The Future of Nature Writing


I’ve been looking over my last few posts and have noticed something–they’re all rants. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea–that I’m only capable of a few rants here and there and that my ability to rant is confined to a few topics.

One more rant here–this time about the future of nature and nature writing. The rant was originally written for a graduate level nature writing class I’m taking, and well, I just decided to let loose. The textbook for the class is Frank Stewart’s A Natural History of Nature Writing and my response is in response to the secondary appearance of McKibben in the last chapter–who was ringing the death knell for nature and nature writing.

I’m kinda proud of this post, actually:


Tree Museum Ahead: Entrance Fee $10

Because we are of the Earth, we have a subconscious, primordial drive to
preserve that which we were born into.  McKibben is a bit idealistic in
his assessment that before the Industrial Revolution people lived as
noble savages at one with nature. Methinks the medievalist serfs did
some agri-damage, although I have no proof. I’m pretty sure the Vikings
also did some slashing and burning, and Iceland seems to have recovered.

That being said, has the Industrial Revolution sped up the process of
degradation? You betcha. Is it irreversible? Doubt it. I doubt that we
can do that much harm to Mother Earth. In fact, I doubt that we can do
as much harm as a massive volcanic eruption, ice age, or smattering of
earth-crashing comets can.  Sixty-five million years ago, anybody?
Does this mean we should gather up all our extra plutonium and dump it
into the water supply of Gotham City or commence paving what’s left of
the rainforests? Heck no. We are the natural stewards of the Earth; we
are working to preserve it. But we’ve got to stop playing Chicken Little
because no one listens to a crazy cock.

According to McKibben, nature has to be wild and free to be nature. Does
that mean the lily pond outside my front door is not nature because it
was built by hand? Is it my imagination or does it sound just like a
babbling brook? Or do I need to go $800 away to the waterfalls of Hawaii
to truly experience nature? Fuck you very much. Please don’t tell me how
and where to enjoy my nature.

Apparently parks are good enough for most people. A little bit of
greenery here and there is good enough for the soul. We call them open
space here in Colorado, and these parks are crowded on the weekends,
which, McKibben will be glad to hear me say, takes away from an
otherwise pristine experience: too many people crowding up my nature
hike makes me surly, for sure. But enough of us surly bastards will do
something about it. What do I do? I go enjoy that same park on a
Wednesday morning, come back completely refreshed and rejuvenated, and
commence to spread the Gospel about how the less spoiled nature is, the
less the human element is present in nature, the better off we all are.
“Nature’s better than Xanax,” I tell them. My friends look at my
permanently furrowed brow, which seems to have softened, and believe me.
At least for a minute.

In fact, the “psychic and spiritual” part of nature will actually become
more meaningful because there will be less of it (p.219). Maybe, in
2059, we’ll all have to meditate on the single bonsai tree under the
glass globe in the center of town. With all due respect to Miss
Mitchell, that bonsai tree will have as much, if not more, effect on us
than the Grand Canyon because it’s all we’ve got. Talented nature
writers might be able to write about the bonsai’s simplicity and
spirituality in a way that would turn Thoreau’s thumb green with envy.
Why not ring the bell of hope instead of listening for the clang of doom
and gloom?

Maybe the landscape architects, the ones who know the extent to which
the re-greening of America has on the American psyche, will be our
spade-wielding saviors. Until then I’m going to enjoy the local parks
during the week.

How do we save nature? Enjoy it, one afternoon, one hammock nap, one ski
run, one wave, or one peony-planting at a time. Then, tell your friends
and family how awesome it was, and if you’re so inclined, write about it.

Oh yeah, and recycle.

Adieu, Thanksgiving…Hello, Fruita

I woke up the Sunday after Thanksgiving feeling exhausted and refreshed.  Hard to explain, but imagine your whole body feeling worked but relaxed.  And imagine waking up among miles and miles of sand but never feeling cleaner.  These are the reasons for my pilgrimages to the Moab area time and time again–soul refreshment.

