Leave It As It Is, David Gessner – book review

Every book I’ve ever read from David Gessner, which is just about everything he has written, starts by bringing you instantly into the world that you will be involved in for the next 10 hours of your life. 

“On the ride up here through the small juniper forest, always the show-off, he pointed out and named all the birds he saw to his companions.”

I am there. I love that Gessner called Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, a show-off. I bet no one has done that.

I’ve read almost all of Gessner’s books. My four favorites with great titles and subject matter:

Sick of Nature – great title and a rant about nature writers
Under the Devil’s Thumb – I lived on the other side of the divide from where he wrote this book.
My Green Manifesto, Down the Charles River in Pursuit of the New Environmentalism  – I wrote a review of this book and again, loved every word.
All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West – my two favorite authors Stegner and Abbey.

I re-read them frequently because I own them and they remind me of things I love: nature, Colorado, The West and the people fighting for their backyard.

You see, I get him, well, in the sense that he writes about subjects I care about. He cares about words, mountain biking, our environment. 

I love that he is in love with The West like I am in love with The West. I love that he wrote at one time “I’m afraid I am a polygamist of place. This worries me. Is a man with two homes doubly blessed? Or is he homeless?” Under the Devil’s Thumb, because he loves The East and The West.

[P.S. He gave me permission to use this quote at the beginning of my book.]

But let’s discuss his new book, because I’m seriously soaking up every word and it is inspiring me to do the exact road trip he did to write the book. 

He drives out to the Badlands. I’ve been to the Badlands, and while I didn’t know anything about Roosevelt until I read this book, the Badlands are just as majestic and interesting as the Grand Canyon. There is something about the Badlands and Gessner captures it.

“In fact it has been my experience that places prompt sentences, as if the place itself were asking you to celebrate and protect it.” (page 5)

Yes.

I believe this. You are in a place and words just come out. Gessner writes about how Roosevelt travels west for his political campaign and simply falls in love with the landscape. Gessner reflects about his time out west and understands how someone can just fall so hard; I fell hard.

I, too, believe like Gessner that deep down that some of the best years of my life had been in the West, and that the region has left its indelible mark. Gessner says this at the beginning of the book and I steal his words, now to tell my own story of the west. His words make me long to be back in Colorado and Arizona.

“I am myself at heart as much a westerner as an easterner, Theodore Roosevelt would say, though his grand total of time spent actually living in the West added up to just over a year. My own total came in at close to a decade, and those years changed me.” 

Yes, there is just something about being west of the Mississippi that makes you feel different, makes you think differently and changes you.

Gessner writes, “A change in geography would lead to a change of character in the young Roosevelt” and I think that is universal; okay, maybe for me. A change in geography has always led to changes in beliefs. I know people who stay put, who can see the beauty in the same place for their entire life. But I’ve never been that person who has an attic filled with stuff of that one life lived. I’ve never been the person who has stayed put – and that is exactly why I love Gessner and the subject matter of his books: Stegner, Abbey, himself.

The West changed me. I saw a different place and met people who loved that place and its history. Now, I take that love of a western place and history, and translate it to this place where I live now, and can actually really see it for the first time.

Gessner writes, “We have selfish uses for biography: we hungrily read the lives of others in hopes that we can find something that changes or enhances our own.” 

Yes! 

I love biography. I love narrative. I love stories of people doing amazing things. I love writing stories; telling stories of people doing amazing things. I love knowing everyone’s history and how they became who they are today. There is always that hope that some glimmer of what they learned can transform me. Roosevelt’s story offers a hope to us for saving public land because he started it with his speech at the Grand Canyon – “Leave it as it is”.

Again, this is why I soak up every word. Every. Word. 

This book is about why the 26th president is an important person to study, to learn from, to emulate.  

Gessner writes when presented a problem during his road trip: What would Teddy do? And this is my favorite quote of what do when you need to make a decision:

  • Get into the wild
  • Study birds
  • Drink lots of coffee
  • Get into (spirited) battles
  • Speak his mind
  • Read/Learn about threatened places
  • Write about those places
  • Get in fighting trim
  • Offend some people

Yes!

Yes! 

There is so much more, and Gessner hooks me with The West, his road trips Out West and the perfectly crafted language of his journey. 

What strikes me about this biography is Roosevelt’s initial reason for heading west. He arrives to the Badlands to grieve and forget. Isn’t that why so many people move, change or reinvent themselves? They want to forget. But they want to be better!

This is why Gessner’s words matter. He finds that human element to a universal story that everyone forgets about in our leaders, and how one person can truly change the world.

