Praise for Sick of Nature (excerpt below):
"Comical, energetic, and reverentially irreverent ... Gessner's literary voice in this book is something new, something different ... In particular, he argues for-and then gleefully demonstrates-the enlivening contribution of farce and other modes of narrative in the field of nature writing ... More like a gulp of laughing gas than the standard breath of fresh air." -- Orion Magazine
"Gessner's essays tend to zigzag through the terrain of both wild and human nature, often at the same time and without a compass. But his writing is so sharp-eyed, you don't mind getting lost with him, wherever he ends up." -- Audubon Magazine
"David Gessner wants his creative nonfiction to rage, rant, and ultimately persuade not only other naturalists, but also those revving up earthmoving equipment ... But the essayist also showcases his love for the natural world here, while condemning the genre's characterization as merely 'quietly subversive'." -- Southern Living
"With Sick of Nature, David Gessner amply demonstrates that he's a genre-eschewing wunderkind. So now he can do anything he likes, but if he throws in plenty of coyotes, turtles, dunes and woods, as he does here, so much the better." -- Boulder Daily Camera
"Here is an environmental read with irreverent laughter and attentive awe both." -- Virginia Quarterly Review
"Gessner brings to his writing -- and to his droll critique of nature writing -- a wry, self-deprecating wit that effectively opens our minds to the limitations of environmental writing as it is commonly practiced . . . smart and engaging." -- Michael P. Branch, Isotope
"The book reads like a novel and reaches a satisfying conclusion as Gessner matures from a wild adolescent to a seasoned professor. His humor, irreverence, raw honesty, and passion make him reminiscent of Edward Abbey, and, like that writer, he leaves you with plenty to ponder. Highly recommended." -- Library Journal
"As self-conscious as Eggers, but deeper. As funny as Sedaris, but smarter. Our best writer of creative nonfiction period." -- Mark Spitzer, author of Bottom Feeder “There is a near cult religion of nature that utilizes sacred texts that require any writer in the field to conform to doctrine or be thrown to the lions. With Sick of Nature, David Gessner has taken his chances with the lions. Here's a book that jettisons all the standard platitudes and proceeds without caution. Not since the diatribes from Edward Abbey has anyone in this field come out and made such as sacrilege of our holy texts (although many other authors would probably like to). This collection of essays, which includes excursions in cities and in the wilds, delivered with the same panache as the lead essay, will help break us out of the cant.”—John Hanson Mitchell, editor of Sanctuary magazine and author of The Wildest Place on Earth
I am sick of nature. Sick of trees, sick of birds, sick of the ocean. It's been almost four years now, four years of sitting quietly in my study and sipping tea and contemplating the migratory patterns of the semipalmated plover. Four years of writing essays praised as "quiet" by quiet magazines. Four years of having neighborhood children ask their fathers why the man down the street comes to the post office dressed in his pajamas ("Doesn't he work, Daddy?") or having those same fathers wonder why, when the man actually does dress, he dons the eccentric costume of an English bird watcher, complete with binoculars. Four years of being constrained by the gentle straightjacket of genre; that is, four years of writing about the world without being able to say the word "shit." (While talking a lot of scat.) And let's not forget four years of being the official "nature guy" among my circle of friends. Of going on walks and having them pick up every leaf and newt and turd and asking "what's this?" and, when I (defenseless unless armed with my field guides and even then a bumbler) admit I don't know, having to shrug and watch the sinking disappointment in their eyes.
Worse still, it's been four years of living within a genre that, for all its wonder and beauty, can be a little like going to Sunday School. A strange Sunday School where I alternate between sitting in the pews (reading nature) and standing at the pulpit (writing nature.) And not only do I preach from my pulpit, I preach to the converted. After all, who reads nature books? Fellow nature lovers who already believe that the land shouldn't be destroyed. Meanwhile my more hardnosed and sensible neighbors on Cape Cod are concerned with more hardnosed and sensible reading material (People, Time, Playboy--not a quiet magazine in the house), when occasionally resting from the happy exertion of gobbling up what's left of our neighborhood, selling and subdividing. Being honest (one of the nature writer's supposed virtues), I have to admit that an essay is a much less effective way of protecting the land than a cudgel. In other words, I have to admit to impotence.
