Hunting for Hope by James Goldberg

I read a book about a man who flew out to the Rockies, who flew a thousand miles to hike near the bristlecone pines and to mourn the weight of man on a fragile earth. His son had told him: despair is the price of an ecologist’s education. But he told his son €”as the boy backpacked through Europe €”that in the many beauties of this wide and varied planet, we still hunt for hope.

And what I could I do but laugh, as I read, about the man who weeps for a warming world he soars across on a fossil-fueled jet, and who longs to protect the distant loveliness he likes to bring under his boot? What can I do but laugh for the men who say we nibble at every corner of a cake so we can find the drive to save it? Who see the herd growing thin and still hunt for hope?

When I want to show my daughter the richness of this earth, we walk. We look at a pill bug in the stairwell, watch for garter snakes in the grass. She chooses at each corner to turn right or left, and we see God’s own creations push their way through the sidewalks’ cracks. We come face to face with mystery in the dancing of a colony of ants.

Hope grows all around us. In a garden such as this, where’s the need to go and hunt?
James Goldberg won the “most popular” award in WIZ’s Spring Runoff 2012 for “Since he was weaned.” He is an award-winning dramatist, and has published in Shofar, Drash, and Irreantum. He is also a founding editor at Everyday Mormon Writer.


10 thoughts on “Hunting for Hope by James Goldberg”

  1. Again with the relationships.

    It interests me how in the story of the man who flew a thousand miles to hike with the bristlecones you succeed in embedding in your very few words the sense of great distance in the man’s relationship to the natural world. Or is the man’s stance actually resistance to relationship with nature? Hope becomes an object to be found among the beauties of the planet. So the world becomes a source of hope.

    It sounds pretty, but yeah, it objectifies the natural world, mining it for a resource–hope.

    I like how you go out with your kids and then bring them into your writing. And pillbugs provided my first encounters with the “richness of this earth”–in my case, in my backyard. So I can relate.


  2. Patricia,

    I think your image of mining the natural world for hope is a strong one. We do seem to have a strong cultural division between nature-out-there and the implicitly non-natural places where the overwhelming majority of us live. The division seems to lead us to commodify the out-there nature and yeah, try to extract hope or meaning or beauty from it. And we forget that life is actually all around us (and not just in the sidewalk cracks or under the rocks–even the human body is covered in a jungle of micro-organisms).

    I think we’d do better at the whole conservation think if we would emphasize the way life is all around us where we already are rather than putting so much emphasis on a wild vs. settled division.


  3. And it’s funny, actually–the Rockies have captured the American imagination, and they’re great….but the boring old Midwest is probably far more bursting with life. What would the world be like if the hottest nature writing was about paying attention in Midwestern suburbs, learning to understand the systems and balances operating there?

    Out here in Utah Valley we’ve done a similar thing. Folklore associates nature with Native Americans and moved those memories out of the valley and lakeside into the mountains. We accidentally outsourced awareness of life to the past, and to a place that probably wasn’t really important in the past the way, say, Utah Lake was.


  4. A note about the pictures: Salalah, Oman, November, 2007. We really are looking at bugs. And we drove ten hours to do it. Anti/thetical? You be the judges.

    It’s nice when the poets pop in. Thanks for the conversation, folks. I like what you’re saying here, James, and I think it jibes with my own notion about quality of life: the quality of life is dependent on the occurrence of and encounter with life. What’s outside our front doors, wherever we are, and more importantly our disposition toward it will do far more with respect to our quality of life than much of anything else. I, for one, am looking forward to living in a place where I can go outside any day of the year and poke a stick in the dirt. Meantime, I’ll make do with temperatures over 120, and settle for poolside.

    PK, you articulate, as always, what the rest of us wish we could think up in the first place.


  5. Me, I don’t separate people from nature. I see cities as natural adaptations. Many metropolises could certainly benefit from better design or makeovers that result in better mental and physical health for their populations. They could develop and implement better lighting technology so that the night sky gets through. They could stand deeper, genuine integration into the rest of the planet’s environment as well as into the stars. The boundaries between city wall and forest/desert edge could blur a little. In fact, increasingly, they are blurring as urban wildlife takes up residence even in Central Park, New York. But overall, I think that we could benefit from narrative strains that work people back into the natural tapestry, be they city stories or country stories or other approaches not yet discovered. And there are those who specialize in writing urban nature literature. It’s pretty interesting stuff. I think I remember seeing some intriguing pieces in USU’s Isotope before it went extinct.

    But anyway, yeah–many of the folks who claim higher moral ground in the wrestling match over defining natural space do seem to be objectifying nature, making use of it, replacing actual relation with the arranging of things to their liking–including the ground whose good they stake interest in and the people they hold forth against. They render them “things” and extract from them something they hold precious.

    Have your read I and Thou James? I like what he calls in true relation the “flow of mutual action”. That can occur between people or between people and nature. Probably, you can’t foster better relations with nature without fostering better relations between people.

    Lots of frontiers still around.


  6. A note about the pictures: Salalah, Oman, November, 2007. We really are looking at bugs. And we drove ten hours to do it. Anti/thetical? You be the judges.

    I guess it depends on the bugs, Jonathon. Tell us more?

    And I hope you get your wish. 120 degrees is too much to weather.


  7. James (and all):

    The Midwest is anything but boring. In all the geologic cacophony of your mountains, of course, the subtleties of a moraine rising out of a swampy plain will be lost, naturally, unless one looks more closely. Where you live among the ancient violence of the broken earth, we crouch on the litter of a speeding glacier passing through, leaving chunks of itself along the way for us to swim in, drain away, plow under or cart off. Living here is to live with a centuries-long clean up operation. And you may have your wolves and bears out west, but I will venture to say nothing stuns so much as an unexpected fox flashing through the high beams as you take an exit ramp into open space on a moonlit night. Speaking of space, while it is nice to have mountains firm around us, it is nicer still to see the sun when it first glimmers at the edge of the world. Dawn *at* dawn is a powerful thing. But what I personally love best is that certain hue of green-gold-blue that we get in late August through late September when the corn is ripening beneath skies so heavy with humidity they seem to sag down onto the fields like a sodden tarp. I wait for that color every year. So yes, let us sing of mountains and canyons and all their glory, but never say the great prairie is boring.


  8. Will, I think James was playing a bit ironically there. Note what he says after calling the Midwest (Swiftianly) “boring.” In short, you’re both right. I’ve driven across both the American Midwest and the Canadian prairies and they are gorgeous places in their own right. Bradbury converted me years ago.


  9. Will,

    Love the description in your comment.

    My point is that sometimes, by valuing nature-far-away-from-people, we miss the beauty of places like the Midwest (where I grew up, and which I find enchanting).


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