Saturday, September 17, 2022

Q&A with Richard J. Nevle and Steven Nightingale


Richard J. Nevle



Richard J. Nevle and Steven Nightingale are the authors of the new book The Paradise Notebooks: 90 Miles across the Sierra Nevada. Nevle is deputy director of the Earth Systems Program at Stanford University and Nightingale teaches poetry at universities and schools in California and Nevada.


Q: How did the two of you decide to collaborate on this book?


A: The book grew naturally and irresistibly from conversations on the trail as we carried on down canyons, over passes, up glacial shoots on crampons, and in general through a hard, brilliant gallery of hazards.


At some point both Richard and I were hallucinating with fatigue and were visited by a sure, shared sense of how we might collaborate to share our beloved country with readers. It was a chance to connect science and spirit, fact and poetry, lyricism and plain truth. It was a chance to show the mountain range whole.

Steven Nightingale

Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about the Sierra Nevada?


A: The Sierra Nevada is a legendary range known and cherished worldwide. Writing about the range tends to fall into two categories: writing that concentrates on the beauty and power of the range, which is both poetic and spiritual; and writing that is based on scientific study, which is often a summary and compilation of research.


But the Sierra is not two ranges, it is one range. Our book corrects the implied misperception that science and the humanities are two separate and irreconcilable initiatives. They are, rather, different initiatives of mind that can be unified to the clear and abundant benefit of both.


This is what we do. It is an effort of unity, of wholeness, and of healing.


Q: The writer Annie Dillard said of the book, “We need a literary antidote to darkness. Not to read this book is damnable folly.” What do you think of that assessment, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: We want the reader to take away both a sense of our danger as a species, and a charged and potent hopefulness. The grounding for that hopefulness is found everywhere in the book.


It is possible to undo the shackles of the mind and find our way, step by step and day by day, into a bond with the living world that is full of understanding, devotion, love, and responsibility. It is the bond natural to us all. It is our way forward. It is our birthright. It is the way beauty comes alive, incorrigibly, within us.


Q: How did you decide on the book's organizational structure?


A: It was there from the minute we conceived the book: we chose 21 elements of the Sierra—rivers, the tanager, the wolf lichen, etc.—and Richard would write a short lyrical offering the science and the meaning of the science; and Steven would write a short companion essay reinterpreting that same element in the light of the history of poetry and spiritual writing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Richard is contemplating a book on San Francisco Bay, and Steven is just bringing to final form a novel and some books of haiku.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We want you to know how much our readers were always present to us, as we wrote the book. We wanted, through all our labors, to become transparent, so that every reader could look straight through us to the living reality of the Sierra.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Steven Nightingale.

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