Orion Magazine's Interview with Michael Branch

In a recent interview with Michael P. Branch, Orion Magazine writer Nick Triolo asked the winner of the 2017 Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award questions about parenting, the writing process, his connections to ASLE (the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment), and for takeaways from his two books published by Roost Books: his memoir Raising Wild (now available in paperback) and a new essay collection, Rants from the Hill.

Scroll down for some short excerpts from that interview with some beautiful photos of Nevada's Great Basin Desert taken by Branch's wife Eryn. Read the full interview here.

"I hope my work—especially my new book, Rants from the Hill—deploys humor in ways that help readers through what is for many of us a very trying time in our culture’s relationship to the natural world."

Humor and environmental activism

"I hope this book makes people laugh—gives them permission to laugh, and helps them to laugh at a time when so many of us are very much in need of laughter. I’ve been discouraged that environmental writing has continued to operate almost obsessively in the territory of anger and grief. In a world threatened by global climate change and rampant biodiversity loss, there can be no question that we should be both furious and wounded. But my job as a writer is to think not only about my own feelings, but also about the feelings of my readers. And many of my readers are exhausted, discouraged defenders of social and environmental justice whose pleasure in the world is too often sapped by their efforts to defend the world. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in environmental activism. We must! But I see comedy as a life-giving, community building, healthy, liberating alternative. If I can help readers to laugh, I think I’m contributing in a small way to the kind of sustainability that we need to nurture in ourselves as well as in our environmental practice. Laughter helps us survive to fight another day. I hope my work—especially my new book, Rants from the Hill—deploys humor in ways that help readers through what is for many of us a very trying time in our culture’s relationship to the natural world."

Nevada's Great Basin Desert as nuclear testing site

"There’s a reason the Great Basin is the place where hundreds of nuclear weapons were tested during the Cold War—the same reason why Nevada is now the proposed repository for our nation’s high-level nuclear waste. This is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically diverse natural environment, but so long as it is viewed according to the usual stereotypes of barrenness and emptiness, it will continue to play the role of expendable landscape. I hope the book helps question these uninformed, negative views of the high desert. If I can help readers to reform their aesthetic assumptions about this place, I might also be able to help defend it against continued use as a national sacrifice zone."

The relationship between children and nature

"I hope that Raising Wild helps readers think about the relationship between children and nature in ways that differ from the usual. By the usual, I mean that many books interested in kids and nature either bemoan a younger generation’s loss of contact with the natural world, or sentimentally wax rhapsodic about the angelic nature of children. I have moments of sympathy with both of these approaches, but my own interest is in looking at what we grown-ups can learn from the sort of playful, spontaneous interactions our kids have with the world around them. Part of that story must include scorpions and rattlers, bobcats and mountain lions, wildfires and blizzards. This is not a pastoral, Wordsworthian retreat. It is a bright, hard desert environment that is forcefully shaping my daughters, even as they are also shaping me."