Adventure and wilderness: Where do you fit?

FLC professor’s latest book poses challenge

We go out and play and explore and climb and hike in the outdoors. In Southwest Colorado, that’s just the thing to do.

But why do we do it? What does it all mean? What’s the bigger picture here?

Andrew Gulliford explores these questions in Outdoors in the Southwest: An Adventure Anthology, a newly released book of short essays and interviews that he spent the last eight years compiling and writing.

It’s designed to be used for class study (in scholastic lingo, it’s a “college reader,” not a textbook), but anyone interested in the subject shouldn’t be shy about taking a look. Heck, if you’re a student or even in a book club, there are ready-made discussion points (study questions) all prepared for you at the end of each chapter.

Gulliford, for those who don’t know, is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College. He also writes a monthly column for The Durango Herald. He grew up in Southeast Colorado, lived for a while in the Rifle area, and has been in Durango since 2000, when he arrived here from Tennessee to direct the then-new Center of Southwest Studies. As far as the outdoors, he’s a hiker, river-runner and hunter, for starters.

He’s interested in, and concerned about, the present and the future of the outdoors. And, dealing as he does with students, he wants to present the younger generation with some things to think about as they go about their wilderness pursuits. He wants them to be thoughtful users of the outdoors.

“The greens are graying,” he said in a phone interview. If we don’t introduce younger people to the ethics of environmental heavyweights such as Aldo Leopold or Bob Marshall, then the movement may not last. “I hope this will point students in that direction.”

In the book’s 413 pages, there’s plenty of room for reflection. Stories come from renowned writers such as Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Craig Childs and Barbara Kingsolver. They come from desert canyon rats, boatmen and guides.

They come from those who’ve stared death in the face. You’ll encounter lightning and mountain lions, get stuck in a canyon, get dumped off a raft and tumble 900 feet straight down Engineer Mountain.

It’s a book of “cautionary tales,” Gulliford said. He’s using it in his American wilderness class with the hope that if students read about these mishaps, they’ll be able to avoid them.

The book begins by exploring the need for wilderness and ends with the need for stewardship, for protecting what we’ve got. It concludes with perhaps the most challenging essay, written by Phil Brick, professor of politics and environmental science at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Brick challenges the reader to be an advocate for the outdoors – no excuses or lip service allowed.

First, Brick says, write things down. Share your love of wilderness with those who don’t have the chance to go explore.

“It’s important to get the word out, to give people a reason to care,” he writes, and then starts the next paragraph with one of the book’s overarching themes: “But is just knowing and caring enough?”

In other words, to protect what you love, whether it’s from development or from climate change, what actions are really going to produce results? Recycling and bicycling to work are good, but that’s not the answer, he says. You’ll make real change only by becoming part of the process.

“To influence the process, you don’t need a lot of money. But you will need a willingness to sit down and engage in the give and take of public lands politics,” Brick writes. “The aphorism ‘The world is run by people who show up’ is surely right, and to that I might add: The world is changed by people who keep showing up, no matter the odds.”

johnp@durangoherald.com