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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Interviews: Laurence Brauer

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

The concept for the book came to me in one of those revelatory moments while camped with my wife and son on the upper reaches of the North Fork of the San Joaquin River below the Ritter Range. Once I conceived of the book and knew I was going to undertake the trip, I read and reread nearly all of John Muir’s and Henry David Thoreau’s published work. I also went to the Sierra Club’s Colby Library in San Francisco to read and copy many of the articles published in the club’s journals from the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of the books referenced in the bibliography were read in advance of the trip, most importantly Encompassing Nature: A Sourcebook: Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World edited by Robert M. Torrance.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I’m a photographer so I spend a lot of time taking photos while hiking in West Marin, the Sierra, and other locations in California, either with my wife or alone. I’m also a former radio DJ and freelance music critic, so I listen to music, especially rock and what is now (unfortunately) referred to as “roots” music—old blues, folk, and country.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

I always had a deep appreciation for wild nature. In undertaking the trips and writing the book, I was surprised by just how complex and profound wild nature is and how much can be learned by opening up one’s self to see, listen, and, above all, feel its wisdom. I came to understand the true meaning of what Muir called “terrestrial immortality.”

Where are you from?

I was born on Manhattan Island in New York City. When I was six, my family moved to a VA center in Kansas where my father was the Chief of Surgery. I hated Kansas. For summer vacations, I went to a camp on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota and my parents owned a cabin in the area. That became my escape until I went to college in Grinnell, Iowa, where I met my wife. Eighteen months after we were married, we moved to California. We fell in love with West Marin County and eventually bought a house in San Geronimo Valley where we’ve lived since 1984, surrounded by open space and parks.

How did you come up with the title?

A Summer in the High Sierra is a literal description of what the book is and also is a reference to John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra.

How much of the book is realistic?
Everything that happens in the book is what actually happened, including what some would refer to as mystical experiences. One of the hard things about writing the book was deciding what to leave out to best tell the story. I met a lot of people with whom I had wonderful passing encounters, but who did not end up in the final book.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The book is taken from the journals I kept. However, I find my vocabulary when I am writing in my journal tends to be rather redundant since it’s stream of consciousness. I had to find language that accurately equaled the original journal. Also, I tend to scatter my thoughts all over the place when I write in my journal. So I needed to mold those scattered thoughts into coherent statements. Plus, I have a tendency to use syntax and paragraph organization that does not logically express my thinking. I found myself shuffling around syntax and sentences to most effectively express what I wanted to say. At first I wondered about doing this much rewriting until I realized that Thoreau and Muir extensively rewrote their journals for all their books and Muir especially struggled to come up with language that wasn’t redundant.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

As I mentioned above, I did not comprehend how complex, deep, and profound are the lessons learned in wild nature. I also did not perceive the extent of the humanity’s hubris toward our planet and all other life before I undertook the journey and wrote the book. I came to understand and appreciate that spirituality is not something bestowed by a supreme being, but rather an instinctive, intrinsic evolved human trait. Those lessons then became better understood in the process of writing the book and all my subsequent trips to the High Sierra.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Recently, I have been concentrating more on my photography. If anyone is interested, they can go to my website to check out my photographs, I also post trip reports on my website.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Since I spent so many years finalizing the book, I doubt it. Then again, if I reread it, I’ll probably find passages and think “why did I say it like that?” I would love to do a print edition since that’s the way the book was conceived. Unfortunately, the cost of printing a high-quality 4-color book is beyond my means and I suspect most publishers would also be reticent unless the e-book finds a large enough audience to justify the expense.

What are your current projects?

As mentioned above, my current projects are primarily photographic. Besides the trip reports,  there are drafts of possible nature, environmental, and music essays that may sometime see the light of day. And I’m always planning trips to the Sierra. I look at maps and fantasize about possible trips to places I still have not seen. This summer I hope to make it into Kaweah Basin in Sequoia National Park for a few days of wandering.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writers should write what most enthralls them. While you should pay attention to and learn from what others say, do not compromise your vision.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Get out and take a hike. It doesn’t matter where you go. Any place and every place in nature contains its unique beauty. Open your senses to all that you see and hear and let nature inside you.

Book Blurb:

A Summer in the High Sierra is based on Laurence Brauer's journal of a 38-day solo round trip backpacking through the timberline country from Yosemite to Kings Canyon. Traveling outside cultural and religious doctrines, Brauer examines the assumptions of human societies and find that neither the rational deconstructions of science nor the leap of faith of religion contain the breadth and depth of nature's message. Seeing beyond our dualistic doctrines, he redefines our concepts of human nature, evolution, and spirituality.
            The book features 96 full-color photographs illustrating the journey, which took the author along sections of the John Muir Trail, High Sierra Trail, and off-trail locations. An Epilogue recounting a ten-day trip one year later and an Afterword recounting a short return trip to Vogelsang in which the author reassesses the previous ten years are also included.

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