Ah, Wilderness! Humans, Hawks, and Environmental Correctness on the Muddy Rio Grande by Dinty W. Moore, is an awesome example of humorous, well-constructed nonfiction that carries on a philosophical discussion on an important topic. Here are some excerpts:
To amuse ourselves during our lengthy van ride to the put-in, we speculate on what the trip might bring. Tall Doctor Dave can do better than speculate, however; he is a Sierra Club member, and the environmentalist group’s magazine features an article on the stretch of river we will soon be travelling. He has brought the article, “Texas on My Mind: Mexico on My Right,” and reads us snippets. Author Rebecca Solnit describes our destination as “a slow-moving opaque soup with the occasional clot of foam floating atop it.”
In the van, we wince.
Dinty has a really great sense of timing, which is necessary for all good humorists. This is really hard to accomplish in writing, since we're used to describing things, used to philosophizing, used to writing as if people are reading. Instead of following all of those third-person rules, Dinty writes in a way that mimics the experience of being there. He starts off with introductions; we learn everyone's names, even down to "Tall Doctor Dave and Bearded Doctor Dave". We know to go to the bathroom in "the groaner". Dinty does a good job of getting the reader to identify with his experience. He puts us in the van.
We wince when we read quotes from the Sierra Magazine article . And then we read, seperated from the previous paragraph,
Moore uses formatting to accomplish in writing what timing does on the stage. The article then becomes a braided essay, switching in-between descriptions of the scenery, action in the boats, musings on how to treat the environment, all woven together by the thread of the Sierra article. It's funny. But it's very serious, in a thoughtful way that Moore uses the humor to reach. The starkly-humorous differences between each character becomes more serious as their views on the ecosystem come out:
Rebecca Solnit is convinced that we are marring the planet willfully and with malice. Bearded Doctor Dave, it turns out, shares her views in his own odd way, but is instead focused on the ecosystem’s coming revenge, the quiet shy planet striking back with a fury. Annie agrees with Solnit, and in addition, is pretty sure I’m one of the worst offenders. Thomas and Lu are collecting stones for their fireplace, and taking it all in stride. We are, all of us on the trip, dirty, tired, cold, scratched and bruised, and as best as I can tell, the river is doing just fine. No one has seen a single clot of toxic foam.
We have met nature, debated our place in it, and found little common ground.
And Moore's philosophical conclusion? He writes carefully, thoughtfully about all of the concerns and issues surrounding the idea of ecotourism and visiting nature. He grapples with all the hard issues, finally coming to his conclusion, but not forcing you to agree with it:
My behavior has not been blameless, maybe, but it hasn’t been so bad. Yes, I believe in the beauty and importance of the environment, and I believe in protecting it. But I’d also like to be a part of it. Call it selfish if you will, but I’d be quicker to support the preservation of an ecosystem that includes me as a regular member.
I didn’t visit the river in a bulldozer, after all.
I came by canoe.
(if you liked the article check out the Big Bend National Park website. It has many pages of interesting, fun information about the park)