A Conversation with Scott and Sam

What’s with the cover of your book?

Scott: Caspar David Friedrich, a German painter affiliated with painters, writers, and philosophers of the Romantic movement, painted his “Sunset (Brothers) or Evening Landscape with Two Men” about 1835. His depiction of a fraternal contemplation of nature reflected many of our own experiences, as in this section of the book:

Sam’s standing form, silhouetted against the valley below, reminds me of early nineteenth-century paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. Responding to the new sense among German Romantics for the importance of the subject as it relates to objects of perception, Friedrich painted human figures from behind, their gazes turned to nature. “Nature,” Friedrich’s contemporary Schelling wrote, “is visible spirit, spirit is invisible nature.”

We liked that intimate dialectic between minds/spirits and the natural world and so, despite the funny hats (or was it because of the hats?) we chose the painting as the cover image. The creative book designer did the rest.

Who are your literary role models?

Scott: Ed Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, and all those other fine writers who have taken their canoes (Thoreau) or mountain bikes (Abbey) into nature for the purpose of seeing well – and who then wrote well about what they had seen.

Sam: John Berger, Michael Ondaatje, Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, Willa Cather, Lisel Mueller, Mary Oliver, Terry Tempest Williams, Loren Eiseley, Wendell Berry, Anne Michaels, and a host of others. The way to learn to write is to read.

Tell us more about the process of writing Wild Rides.

Scott: For four years we wrote a column of approximately 2000 words a month, first for The Salt Lake Observer and then for Catalyst Magazine. The monthly deadlines got us out of our warm or cool houses into the cold or hot landscapes of The Great Western Trail, whether we wanted to or not. The interesting experiences, if they are indeed interesting, are in the book.

Sam: We largely rode the same portions of the trail and began to see patterns and to ask questions. And we rode at a pace where we could have conversations. This was rather enjoyable for us and we learned more and more about each other and the landscape as the years progressed. We began to believe others may be interested in our experiences; hence this book.

How has landscape shaped you?

Sam: I have been transformed by the landscape of the Great Basin and the Colorado. These two ecoregions are my home territory and I can feel in my bones the minute I leave them. I have traveled most roads in these two regions and know and understand the landscapes after 40 years of research and wandering.

Scott: The week Vanderbilt University awarded me tenure, I took a new job in Utah. The Dean of Vanderbilt’s School of Arts and Sciences asked if it was a matter of a higher salary. No, I said, I miss the scent of sage.

That was certainly true. It was also a metonymy. What I missed were the public lands of the West (Tennessee, for all its natural beauty, is almost entirely privately owned). Born in Colorado, raised in Paonia, Colorado, Montpelier, Idaho, and Farmington, New Mexico, I am a creature of the high desert. Boots, backcountry skis, and a mountain bike have been my vehicles of choice.

What do you hope readers will receive or learn from reading your book?

Sam: Well, I hope our readers will appreciate the narrative of friendship between two men that has lasted for many years. I also hope our readers will understand the western landscape somewhat better.

Scott: The impetus to leave home and wander in wild places. And perhaps some botany and geology and bike mechanics. And, finally, a sense for the value of a good friend.

How does landscape shape your book?

Sam: The majority of our narrative concerns environmental and socio-environmental issues. In the coming years, our population in the west will become more enlightened and concerned with the environment.

Scott: Wild Rides is about exploring the wild country transected by the Great Western Trail. That enormous landscape shaped our thoughts and our feelings and our discussions and often, when we fell, shaped our knees and elbows.

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