In a column by Anne Lamott in the online magazine "Salon," she made the following proposal: "Rather than make perfectly good writers crank out new books every few years because they need income and are otherwise unemployable, what if we gave them subsidies not to write any more books, like they give to tobacco growers?"
I would be even more specific.
Let's pay "nature writers' not to write any more books for at least
10 years. (If Ed Abbey reappears, he gets an
This may be heresy, but how many
times do we need to wade through an introvert's musings on his or
her latest tramp into unspoiled wilderness? Would it hurt anyone to
have a moratorium on the word "sacred," or on the following: "I
take a step slowly across the knoll. I listen to coyotes howl. I
watch hawks circle on thermals that I feel against my skin, which
is attached to my body. If only all of humankind could walk with me
and think the same thoughts I have then all conflicts, cruelty, and
madness would cease. I take another step ... into the wild."
(Because I have actually written similar passages, it is only fair
that I also abide by the moratorium. Is that applause I
Along with the moratorium would come some
new guidelines for writers of nature books currently in production.
First, the writer would have to participate in cutting down the
exact number of trees responsible to produce his or her work.
Experienced loggers will offer instruction. After the trees are cut
and shipped to the mill, the writer must restore the logged area by
sowing native grasses and planting new trees. We'll provide the
necessary seed, gloves and hoedads.
will be no more multi-city book tours. Travel by planes and cars
contributes to global warming. Newly published authors must limit
their reading tours to venues that are within walking distance.
Although these rules may seem harsh, all I'm asking is that nature
writers take responsibility for their
Recently I gave up trying to read a
famous nature writer's latest work after encountering the pronoun
"I" 18 times on the first page. (Fortunately, this was a library
book.) The writer appeared lonely, self-centered, and smug all at
the same time. He needed friends, a volunteer shift at a soup
kitchen in Gallup, N.M., or perhaps a year of hard labor in a
Montana aluminum smelter. Each word dripped from the wick of
self-importance. After three paragraphs I no longer cared what he
thought about bobcats, fog, or cedar trees. I just wanted my own
thoughts back. My wife puts it best: "Why do I want to think out of
another person's brain when I can only think out of my own brain?"
I think I get the message by now, and I truly
believe in that message. We should love nature, preserve wild
places, notice hawks (maybe even magpies and coots), work to curb
development and control consumption, and, if possible, grow a beard
to convey our woodsman prowess. To be an environmentalist is a
Truth is, most of us in the West live in
town-cities, many of them crowded. We commute, and it's rare
anymore if we do something as self-indulgent as driving four hours
over crummy washboard roads so we can be alone to write about the
experience of being alone. More immediate concerns are that our
knees sound like castanets when we climb stairs, our children are
moving away to cool cities and we aren't; we need dental work, we
worry about black ice, health care, property assessments and our
Sadly, most Americans don't need
wilderness, even though many of them benefit indirectly, such as
getting drinking water from supplies high up in wilderness
drainages. The survival of the lynx or great gray owl is not a
national concern, despite all the books with the gorgeous covers
printed on acid-free, 80-pound paper that now compete for space in
every bookstore in America.
Amazing as it sounds,
I know many wonderful people who live extraordinarily rewarding
lives without ever wanting to "experience the silence of the
forest," or hear the "haunting cry of the loon." Brooklyn is full
of such people. So is France. Yet, writers still bombard us with
advice: "Learning to be attentive in the forest opens us up to
intimacy and the movement of thought." We already have enough
nature books to keep us spiritual into the next century. In fact,
we could have stopped after Walden and Leaves of Grass. Maybe what
we need are some fresh voices.
Let's expand the
literary canon to include loggers, miners, ranchers, Greyhound bus
drivers, bored teenagers living in Eugene, Ore., small newspaper
publishers, Hispanics, Native Americans and barley farmers. We want
books by people who have cut down trees and plowed under sagebrush.
New anthologies will appear with titles like Women of the West Who
Don't Wear Dangling Silver Earrings, or The Best New Clear-Cut
Stories of 1998, edited by Larry Craig.
10 years will pass quickly, and all you subsidized nature writers
will receive your checks on time at the beginning of each month. In
the interim, get out a little bit. Visit a city, take in a baseball
game, ride a crowded subway, learn to laugh out loud, and - most of
all - try experimenting with the third-person plural pronoun. We'll
be in touch. n