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)
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.”
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
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.