What I’m Reading – I don’t always read, but when I do…
Growing up I never was much of a reader. I’m still not much of one today.
I’ve always been a visual learner – photos, paintings, abstract art – I guess that’s why I decided to get into graphic design.
When I did read, it was always odd things. The visual flow of information in diagrams and instruction manuals drew me to read those types of media growing up. I don’t read too much for pleasure as an adult either. I browse some blogs in order to keep up with current trends in graphic design and photography, and I do enjoy reading about different artists and styles. I find that staying current with other artists’ work forces me to push myself to try new things, and ultimately helps me stay well rounded within the industry. Even though I’m not a big reader, I do read for pleasure occasionally.
I love anything that gets me outside and into nature. Fly-fishing is my passion – getting out on the water, traveling, trying to hook a big fish. I even tie my own flies in the off-season. Backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding – I love being in the great outdoors. That love has led me to firmly believe that humans need to rethink our use of energy, fix our environmental mistakes, and recognize that we’ve got to take care of this planet, our home. Environmental activism is at the heart of Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is what I’m currently reading.
I was drawn to Abbey’s book after watching a documentary called DamNation. Originally released in 2014, the film explores the extensive use of damming across the United States, and the negative environmental impacts that result from it. Specifically, DamNation documents the increasingly mainstream tactic of dam removal, which involves the destruction of obsolete dams and the restoration of river ecosystems. Edward Abbey was a central figure in the documentary, supplying archival footage and providing commentary. Abbey is an important man in the world of environmental activism. A celebrated author, essayist, and advocate for environmental issues, many consider The Monkey Wrench Gang his crowning achievement.
Though a work of fiction, the actions of the characters in The Monkey Wrench Gang provide some of the motivation for films like DamNation, as well as the activities of environmental activists. Set in the American Southwest, the novel chronicles the lives of four likeminded characters dedicated to the destruction of a system of development that they see is polluting and destroying the environment. They blow up bulldozers and trains over the course of the novel, even as the law closes in, but the object of their greatest ire is the Glen Canyon Dam – a structure they see as despoiling the wild and beautiful Colorado River.
One of the pieces of archival footage Abbey provided for DamNation depicts him and others rolling an enormous black tarp over the edge of Glen Canyon Dam – making it look like the structure had a 300-foot long crack! Through the tarp/crack stunt, Abbey peacefully and beautifully captured the eyes of America, demonstrating the need to re-think our ideas about so-called “green” energy and recognize the destructive power of damming a river in the middle of a desert. Abbey’s speech after the act was wonderful: “Surely no manmade structure in history has been hated so much by so many, for so long with such good reason as Glen Canyon Dam. Earth First! The domination of nature leads to the domination of human beings. And if opposition is not enough, we must resist. And if resistance is not enough, then subvert. The empire is striking back, so we must continue to strike back at the empire by whatever means available to us.”
DamNation’s message really resonated with me, so it’s great to go back now and read Abbey’s work. The Monkey Wrench Gang gathered something of a cult following after its release in the mid-seventies, even spawning the creation of activist group Earth First. Abbey’s writing is funny and vulgar, but it is also sad – it’s clear the author cares deeply about the subject matter, regardless of whether or not his characters and their stories are real. I’m enjoying reading the book, but I’m glad I chose to do so later in life (otherwise I might be locked in a jail cell somewhere). Abbey has convinced me further of our need to be more cognizant of our energy use, and specifically more aware of the labels we put on energy production – what is supposedly “green” may not actually be good for the environment at all. We only have one Earth, and we’re all stuck here. We have to recognize our mistakes, fix them, and take care of our home – together.