I was recently asked to describe who had an impact on my life as a "naturalist" and lover of the outdoors and chose Gary Snyder. An excerpt of this piece ran in this article in the local paper. Below is the full piece.
Having grown up in a family that didn’t really venture into the outdoors and only ever being a very part-time Boy Scout, I was left without much of an environmental ethic until high school when I came across Gary Snyder. I first heard of him as Japhy Ryder in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums which led me to his book of poetry Turtle Island and eventually The Gary Snyder Reader, an anthology that has followed me to college, up to Maine, across to the California coast, up into the rockies, and still sits on my bedstand here in Marietta. His poetry about being in the mountains and wildness spoke to me as a teenager living out his adolescent flailings in suburbia. I latched onto his sparse, beautiful aesthetic and quickly took on his views of the importance of place. This ethic that place and how we interact with it has the ability to define us has shaped who I am today.
His poems like “For the Children”, “Riprap”, and “I Went Into the Maverick Bar” have all acted as a soundtrack to my life at different points. His writing taught me not only to protect and care for our resources, but also to find beauty and connection with them. Thanks to Snyder, I was put both on a literary path through the likes of Ed Abbey, Jim Harrison, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Han Shan, Li Po, and Rick Bass and a lifelong path of writing, trail work and environmental education, and now as a catch and release fly fisherman and steward of our coldwater resources. Thanks to him I was given the chance to create my own set of environmental ethics and was able to create my own path through place and wildness.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.