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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 11, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

SONGBIRDS, TRUFFLES, AND WOLVES: An American Naturalist in Italy by Gary Paul Nabhan. (Pantheon: $22: 227 pp.) In September of 1990, Nabhan, a desert naturalist and writer, took a pilgrimage across 200 miles of Tuscany and Umbria, the route of Saint Francis, from La Verna, east of Florence, to Assisi. Saint Francis, patron saint of ecology "should have inspired his followers to greater sensitivity toward the land and its creatures," Nabhan writes. Instead, the Franciscan Way is paved with disappointments, as the Mediterranean region is one of the best examples of the "Western tendency to control or kill wild nature." Like all good travel books, this is also about leaving things behind--in Nabhan's case a lost marriage, and a period of his life in which he attached himself to causes and ideologies. "I wanted everyone to become born-again environmentalists," he writes, and toward the end of his walk: "I had become a pilgrim to seek out my feelings about the wild spirit and the institutions that are built around it; these sooner or later contain it, unless they are constantly reopened to the larger world." And so Nabhan follows the path of a saint to learn how to become a heretic.

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