The Way to the Salt Marsh

A John Hay Reader

John Hay

“In common things are greater extensions of ourselves than we ever conceived of.” “Life on earth springs from a collateral magic that we rarely consult,” observes John Hay, naturalist, essayist, sage, and inveterate walker of byways. This collection from the 50-year long career of America’s preeminent nature writer illustrates the full range of Hay’s work. An elegant and lyrical stylist, he is, in Merrill’s words, “the nature writer’s writer, an illustrator of the Emersonian notion that ‘the world is emblematic.’” And so Hay reveals the ubiquitous but often unnoticed emblems all around us. The mad, impossible rush of alewives flinging themselves upstream to mate, for example, represents “the drive to be, a common and terrible sending out, to which men are also bound in helplessness.” In the migratory movements of the terns and the green turtles past his beloved Cape Cod Hay sees the mystery and magnificence of homing: “To know your direction and return through outer signs, is as new as it is ancient. We are still people of the planet, with all its original directions waiting in our being.” Whether describing the rugosa or bayberry of a sand dune, the plight of stranded pilot whales, or a spider swinging on its gossamer, Hay encourages us to enlarge our inner universe by observing, appreciating, and preserving the outer one we so often ignore. As a result, he says, “we may find that we are being led onto traveled ways that were once invisible to us,” and by recognizing our “deep alliance with natural forces we find a new depth in ourselves. This is the common ground for all living things.”

Paper: $22.95
ISBN-13: 9780874518641
Pages: 268 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: July 1, 1998


  • John Hay is one of the rare writers of any genre into whose work you can dip anywhere and be immediately swept along by the narrative. One never tires of John Hay. His knowledge is broad and accurate, his reflections deep, and his reassuring prose style that of a master craftsman.

    Edward O. Wilson
  • John Hay is one of the world's handful of very great nature writers; I love his books with all my heart.

    Annie Dillard
  • There are in these pages intimations of a deep and lovely harmony. These pieces come from John Hay's utterly essential body of work; may they serve as a guide for many into both his books and the world they describe.

    Bill McKibben
  • John Hay celebrates the living tides of our planet -- the pulse and seethe of ocean, the migratory floods of birds and fish. The subtle cadences of his prose capture these rhythms and also evoke, better than any writing I know, the mysterious kinship at the heart of evolution. The present collection, with its fine introduction by Christopher Merrill, succeeds wonderfully in conveying the faithfulness, the scientific venturesomeness, and the purity of style that have marked John Hay's work over a career spanning half a century.

    John Elder
  • John Hay is one of the very best essayists on the natural world.

    Peter Matthiessen

About the Author

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