categories: Cocktail Hour
It was almost exactly two years ago that I headed down to the Gulf of Mexico during the BP oil spill. Many of you came with me, metaphorically speaking. This summer, with the fires raging, I will head West. My goal is to blog from the road, while creating a kind of state of the eco West report. As I travel I will also follow the trail left by the ghosts of Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, and will ask what they would make of the state of things. To help fund my trip I have made a movie and launched a Kickstarter campaign, both of which you can see here:
And here’s a fuller description of the project:
This summer I will head out West and follow the trail left by the ghosts of Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. I will visit the places they lived, talk to the people they knew, read all their books, and study the letters and journal notes they left behind. Beginning in the in Tucson , where Abbey lived and died, I will meander north to Saskatchewan, where Stegner spent his early boyhood. Along the way I will film, blog, and write, creating a multimedia experience that is part travelogue, part braided biography, and part a report on the state of the environment in the West. My goal is to see what these two literary and environmental giants can offer at this moment—both what they can offer the West, the environment, and, more personally, what they can offer me.
And an even fuller desciption:
Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner left their large footprints all over the Western landscape. Both are considered among the West’s greatest writers (though they both abhorred being considered “regional” writers), and both are known almost as well by their environmental actions as by their words. In fact, they have come to represent poles of environmentalism: the competent, mature advocate who works within the system (Stegner), and the Wildman anarchist who works outside the system and wouldn’t mind seeing it torn down (Abbey).
During the summer of 2012 I will follow the ghosts of Stegner and Abbey throughout the American West, visiting the places they called home and the places they wrote about, beginning in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness where Abbey is buried and heading north to Stegner’s frontier home in Saskatchewan. Along the way I will raft rivers and camp in the desert, and as I travel I will braid the lives and stories of Abbey and Stegner, wrestling with their ghosts and asking how the two men speak to my own current life as a man, environmentalist, teacher, husband, and father.
These meditations will deepen the book and give it texture, but what will give it true urgency will be the current state of the West. Wallace Stegner wrote of the “boom and bust” economy of the region and how companies come in, devour a town or landscape, and move on to the next. What Stegner witnessed is mild compared to what is happening today; what he called the “geography of hope” is being drilled, gored, fracked and pipe-lined beyond recognition. The West is a fragile, arid landscape that does not recover in the manner of the green East, and so the actions we take now will long leave their mark. As in my other work (most notably The Tarball Chronicles, my book about the Gulf oil spill) I will try to take the larger topic of our energy consumption and make it feel immediate and direct for my readers. I will pose these questions: can we change our consumptive ways? Can we be happy with less? I believe that Stegner and Abbey can point toward some answers to these questions. I will also consider not just the necessity, but the means, of environmental resistance. Is Ed Abbey’s monkey-wrenching still a valid reaction? Perhaps no, but perhaps yes in the age of Occupy Wall St. Abbey, after all, knew the value of dramatic symbols.
But there is also a more personal element to the project. Ed Abbey and Wallace Stegner are heroes of mine. For starters, I love their writing. But it’s more than that: they have also become, at different times, models. Models of how to be, how to live. The title, “Properly Wild,” comes from the fact that Stegner valued the civilized and restrained (but was wild in his own way) while Abbey was a barbarian (though a fairly civilized one). It seems to me they have something deep to teach us about the interaction of the civilized and the wild, something that is of vital importance to both the Western landscape and the country as a whole. We could all stand to be properly wild.
For this project I will employ a working method that has evolved over my last three books. It’s not a complicated method: I drive into town and talk to people, in bars or coffee shops or on the street, and in this way find my way toward interesting characters who lead me to the heart of the story. But in the West, unlike the Gulf, my contacts are myriad and I have a list of names of people both within environmental organizations and within the industries that those organizations oppose. As with the Gulf trip, I will blog as I go for the Natural Resources Defense Council, building an audience for my adventure. Already, I have sketched out an itinerary that includes a river trip in the tradition of Stegner and Abbey, a trip up from Stegner’s birthplace up to the Tar Sands, and a camping trip deep into the Maze in the heart of Canyonlands National Park.
My goal is to create a multimedia blog—film, cartoons, and writing– from the road so that viewers and readers can come along for the (properly) wild trip. The blog will be the immediate result of the trip, but a short film and book will follow. My hope is that these will speak directly to the state of the West and to the lives of two great writers who made the geography of hope their home.