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In Conversation

What the book wants to be about: Story. Image. Idea. Experiment. Senses. Reason. Meaning. Intimacy.

Natura nihil fit in frustra

Nature does nothing in vain.

“The unknown element in the lives of other people is like that of nature, which each fresh scientific discovery merely reduces but does not abolish.”

— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time


Here Is

Here Is Where

Here Is Where We

Here Is Where We Walk

I listen to the afternoon wind hit the eucalyptus trees and watch silken emerald ivy flutter along scaled grey trunks. Tree trunks often recede from view but they invite tactile reflections. See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me. But I also listen to the radio:

We have this peculiar intimacy with all around us.

There is no such thing as nature. 

We share DNA with onions. 

What comes to mind, equally with the trees and the wind and radio, is a conversation with a vulcanologist in New Zealand who said, the main difference between you and a star is your water content. Then I pick up my reading glasses and go back to work.

The Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which features well-known landmarks such as Alcatraz and Muir Woods among its 76,500 acres, making it one of the largest urban national parks in the world. Great — this gives the paper context. Of the 800 acres of open space (54% of total area), approximately 145 acres support remnant native plant communities ranging from wildflowers to oak woodlands. It provides habitat for sixteen rare or endangered plant species, including five protected by the Endangered Species Act

These days time slows. I did not mean to come to the woods and write about them. The next book was going to be about Frank Arthur Worsley, Shackleton’s navigator. Instead it has been all trees, all dunes, all wind and sky and ocean and digging and building and planting things around me. It has been all crawling and reading and wondering what, if anything, there is to say. I culled through hundreds of pages — diaries of walks, readings, research, and I saw this book had no middle, nor an end. Could a book be all beginning? I recalled something an art historian once told me. She said someone asked Picasso how he knew when painting was done, and he said, It’s done when I stop painting.

The issue with writing about a place is that it’s so darn easy to forever begin. Begin with this walk or this sunrise or this black-lace fringe of branches and halogen back light at 5 a.m. The longer I document and mull and saunter, the more I get what a dazzling genius we have in Thoreau. Walden is a tricky book, a series of observations and stories and edicts that sort of builds and sneaks up on you. Sly old Thoreau: He didn’t give a rat’s ass about a beginning or middle or an end. He threaded his essays together and revised revised revised. Perhaps this would be my own salvation: Let Thoreau go to my head and thread together a collage of Presidio book beginnings. But that’s a bit false. It’s not a book about the Presidio of San Francisco. And it’s not entirely a book about walking. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a book about aesthetics. Yes. That might be it: It’s a book that wants to think about how we create and manage and mingle with environments, how our tastes change, fueled by our needs, and how with the world changing now with the climate changing, maybe it’s a good time to stop a minute and invoke the Talking Heads and say, well, how did we get here?

We experience a Dickens’ moment — a ghost from the future — showing us how things will be. We see scientific experiment. We write lines. Word and image.

We sense the concept and idea of a nature that is more aggressively not stable. We see there is less nature than was once thought.

The importance of reading place as image and text reminiscent of the days, hundreds of years ago, when people called Costanoan and Ohlone and Miwok, wandered the shores of San Francisco Bay. It is not possible for us to know. We imagine we can know, can parse a story from scraps and conjecture, get to know what it was like to be of that world, based on fragments and beads and baskets we find in the sands. I wandered over the to the DeYoung Museum to see what had been pulled out of the sands and shoved into glass cases. Am I the only one who is left cold by the trail of stuff to life? Don’t get me wrong: I love going to museums and seeing it all, the cracked worn bejewelled delights. But I like it for what is now, not what it may have been. Usually, I spend some of my time thinking about heists in museums and how one would get rid of hot art in the form of baskets.

How do we create and make nature with words? How do we generate time? Can images and words, paper, pen, blade, make the world anew?

Story. Image. Idea. Experiment. Senses. Reason. Meaning. Intimacy.

About Leslie Carol Roberts

Leslie Carol Roberts is the author of Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes from a Life in the Forest (Nevada, 2019) and The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, (Nebraska, 2008; Bison Books, 2012.) Recent work includes the The Gigaton Ice Theatre (Performing Ice anthology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020); the Eco-Thoughts column in The Believer magazine (2019-ongoing), and the Late, Great Golden State, published by The Bellingham Review. In 2018, she founded the ECOPOESIS project with two architects, Adam Marcus and Christopher Falliers, which creates messaging and forms around climate change. They hosted ECOPO 1 in SF in 2019, with the philosopher Timothy Morton as their invited guest and discussant; in the summer of 2019, Leslie was on the road in France and the Maldives conducting research and interviews around ecologies as part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab, of which she is a member. In 2020-21 Leslie is a Resident Artist with the Al Balad Fellowship in the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, enacting ECOPOESIS around desert landscapes. She gives talks and workshops in the US and abroad around writing and form-making around ecologies --with ecologies being defined broadly to include the instantiated systems of neo-liberal capitalism that allow for the destructive, cruel, and disastrous environmental systems of these times -- from extraction technologies to instantiated racism, misogyny, and income disparities. Over her international career in journalism and creative writing, Leslie has written hundreds of news stories, features, and essays for newspapers, magazines, and journals, in the U.S. and abroad, including The Christian Science Monitor, The Bangkok Post, The St. Petersburg Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Iowa Review online, Ascent, and The Bellevue Literary Review. Roberts, a Fulbright Fellow, is Professor and Chair of MFA Writing at California College of the Arts. An avid outdoors-human and traveler, she is at work on two books -- one continues her work in the Antarctic humanities and the other is a gothic feminist horror novel. You can reach Leslie at leslier7@gmail.com


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