Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight by David Gessner, a review

Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight

“I’ve been thinking about Thoreau as COVID-19 sweeps across the country.”

Thoreau had thoughts about nature; and about death and disaster, writes Gessner. He endorsed slowing down and true withdrawal. The book, Walden is about withdrawing from the world. Gessner argues that COVID is our test run at doing more with less much like Thoreau.

One theme running through ‘Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight’ – a thought for our times and climate change, do more with less. This is a call to action to all readers. 

I know it’s easier for me as a single person who never had children to try to do more with less. I really just have to take care of myself, and my two dogs. I read this book while flying west to Spokane from Boston, flying for the first time in a few years, I realize I don’t need to do it again. I think sticking close to home may be my new mantra despite my years of wanderlust and needing to travel four or five times a year. 

I flew to Spokane last week for an Ironman. The race was sentimental and it was a challenge “can I still do this at 50”. I love the west and any reason to travel west of the Mississippi I will do it. I wanted to do this race and I wanted to be back racing.

Now, after airline cancellations and an unprecedented heatwave that broke records in the Pacific Northwest,  I’m ready to do more with less. This book appeared in my life at a perfect time.  

And while this may be a book about the pandemic and sheltering in place, it is a book about writing, and being inspired by writing (which Gessner’s books always do for me). It’s about writing about a place whether you currently live in that place or admiring it from afar. It’s a book about being inspired from writers past (Thoreau, Emerson, Montaigne) and current (Krutch, McKibben). It’s a book about the writing life and how to be a better person. 

I preface this review with the idea that maybe staying close to home is a way to save the planet and learn more about the place you call home. Although, I think traveling is still a good way to make the world a better place by understanding different regions and cultures. However, maybe these desperate times are a call to save the place we call home. 

“Instead of flying to the Caribbean to be happy, walk down to the creek. Explore what is close at hand” writes Gessner early on in his book. 

After this trip west in 100+ degree heat, I will take Gessner’s challenge: “a dare – a bet made that staying still and finding home can be exciting, even thrilling. A bet made that doing with less can be satisfying as getting more.”

I’ve read all of Gessner’s books and he always wrote about hating the label of nature writer. But in this book he has evolved to being a nature writer: 

“Suddenly I don’t mind being called a nature writer. Maybe, it occurs to me, nature writers are what this fucked-up world really need. People who connect things, who see and speak about those connections, and who listen to people and science. There are certainly worse things to be.”

I’ve always tried to write about the details of the place I’ve chosen to live. I want my stories to be about finding and writing about home.

“The need to know the birds, plants, trees, coffee shops, bars, creek streams, and the people where we live. To know our places. To tell the story of our place,” he writes.

I like how he maps his new world in North Carolina. When Thoreau writes in his journals about rivers and his observations, Gessner records everything, too. During the pandemic Gessner goes out on his boat and maps his river. He knows every inch of his place and this is what I want to do. 

“We can fight for the world, but for each of us the world starts in our own neighborhoods. To know our neighbors, both human and otherwise, and to know our places is a worthwhile pursuit.”

This book has themes of nature writing and themes about how to save the world (or at least your little corner). It’s about a choice to be a better citizen in the world with tips on how to do this. 

The pandemic made all of us stay still but once everything opened up again, we all started moving again. Me too. Unprecedented numbers traveling and flying, according to news reports over the Fourth of July holiday. 

There is much to be said about staying put, Gessner writes, but we are a country of movers and many of us are not content to stay still. Me for one. 

But after a weary trip west to the hottest place in the country last week, and simultaneously reading this book, I’m going to plant my butt in this place. 

Is it really possible to be content with less? I’m going to give it a try.

Read my review of Gessner’s other works: Leave It As It Is, My Green Manifesto.

This is how I read books:

Suddenly Summer

It happens every year.

One minute you are sitting in your house freezing and wearing long tights on a morning run.

The next minute you can’t stay cool in your house and are sweating bullets in shorts on a morning run.

Today, on a hot, muggy morning I ran 8 miles on roads and trails. While the temperature on weather.com reported 70 degrees and humidity at 67% it felt higher and I was melting. Ugh. I seriously don’t know how I lived in Tucson for three years. 

I just looked at the details of my Strava and it states that the temperature was 63 and humidity 88%. That sounds a little more correct than weather.com

Either way. Hot and muggy with full sun exposure. I liked the route though: through the quarry trails and over to Winant to run an interesting 8 mile loop before starting work. 

I’m going to try and get away for a short bike ride at lunch time since the weather is so nice; nice bike weather means not windy and rainy. The high today will be 80. I hope to follow the training plan this week and maybe get a 4,000 footer in on the weekend. 