Sunday morning was beautiful–sunny with blue skies, few clouds, low winds, and a nibble of cold in the air.  Still, I always seem to know when it’s time to leave the desert before I do something stupid like get hurt or lost.  It was time to go.  I said goodbye to my friend the crow/raven (grr, why don’t I know the difference?),


Farewell, desert-friend
Farewell, desert-friend

who just happened to be picking over last night’s grilled salmon


Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast
Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast

and headed to Fruita.  Fruita has become, along with Salida, Moab, Winter Park, Sedona, and other places I’ve never heard of, a mountain biking mecca.  Dirt lovers descend upon Fruita in droves, drawn to it by its pristine singletrack.  This would be my third visit to Fruita, albeit my first (and hopefully last) alone.  Since the biking accident last summer, I have become incredibly cautious about riding alone.  Some would say I’ve finally smartened up.  Nope.  Fear and fear of pain are running my biking decisions these days, and I’m not exactly thrilled about it.

I digress.

For those of you who have a favorite place, a place where you go to gain peace and solitude, one of beauty that overwhelms you no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you know what I’m about to write.

As I drove the thirty miles or so to I-70, an east-west ribbon of road that cuts the northern section of Colorado from the southern, I felt sad.  I was leaving a place of contentment, never mind the rrrrr, rrrrr from the dirt bikers and the ATVers.  I was nearly brought to tears by every sunset.  I sat by the fire at night, just breathing and drinking green tea, exhausted but invigorated by the day’s adventures.  Now all that was over.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, until next time.  But it sucks that I even have to leave.

I-70 in eastern Utah is desolate.  There are instructions on what to do in a sand/wind storm alongside the road.  There’s one exit with services and many other exits with only ranches.  Fruita is about 90 minutes from Moab, depending on speed and exact point of departure.  Fruita boasts two great ridng areas, one on each side of the highway.  The northern section of trails near the Bookcliffs, which houses my favorite Chutes and Ladders trail, was too muddy, the folks at Over the Edge bikeshop informed me.  I was disappointed but understood.  Mother Nature had pounded moisture into the area over the past few days.  It’s not like water evaporates or nuthin’.

So I set off for the southern section of trails.  The temps were in the mid 50’s, but I suited up with wool, long-fingered gloves, and tights under my riding skort.  I hate to be cold.  I had 100ml of water with me, two Clementine oranges (a compact source of food and liquid), and two energy bars.  I would ride Mary’s Loop, part of the Kokopelli Trail System out by exit 11 near Loma.


Mary’s Loop is strictly intermediate stuff and leads into Moore Fun.  Mary’s Loop is unspectacular but safe, except for this section of trail.


Don't look down
Don't look down

Truth is, I’m deathly afraid of heights.  Fear of heights (which is genetic, I swear) kept me from snowboarding for ten years (couldn’t get on the lift) and induced a severe panic attack in the towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona a few years back.  I hyperventilated the entire staircase climb up then had a nervous breakdown once back on the ground.

But that’s a post for another time.

So, I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  Here’s a look from the other, safe side of the precipe.  Look at the right center of the photo

Should we stay or should we go?
Should we stay or should we go?

Yup.  That’s a couple on a TANDEM mountain bike.  I had passed them a few miles earlier but had paid them no heed I didn’t even notice they were two people on one bike.  Musta been all that *&^%$ climbing I was doing.  Anyway, I think they turned back.

Too bad.  They missed out on this view, which was just around the corner.

Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita
Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita

After this the trail gets fairly technical–lotsa skinny singletrack fraught with rocks, roots, and off-camberness.  I walked more trail than I usually do (fear and fear of pain kicked in).  But when Mary’s Loop turns into Moore Fun, things get a little less technical and much, much closer to the parking lot, which is where I ended up eating my Clementines.

On my next trip to Fruita (this spring), I’m doing Steve’s Loop and Horsethief Bench.  And I’m bringing posse with me, even if I have to drag them.