Part travelogue, part braided biography, a multimedia experience following the trail blazed by writers Ed Abbey and Wallace Stegner.
A new project from environmental writer David Gessner, who The Atlanta Journal Constitution calls “a full-strength antidote to the Kryptonite of corporate greed and human ignorance.”
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 Arizona desert, near 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.
Properly Wild: Following Ed Abbey and Wallace Stegner Through the American West
What is the project about? 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 Tucson 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.
How will you pull it off?
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.
What will the result be?
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.
What’s the money for?
I currently have a book contract which will help me find time to write the book over the next two years. But my hope is that the book will be only a part of the overall project. I need funding for filming and travel. First, though it would be fun to find Ed Abbey’s old Cadillac and use it to bomb through the West, I will instead be renting a hybrid car. Part of what I am trying to demonstrate here is that yee-haw adventure and conservation are compatible. Toward that end I will keep a careful record of my own expenditure, both monetary and otherwise, and that record will be part of the blog. I will camp as I go but I will also stay in hotels, which, along with the car, will be my main travel expense.
The second, and more significant expense, will be for filming. Camera, film and cameramen are all needed. Your donations will help me pay a filmmaker/cameraman to accompany me for part of the trip, and will help with post production expenses for the film. Also, if it’s the filmmaker I hope to have, I will have to feed him a lot.
Okay. So how can I be properly wild?
I can’t give that away. To find out you’ll have to read the blog and book, and watch the film.
Stegner video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFj2EID6u4w
Praise for "The Tarball Chronicles"
“Anyone who wanted a first-hand look at the Gulf after the news cycle ended will find it here . . . a brilliant, thoughtful book.” —Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)
"If you read only one book about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill this year, it should be this one. If you plan not to read any books about it, make an exception for this blunt, funny, eye-opening quest to find the real stories behind the Gulf crisis."—Shelf Awareness
"For those interested in putting the Gulf crisis in perspective, there can be no better guide than this funny, often uncertain, frank, opinionated, always curious, informed and awestruck accounting of how we’ve gone wrong and could go right, a full-strength antidote to the Kryptonite of corporate greed and human ignorance." -- Atlanta Journal Constitution
Praise for "My Green Manifesto"
"A wonderfully readable book. Gessner’s attempts to define the role of the new environmental warrior, both in terms of idealism and political practicality, are heartfelt and informed. [My Green Manifesto] is brave enough and intelligent enough to embrace technology as well as art, pure ideology as well as compromise, hope as well as despair, depression and paralysis as well as valor and joy." —Boston Globe
"Raw and honest . . . there's a lilt in his jig that many will find invigorating."—Los Angeles Times
“For nature-writing enthusiasts, Gessner needs no introduction. His books and essays have in many ways redefined what it means to write about the natural world, coaxing the genre from a staid, sometimes wonky practice to one that is lively and often raucous.”—Washington Post
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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Signed copy of Gessner's Stegner/Abbey caricature, as seen in the "Properly Wild" icon.Estimated delivery:
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OnEarth magazine subscription, membership for Natural Resources Defense Council, and a signed copy of Gessner's Stegner/Abbey caricature.Estimated delivery:
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OnEarth magazine subscription, membership for Natural Resources Defense Council, first editions of "A Wild, Rank Place" and "Return of the Osprey" by David Gessner, and a signed copy of Gessner's Stegner/Abbey caricature.Estimated delivery:
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OnEarth magazine subscription, membership for Natural Resources Defense Council, first editions of "A Wild, Rank Place," "Return of the Osprey" and "Sick of Nature" by David Gessner, early copy of film and book for "Properly Wild" by David Gessner, and a signed copy of Gessner's Stegner/Abbey caricature.Estimated delivery:
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