David Gessner, III

We continue our conversation with David Gessner, the author of “Sick of Nature,” and “All the Wild that Remains.”

Read Part I

Read Part II

coverwild2_3-210The University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor and Harvard University graduate talk more about his place in the world of environmental advocacy and where society is now, vis a vis wilderness awareness.

With the acclaimed journal, Ecotone, he advocates for new voices and mediums. With his YouTube channel, he crawls in the mud, parodies his professorial self, and drinks beer.

We met in Salt Lake City and spent some time talking, hiking, birding, and quaffing before his book signing at The King’s English Bookshop. Enjoy these conversation excerpts on three UtahOutsider pages:

Read Part I

Read Part II

UtahOutsider: Can you talk more about young people, changing values, screen time, and wilderness policy?

DG: The screens are a new problem. But anybody who’s been fighting for this stuff has been somewhat crying in the wilderness for a long time.

On the flip side, there is sometimes a constant environmental song of doom. Books with “The Death of…” “The End of…” sell better. Sometimes it’s like enviros can’t afford to admit to the complexity of it. BP (after the Gulf oil spill) is trying to paint a good picture, so they can continue to do bad. The enviros are trying to paint a bad picture so they can continue to do good.

GessnerPhotoAt a book signing in Oregon, I was asked a question by a young person. He said, ‘when you go for a walk in nature, aren’t you just overwhelmingly depressed by climate change?”

No, not really. I can hold two things in mind: I’m enjoying myself. I’m getting out and it’s beautiful. Then, maybe later on I’m thinking about it. But it was just funny that he conceived you had to be dour and depressed all the time.

Abbey’s a good antidote to that. He famously said, ‘Enough with saving the world. Let’s go down the river.’

There is a sense, though, that you have to love a place to fight for it…To circle back to what you were saying, it is depressing that so few people are getting out and loving the place. Are they going to fight for it?

Who knows? Maybe in five years, environmental stuff will be the next gay marriage. I say in the book: in this tame time, we romanticize the wild. We love the frontiersmen who destroyed the frontier. They wanted to tame the land and we want wild land.

It could actually be that as we get more virtual, there could actually be some more changes based on that. We don’t know. It is encouraging to see something like the gay marriage laws. There actually can be a shift, a push. Of course, the LGBT community is a lot more organized than the environmental community.

UO: If we were really into the outdoors, we wouldn’t care about documenting it or writing about it. We’d be just getting out? Which way with this notion?

Abbey is a key figure in Wrenched, a documentary

Abbey is a key figure in Wrenched, a documentary

DG: Or, we would be fighting for it the whole time.

In Wrenched, there’s a good line. I think Doug Peacock might have said it: We all need to find our own wrenches. In a way, it’s saying we need to find our own voices. We do what we do best. I came away, after researching and writing this book, feeling pretty guilty about my lack of political involvement.

Stegner and Abbey’s first goal was be great writers, not to be environmentalists. But with environmentalism as a secondary or tertiary goal, they did so much. Stegner through the proper channels and Abbey in his own bizarre way. How extraordinary to be able to do that. You’re sitting there looking at these two giants and kind of feeling like, well, put up or shut up. Do more work.

I bring it back to the Wrenched thing. Maybe my wrench has more to do with writing. I mean, I don’t want to let myself off the hook. There’s got to be more.



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