"Land on Fire, The New Reality of Wildfire in the West," with author Gary Ferguson
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We all know there are more than four seasons. There are in fact as many seasons as there are days or shifts in light perhaps. Late summer in the American West is certainly some part Fire Season. Part of our natural history is a life in relationship with fire.
This week on Cultivating Place I’m joined by nature, science and deep ecology science adventurer and writer, Gary Ferguson. Gary's newest book is “Land on Fire, The New Reality of Wildfire in the West” (Timber Press, 2017). Through its structure, reported research and narrative, "Land on Fire" invites us to expand our own awareness about the lessons we, individually and culturally could learn from the many functions of fire. His wide ranging work can be found at wildwords.net.
Gary describes much of his work as “breaking down the walls that exist between the natural world and the human psyche.” And further that “the first half of my writing career was devoted to telling the stories of the tracks human beings have left in nature – classic environmental writing, if you will – and the last half has been much more about the tracks that nature leaves in us.”
"Trees are keepers of stories about the landscape."
In our conversation Gary refers to his memoir: "The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness." His 2016 essay entitled “A Deeper Boom,” which is excerpted from "The Carry Home" was published in Orion magazine and was selected as the "Best Essay of 2016" by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Gary and his wife, Dr. Mary Clare, a cultural psychologist, make their lives between homes in Montana and Oregon.
Here is a culminating section that resonated deeply with me from "A Deeper Boom":
“And finally, beauty. That thing storytellers around the world say is critical for nudging us forward when we’re stuck. Beauty free of distraction, free of scrutiny or analysis. When I was twenty I would’ve told you that beauty lived mostly in nature, in wilderness. Now I know better. Beauty is in the community gardens in downtown Detroit, and in the farmers’ market under the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore. It’s in the smell of jasmine along the sidewalks of Northeast Portland, and in a backyard in Birmingham, where a little girl stoops down to show her mother a spiderweb glistening in the sun. But there’s something else to know about beauty. The ancient Greeks had a wonderful definition for it: beauty meant “to be of one’s hour.” It is the ability to inhabit who we are in this particular place and time. Boomers are crossing into the last decades of life’s final chapters, each one sure to play out against a wave of environmental challenges. What if we chose to rise to the occasion? Not just to leave the world a better place for future generations. But also—after we cut through our regrets, our fears, and our distractions—to find one last, exquisite chance to know what it’s like to be truly alive."
"Land on Fire, The New Reality of Wildfire in the West," is a collection of scientific lectures about wildfire, which at their best serve as a window into the larger issue of our relationship to the natural world. If the concept of expanding our awareness as gardeners or other cultivators of place is not addressed explicitly in the book, it is certainly included implicitly.
Gary joins us this week from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland to speak about the importance of these topics and more.