Which isn't much fun. Today, the morning after yet another legislative defeat for conservation on Cape Cod, I find myself feeling particularly pessimistic about the possibility of affecting change. The land bank, which marked my first minor foray into volunteer politics, was a modest and sensible proposal for putting aside some money to spare the remaining undeveloped land on the Cape, a still beautiful place that's quickly going the way of the Jersey Shore. But because that money would come from the profits of the sellers of real estate (1% on sales over 100,000$), conservatives (is there a more tediously ironic word in the language?) decided the time was ripe for another Boston Tea Party. The real issue was that developers and realtors and builders wanted to keep on developing and realting and building, but of course they couldn't come right out and say that. So they pooled a big pile of money and called in a big telemarketting firm from Washington that proceeded to re-frame the debate entirely in terms of that highly original catchphrase "no new taxes" (while also, just for the fun of it, scaring the beejeezus out of the Cape's substantial elderly population).
The standard response to this unfairness of things is to curse and wave our little fists at the wicked telemarketers, but today I have a different reaction. I marvel at their effectiveness. Had the pro-landbank forces called in a team of essayists, what would we have done to help? Assembled, we'd have looked like a reunion of Unabombers: solitary, hollow-eyed, scraggly-bearded characters ranting against progress. Likely our strategy would have been to abandon the phone lines and take to the beaches to wander, alone and aimless, in search of terns and profundities. Not only that, but had we somehow--despite ourselves--won, the victory party wouldn't exactly have been a barrel of laughs. You can bet you wouldn't find a single lampshade-wearing party guy in the group.
Which is part of the problem, or, at least, part of my current problem. Throw an imaginary kegger and fill the room with nature writers throughout history and you'll get the idea. Henry Beston, looking dapper if overdressed, alternates tentative taco dabs at the cheese dip with Aldo Leopold; Barry Lopez sits in the corner whispering to Thoreau about the sacredness of beaver dams; Joseph Wood Krutch stands by the punchbowl and tells Rachel Carson the story of how he first came to the desert as Carson listens earnestly. In fact everything is done earnestly; the air reeks with earnestness. As usual with this crowd, there's a whole lot of listening and observing going on, not a lot of merriment. Writers from earlier times drift off alone to scribble notes, modern ones talk into microcassette recorders. You might think Ed Abbey could spark the party to life, but until the booze to blood ratio rises he remains painfully shy. Everyone else merely sips their drinks; buffoonery is in short supply; no one tells bawdy anecdotes. In short, the party is a dud.
Perhaps in real life these writers wouldn't restrict their discussions to the mating habits of the spoonbill roseate (Ajaia ajaja). In my present state of mind I'd like to imagine them talking about anything other than nature. Sex maybe. Certainly sex must have played at least a minor role in all their lives, even Thoreau's. Perhaps one reason for the retreat to Walden, unexplored by most critics of American Romanticism, was to have more time and freedom for masturbatory binges. We'll never know. We do know that Thoreau exalted in that most underrated aspect of nature appreciation: pissing outside. "I have watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle tree," he wrote. Hell, maybe Thoreau himself would be just the man to break the ice at my party. "Water is the only drink for the wise man," he said piously, but since I'm imagining I'll imagine having someone, Abbey maybe, spike his water. Maybe for one night, throwing off his teetotaling ways, he could sing and dance, putting folks at ease by showing that even the great stuffy father figure could tie one on. And with Thoreau--Thoreau of all people, the one they respect the most, their God!--acting the buffoon, the rest of them could let their hair down and start to drink and talk about normal party things like lust or the score of the Celtic's game.
I, a relative neophyte, wouldn't have merited an invitation to the big shindig, but, along with the rest of the Corps of Junior Nature Writers, I'd watch Thoreau's wild man antics through the window. And maybe, just maybe, Henry would stumble out and bullshit with me late at night, and together, just two drunk guys, we could water the sand cherry.