There is so much more to this book. I cannot give it justice but let’s just save a place you love and fight for it

This is what this book is about. It is about the urgent call to protect America’s public lands. For me, our writers will always tell us what we need to know and Gessner tells a perfectly crafted story about how one presidents protected land before it was a trend to do so.

I loved every word.

Getting to know a new trail

Quarry Concord NH

Three weeks ago I injured my left ankle. 

April 14 injured ankle, from twisting it while trail running.

I can finally run but there is lingering sensitivity and I don’t want to push it too hard. I haven’t run long in four weeks. This weekend I am trying for 15 miles. 

Cycling is good, though but the weather isn’t cooperating for tri bike time: cold and windy. Mountain biking has been good this past week. I feel like I can escape the cold and wind a bit better on trails with the mountain bike.

I’ve been mountain biking to the quarry and trying to get familiar with the trails. It’s so cool to see the quarry water. I don’t think I have ever seen one like this, just in the movies. The discovery process of learning trails is so fun; trying to figure out which way to go and how to get back to the water. It’s similar to moving to a new place and getting to know the new trails and roads.

I remember when I moved to Steamboat Spring, I signed up for a trail running series. It turned out that by running all the races I got to know all the trails around Steamboat and the surrounding towns. I met like-minded people and stayed for three years. When I moved to Granby, CO and lived on the slopes of, then called, SolVista I made a game out of skiing every trail in a day, which wasn’t difficult since it was small. The idea of really getting to know a landscape by learning trails is something I’ve always tried to do in all the places I’ve lived.

Even many years later this idea of getting to know a place, to really know it, still appeals to me. Just when I thought I knew everything about Concord, NH I then I discovered this trail. There are no real trail maps of it and the city of Concord doesn’t have a map of it on their website like they do for all the trails. 

While there are so many devastating things happening in the world with the pandemic, to be able to turn the stay at home order into a positive, learning the local trails and getting to know home is one of the positive things about the times we are living in. 

Change of Venue, Writing Rooms, Squash Fear

Today is the first day in awhile I’m not feeling so afraid. At this moment anyway. I think it’s because for the last two mornings I created a to-do list by hour. And, I changed venues.

Yesterday I decided that I would work all day from my writing room (aka spare bedroom). This morning I started early in my new work space, drank coffee, read the news and planned the day. Prior to the new venue I would alternatively work from the kitchen table or the living room sofa. I liked sitting on the sofa with my laptop sandwiched between the two dogs. 

I like the work space I have now and the dogs can either be in this room, the sun room or hangout on my bed. While they are in my bedroom they can look out the window and bark at all the people walking by with their dogs. 

I can’t see the street from my writing room. All I can see are trees and rooftops. Today the sunroom is filled with light and the dogs can go in to soak up the sun while it warms my writing room. 

I’m liking the new work digs and I’m more productive, and maybe a bit happier with a structured routine. My work room has a lot of natural light, there is a coffee mug with pens and plants line the corner of the table. When I turn around I have a map of the world and a raised relief map of the NH 4,000 footers. Also on the wall, is my motivational poster by John Wesley – Do All the Good You Can and a framed picture of Lake Granby (Colorado). I took the picture of the lake during my first week living in Granby, Colorado, most likely in April 2007. It’s the only wall hanging or memorabilia in my house from my years living in Colorado. 

This is a good room – an inspiring space. With my to-do list in front of me outlining calls, webinars, deadlines, a run, a hike and the grocery list, I feel better. Despite all the uncertainty in the world, at this moment I feel like everything may just be okay. Moment by moment we get to where we need to be. 

Change Your Perspective
Move
Write-Read-Reflect
Walk the Dogs

The World is Going Crazy

The economy is plummeting and we are afraid. Afraid of losing our jobs, our homes, our family and more. 

I’m trying not to panic. I’m trying to stay calm. 

I just adopted a dog. I’m only thinking of her, Winnie, my job, my parents, and lastly – training. 

Anne Lamott, my favorite, favorite writer and muse, writes on Facebook today, a repurposed post

“So where do we find grace and light? If you mean right now, try some radical self-care: friendly self-talk, a cup of tea.”

“So how do we shelter in place in the midst of fear and fear? We stick together in our anxiety and cluelessness. We reach out for any help at all; we share any truth and encouragement and humor we come upon. We feed the poor and send money to people who are helping save children around the world. These are good responses. I am going to recommend that we do that today, and tomorrow.”

“Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments.”

Today, I will walk to the park across the street and pick up poop. All the poop that appeared when the snow melted. Thanks Anne.

I’m going to work hard. 

I’m going to run.

And I’m going to call my mom.

Hugging your dog helps too.