By Ben Hartman
NEWTON – Why is New England’s landscape different from the rest of the United States?
When Diana Muir began investigating this seemingly simple question she found numerous ignored facts about Massachusetts’ industrial history, which is the cause of the distinctive landscape. She published her findings last year, seven years after beginning her quest, in her critically acclaimed book “Reflections in Bullough’s Pond.”
Last month, Reflections received the Massachusetts Book Award for the best non-fiction book published in 2000. Winners have to live in or had to write about Massachusetts. Muir lives in Newton.
Muir’s book, according to critics and the public, reads more like a novel than a history book. Even though Muir didn’t expect to receive such praises, she greatly appreciates them.
“It was hard to know what to expect,” said Muir about the response the book received. “It’s such a pleasure to give pleasure to people.”
“I was very pleased by that,” said Muir about the award. “It’s quite an honor because it’s Massachusetts. Writing books is what we do here.”
In the book, Muir shows the historical relationship between New England’s economy and the environment. She expands the relationship into a national and global analysis of America’s, and the world’s, current environmental and political problems: global warming, ozone depletion, and Middle East oil dependence, to name a few.
Muir claims America’s oil dependent economy has hit a dead end.
Muir argues that Americans can, and must, make economic changes to alleviate their environmental and political problems.
“My point is that it’s not so much worse than walls that humans have hit in the past and found ways around; in fact we are in better condition (because of our advanced technologies),” said Muir.
But in order for this to happen, Muir said that America must acknowledge its role in causing environmental problems.
“Our ignorance is profound yet our hubris is equally astonishing; you have to be worried about that,” said Muir. “We depend on these systems (our environment), yet we are throwing them out of balance.”
Muir claims that most Americans ignore environmental problems because they don’t want to change their enjoyable lifestyles, don’t feel or understand the effects of global warming, and don’t have any incentives (government subsidies or tax breaks) to change. “I think people mistakenly believe that many of these problems are too big to be dealt with. As soon as we recognize that this is doable, we will handle it,” said Muir. “We have serious problems, but if you look at history, you see people coming up with dazzling, wonderful solutions to truly harrowing problems.”
But Muir didn’t just write her book to solve the world’s environmental problems.
“I wrote this book because I was motivated. I got excited about this topic. I wanted to write this book when I got up every morning,” she said.
Her enthusiasm and her uncanny ability to transplant herself into different historical periods brought the book to life.
“I look at history and I think a gift I have is looking at an era and thinking about how it looked to someone of that era. [I] take myself and put myself back in a different era,” said Muir.
As for Muir’s literary future, she claims to have another book in the works. Like Reflections, her next book will deal with the interaction between environmental and economic forces. Unfortunately, the book won’t be finished for a few years; she refuses to release anymore information about it.
But if “Reflections in Bullough’s Pond” indicates what lies ahead, then the wait should be well worth it.
This article appeared in the December 14, 2001 edition of the Daily News Tribune.