unfold its wings, and the next you're learning how Monet went about exhibiting his water lily canvases in 1922 or why the cold acidic water of peat bogs so perfectly preserves a body. . . . It is a measure of her skill that she steps among these elements so effortlessly, and it is a measure of her ambition that keeps the aperture of her camera wide open to capture what might otherwise have laid hidden in the dark."
Los Angeles Times

"Delving into these wetlands, she finds in their array of strange fauna and flora an objective correlative to the place in the mind where artistic inspiration occurs: a place of blurred borders, shifting identity, and strange odors, of rot and death, of Zen peacefulness."
New Yorker

"Hurd writes about people with the canny poise of Cheever, and about nature with the loving exactitude of Thoreau. And everywhere in her work is a speculative energy and elegance that make her essays a rare achievement."
—J. D. McClatchy, author of Hazmat

"Hurd's elegant, effortless prose is a surefooted guide through the wetlands she loves: the liminal zones, the borderlands that aren't quite earth or water. This engaging book takes us deep into the swamp, both into the physical place and into its literary and mythic dimensions. Language, after all, is a swamp too—a meeting place, a fertile territory of depths and of origins. Stirring the Mud is a smart, singular enchantment."
—Mark Doty, author of Dog Years

"Hurd has the sharp eye of the essayist, the naturalist's feel for place and the poet's for metaphor. . . . The essays have deep reach. Like all the best such works (Annie Dillard, David Quammen and, of course, Thoreau), they make you reassess the way you look at something you thought was familiar. . . . Hurd's savory gumbo includes backward glances at her own childhood and forays into religion and myth, issuing in a synaesthetic series of deeply felt impression and surprising meanders. . . . The marriage of wonder with language, of muck with metaphor, is beautifully controlled."
Toronto Globe and Mail

"But Stirring the Mud is not just—even primarily—a natural history. It's about swamps as springboard for the imagination, inviting meditations on the nature of our lives."
The Sun

"Hurd's poetic inquiry into the life and margins of marshy terrain takes us on a magic-filled metaphorical mystery tour of human desire."
Utne Reader

"Hurd's essays reverberate with an intimate, reverent understanding of nature, history, and art. The bog—metaphoric, historic, actual—has its large life here, in a book that is gracefully written and fully imagined."
—Jane Brox, author of Clearing Land

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In these nine evocative essays, Barbara Hurd explores the seductive allure of bogs, swamps, and wetlands. Hurd's forays into the land of carnivorous plants, swamp gas, and bog men provide fertile ground for rich thoughts about mythology, literature, Eastern spirituality, and human longing. In her observations of these muddy environments, she finds ample metaphor for human creativity, imagination, and fear.
Page count: 160 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.25


List price: $19.95

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Barbara Hurd is the author of Walking the Wrack Line, Entering the Stone, and a collection of poetry, The Singer's Temple. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Yale Review, Georgia Review, Nimrod, New Letters, and Audubon. Hurd teaches creative writing at Frostburg State University, where she has held the Elkins Professorship, and at the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.