This morning I read a Twitter post about the death of David Clark. I read some posts about his passing last week but only his name was mentioned and I didn’t know who he was; at that time there were few details. I found the story today from Rich Roll who gave a tribute to him and I was instantly drawn into Clark’s story. 

His story is about how an obese alcoholic who loved fast food found a new life in running. And not just running – ultra running some of the hardest races. As someone who struggles with so some of the same things I wanted to know more about his story and bought his book, Broken Open. I’ll let you know what I think once I pick it up from Gibsons.

The Passion Paradox, Run 33 Miles

Another Saturday morning and it’s time to head out on a long run. Today I must run 33 miles. It’s cold outside; about 4 degrees. I’m procrastinating. I’m drinking coffee and refreshing weather.com every five minutes. I will run all  33 miles today. Not only do I have to, I want to.

However, the caveat, the but, the …… I’m not going to be able to do it all at once. And, I’m okay with that. 

Today I will do a few trail miles with Winnie-dog. Then I will run until I need to meet my friend for a walk and dinner. Then I will finish the miles later in the evening. I will get all my miles in. 

As I wait, I start reading the book that I bought: The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. I’ve read book reviews and excerpts, and a ton of articles by Stulberg, and I follow him on Twitter. I kept writing down lines I liked and referencing his articles, so I decided it was time to buy the book, and their other book, Peak Performance. [Peak Performance hasn’t arrived yet.]

What I like about the book is how they use science and philosophy to talk about the dark side of passion and then suggest tools to help find a balance. Passion can help you be successful but it also can break you, they write.

I’m on Chapter 1: Passion Must Be Handled With Care. 

I can’t wait to keep reading because I have big goals this year. I always have big goals. And I always go through dark times and feel lost because I can’t get training in or I sleep in or make bad life decisions. I know that I don’t push myself hard enough some days and some days I overdo it. [I seem to only remember that I don’t push myself hard enough.] 

Trying to balance big goals and still wake up in the morning to get things done can be difficult but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

This is a quote I’ve kept on my phone from over five years ago; I’ve always felt this to be true.

One of the lines at the beginning of The Passion Paradox states: People who are passionate about their lives and put “tremendous passion into everything they do” cannot be content. And, alas, this is my problem – I’m never satisfied, I always want more. I can finish a race, whether it is an Ironman or 50 miler, regardless of the challenge, after I cross the finish line I ask myself –  What’s Next? 

Maybe this is healthy, maybe it’s not. I’ll find out as I continue reading. 

Okay, now it’s time to get outside and RUN. It’s now 19 degrees!!

This week’s book: United by Cory Booker

I decided this week’s book for my one book a week goal is: United.

Since seeing Cory Booker last week in Manchester I really want him to win the primary in New Hampshire. While I support his position on health care, reproductive rights, gun violence and more, I don’t really know a lot about him.

So I’m reading his book and will review it Sunday night, here on my blog.

Note, I think I will be choosing more outdoor related books to read this year. But first: United.

Paulo Coelho The Hippie, a Book Review

I bought The Hippie from the airport bookstore to read during the flight to Colorado. I was dating a hippie at the time and I like Coelho so I thought it would pass the time in a good way. It was July when I started and November when I finished; I got distracted along the way. 

As he writes about the Magic Bus and the people he meets I find that I’m drawn into all their stories. I was reading it more for the people and learning about them, and not so much about finding a life philosophy. As I read I’m constantly referring to maps to figure out where they are and understand the physical journey. 

The main take-away from this book is learning about the character’s urgings to see the world. I enjoyed reading the stories of men and women who want to take every opportunity to see the world. They are full of hope and want to change the world while having amazing experiences. They start their journey in Amsterdam, stopping in Istanbul as they make their way to Kathmandu. 

Paulo learns from everyone and finally he meets a white-haired man while taking a risk walking into a building. Paulo is in search of knowledge and wisdom. And my favorite quote from the book: 

“A man in search of spirituality knows little, because he reads of it and tries to fill his intellect with what he judges wise. Trade your books for madness and wonder—then you will be a bit closer to what you seek. Books bring us opinions and studies, analyses and comparisons, while the sacred flame of madness brings us to the truth.”

Other quotes I like:
“Salute the sun. Allow it to fill your soul – knowledge is an illusion, ecstacy is the true reality.”

Paulo is in search of dancing and learning the ways of the Sufi. It’s not until I re-read sections to really understand what he is looking for. I like this quote so much.

“Then seek the Truth. Seek always to be on its side, even when it brings you pain. There are times when the Truth goes quiet for long stretches, or when it doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. That’s Sufism.”

“‘The Truth is what makes us free. You will know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free,’ Jesus said.”

“He had entered a state of complete emptiness, and this emptiness, though its inherent contradiction, filled everything.”