NEW BOOK: 'Wild Spectacle: Seeing Wonders in a World Beyond Humans'

Janisse Ray showcases her choice to take on heart-pounding adventure while discovering herself and nature

Just a small town girl traveling the whole world, Janisse Ray’s new collection “Wild Spectacle: Seeing Wonders in a World Beyond Humans” is out this month and showcases her choice to take on heart-pounding adventure while discovering herself and nature. Connect Savannah and Ray discussed her upcoming book. 

CS: Tell me a little about your childhood growing up in Baxley, Georgia. 

 Janisse Ray: I grew up on a junkyard and wrote a book about it called “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.” 

CS: How did this shape your life and interest in nature and wilderness across the globe?

JR: It was only after I left home that I became interested in nature. 

CS: Describe a travel experience that changed the way you view our interconnectivity with nature.

JR: The first essay in the book is about a moment that took place while backpacking in the wilderness of Montana. I had gone down to a stream to collect water and, while there, was surrounded by browsing elk. One of them came within a dozen feet of me. It was a powerful moment in my life. Wildness so often seems “out there” and in this book I have collected experiences of the wild being “up here” or “in here.” 

CS: Elaborate on what being a naturalist and activist means to you.

JR: A naturalist is a person who studies nature and an activist is one who defends it. Both are necessary for the continuation of life on the planet.

CS: What are some highlights the reader can look forward to with your new book?

JR: I write about such things as volunteering for a month in a national park in Costa Rica, exploring coastal Alaska, and seeing the place in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico where monarch butterflies overwinter. I also write about exploring my own place, which is the south of Georgia. 

CS: What is the biggest takeaway you would like readers to have?

JR: We are being hit with so much bad news about the climate catastrophe and collapse. This book reminds us what we’re fighting for on the planet. I try to demystify a life of wildness and of being close to wildness.

CS: Your bio says you live on an organic farm near Savannah.

JR: We live about an hour from Savannah in Tattnall County, Georgia. We mostly farm for ourselves, not for sale, and we try to grow anything we might need—we produce vegetables, fruits, berries, greens, beef, lamb, pork, eggs…lots of things. We’ve lived here a decade.

CS: How long did you work on this novel?

JR: It’s a collection of essays that I’ve written over the course of many years. So I didn’t write this book start to finish in one small parcel of time—I’ve been working on it for a couple of decades.

CS: Have you been able to continue your travel during the pandemic?

JR: No, I have very much enjoyed staying home during the pandemic. I loved looking up at the blue sky and seeing only sky, no contrails from jets. I spent time reading in the way I used to read when I was a child, and I spent many happy hours working in my gardens.

CS: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

JR: Although this book does deal with travel and crazy things I’ve seen while on travels, I am not encouraging ecotourism to far-flung places to see amazing wild spectacles. I myself stopped flying a dozen years ago, so that I could reduce my personal footprint of fossil fuels. I still travel, as I say in the book, but it’s more local, more inward, more deep.I wrote it not to encourage ecotourism but to honor wildness. I wanted to write about my long-standing and intimate relationship with nature, in hopes that others also enjoy that relationship or want to develop it.

Janisse Ray will be at The Book Lady Store at  6 E. Liberty St. on Oct. 28 at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit

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