It was almost exactly two years ago that I headed down to the Gulf of Mexico to cover the BP oil spill for OnEarth. Many of you came with me, metaphorically speaking -- through my blog posts, stories, and eventually my book.
This summer, with the fires raging, I will be heading West. My goal is to blog and film as I go, creating a kind of "state of the Western environment" report -- and eventually, another book. For my guides I will rely on the ghosts of two great writers who went before me, Wallace Stegner and Ed Abbey. I will weave their biographies into my posts, asking what they would make of the current state of things.
To help support my trip, I have created a film and Kickstarter campaign, which you can contribute to here.
Throughout the summer, my "Wild Life" blog will be transformed into "Properly Wild: Following Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey Through the American West." Here's a more thorough description of the book I aim to write:
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 Tuscon, 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 as a man, environmentalist, teacher, husband, and father.
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).
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 Street. 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.
If that sounds like something you'd like to read, help make it happen by pledging at Kickstarter. Backers will receive rewards, including a subscription to OnEarth magazine -- not to mention my undying gratitude.