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Nature writer talks environmentalism

Gessner conveys simplistic, close-to-home view of nature

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

Gessner

BILL PRITCHARD/The Daily Campus

Writer and creative writing professor David Gessner speaks about new environmentalism and nature writing on Thursday. The talk was part of the Edwin Teale Lecture series.

To go along with UConn's snowy weather this week, the Edwin Teale Lecture series presented the lecture "In Pursuit of a New Environmentalism," by nature author David Gessner. Aetna Creative Nonfiction award winners Alyssa Palazzo and Abbye Meyer read their works to begin the presentation. Afterwards, Sydney Plum, interim director of Creative Writing, introduced David Gessner. Gessner has published eight books dealing with various environmental themes such as "Return of the Osprey," which was chosen as a top-ten nonfiction book of the year by the Boston Globe. He has been published in numerous journals and magazines and was a professor of nature writing at Harvard. He is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

The lecture was more of an impromptu conversation about new environmentalism and Gessner's experiences with nature. He read and discussed his new work "My Green Manifesto," in which he talks about a new way of writing about nature. He focuses on a more "limited" simplistic view of nature and leaves behind the clichés of overly expressed love for "a squirrel." He said that when people hear the word "environmentalism," it seems complicated. "This missing leg is love, passion, and contact with a beautiful place," Gessner said. He prefaced his first reading with an experience he had watching the beauty of gannets as they dove into the water.

He defined the idea of "new environmentalism" as changing the way we think about the wild. "I've traveled all over the world to experience the wild in nature, but have found that my wildest moments have been much closer to home," he said. He stated that his first moment of wildness was feeling his father's last heartbeat as he held his hand when he died; the second moment was the birth of his daughter. Ellen Castaldini from South Windsor said, "I loved how he described that you don't have to be in a park or the Amazon to experience nature. I like that he said nature is present in a city and all the parts that make it up."

Gessner pointed out that "there is something lingering beneath the every day." He broadened the definition of environmentalism in this way by focusing on the "human wild." Even so, the experience of being submerged into an actual natural environment also has its thrills. He talked about his experience in the Gulf after the oil spill, and said how even though it was not pure, he could still find the joy and peace in it. Oftentimes, the stories like the one about the oil spill are told in "sweeping, simplistic generalizations," Gessner explained. His approach was to take a small part of something and from that, gain momentum to apply it to a grander scale. Another member from the audience, Steve Langford, reinforced one of Gessner's points, saying "I like how you don't have to change the world to make a difference; you just take care of one little part."

At the end of the lecture, Gessner read a bit of the last part of his book and ended with a simple idea; nature is a part of all of us. "I feel like I'm in the right place when I go to watch the birds near the marsh at home," he said.  

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