The Campsite Reviews Rock, Paper, Fire: The Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing
Reviewed by: Megan Kopp
For writers, wilderness experiences often go well beyond the immediacy of the moment. These experiences unfurl in the subconscious, weave deeply through the recesses of the mind and – with focus – emerge as a tapestry of sentences and paragraphs that question, symbolize, celebrate, or canonize our relationship with the physical world. Such is the work found in the premier anthology of Banff’s Mountain and Wilderness Writing Program, Rock, Paper, Fire: The Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing.
I laughed out loud at the recount of a young Steve Swenson climbing the 50-foot-high telephone pole outside his home and successfully convincing his dad – home earlier than expected – that it was safer to continue to the top than it was to “come down immediately!”. The tale wasn’t just about the act of climbing the pole; it dug deeper into the spirit of adventure and exploration and discovery.
As I writer who finds her mind focused and creative thoughts plentiful while hiking, I connected with the words of self-proclaimed, timid mountain tourist Ian Brown in his essay, What the Mountains Mean to Us:
“In the mountains, you end up having time to think, and then you think about what you’re thinking about. Mountains are both physical and metaphysical. They free our minds by engaging our bodies in a neurochemically liberating way. A walk in the woods in the mountain wilderness may have been the earliest form of Prozac.” (From: Rock, Paper, Fire: The Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing)
All of the contributors to Rock, Paper, Fire – with the exception of Ian Brown, current chair of Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism Program – are graduates of Banff Centre’s Mountain and Wilderness Writing Program. The anthology was compiled by MWW faculty editors Marni Jackson and Tony Whittome and includes an introduction by award-winning author Charlotte Gill. Since 2005, MWW has brought writers together to explore the threads that tie wilderness experiences and writing together. Contributor’s names resonate with familiarity – Barry Blanchard, Maria Coffey, Bruck Kirkby, Bernadette Macdonald, Jon Turk…
From telephone pole to timid mountain tourist – no outdoor adventure is ever the same. Motivation, knowledge, personality, conditions, passion, expectations, and timing are but a few of the factors that come into play. Each journey is intensely personal and each submission in this anthology reflects the individual author’s interpretation of their experience. Out of the spirit of adventure comes art in the form of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
Travel through wilderness environments can be slow and reflective as Karsten Heuer describes in Finding Farley, or methodical and fast as Freddie Wilkinson demonstrates in A Short Climb With Ueli Steck. Wilderness experiences can change perspective, seen both in Bruce Kirkby’s piece Muskowa-Kechika and Masa Takei’s Hunting and Killing. Mountains have the power to alter conscious thought, beautifully illustrated in Maria Coffey’s Spirit Friends. Nature challenges beliefs, as found in Norman and the Crow by Niall Fink.
Rock, Paper, Fire: The Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing unveils the diversity of those who climb the mountains, write about wilderness, and motivate others. This anthology offers stories of strength and fragility, of hubris and humility. It is the perfect read for anyone who appreciates mountains and wilderness and what we can learn about ourselves from experiences outdoors.
Join Bernadette Macdonald – author, former director of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, and creator of Banff Centre’s Mountain and Wilderness Writing Program – on Thursday, October 31 in the Max Bell Auditorium ($15) for a panel discussion about what navigating the wilderness, climbing a mountain, and writing share in common. Panelists include Rock, Paper, Fire contributors Katie Ives, Bruce Kirby, and Steve Swenson.
About the Author:
Megan Kopp is a freelance writer with one foot firmly planted outdoors. Discover more about her travel and outdoor passions at www.megankopp.com, follow hiking and outdoor-related tweets @cdnhiker, or check out outdoorsy Pinterest boards.