BEHIND THE BOOK
A CONVERSATION WITH REBECCA LAWTON
author of The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West
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So far, what’s been the most surprising (and/or difficult, and/or enjoyable) part about writing your book?
The most difficult part of writing The Oasis This Time has been seeing how quickly our climate and water picture have changed in the interim. Since I wrote the proposal for this book, drought and the groundwater deficit in the American West and around the world have grown more dire and moved into mainstream media. Risk of wildfire is no longer seen as regional, seasonal, and personal to a geographically ill-placed few—it’s widespread and year-round. While US federal leaders deny wildfire’s climatic roots, experts on the ground take up the rebukes, and the conflict makes news.
So the threats to wild, oasis-like places like undammed rivers and stream-fed wetlands, which I’ve explored as a scientist, river guide, and author since the 1970s, are now described in every publication from The New York Times to the Lake County News. While Oasis has been patiently making its way toward publication, the world has grown more ready for it. For better and for worse.
The principles I write about in Oasis are no longer a scientist’s insider story or a small-press secret—they’re talked about and thought about and debated everywhere. That’s both good for water awareness and alarming in terms of how much hard work we must do to help restore the losses. And while some chapters in Oasis aren’t the breaking news they were when first published as articles and essays, they’re even more relevant in terms of drilling down into causes, facts, and solutions.
Tell us about your dream book-launch party.
Honestly I’d launch from a solo cabin in a desert setting where I was already at work on my next book about water. Attendees would include cactus wrens, Swainson’s hawks, a pack of ever-watchful coyotes, and desert bighorn sheep.
“Torrey House Press is a force for
positive change in the world, so
who better to publish this book?”
Describe one of your favorite places. What makes this place special to you?
The Grand Canyon. I love that it’s vast on a size-busting scale as well as small deep in its belly. The more you get to know it, the more intimate it is. I love that I spent every river season in my twenties and into my thirties boating it, with people I knew well and loved and strangers who rafted with us and became friends. I love its colors, space, quiet, green refuges, sheltered hideaways, open skies, rough and smooth water, depth, length, and demanding moods. I love the muddy river that carved it. I love that people are drawn to a place that combines the best and worst of both harshness and sanctuary.
Why Torrey House?
The book would never have existed without Torrey House Press. In 2015, I won the Waterston Desert Writing Prize for the proposal for Oasis, which was instigation for creating it, but my other projects had displaced and delayed it until now. Kirsten and the staff at Torrey House urged completion of the manuscript. Torrey House Press is a force for positive change in the world, so who better to publish this book?
What’s the latest book you’ve read from Torrey House Press?
Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine. It’s so necessary—commentary about the redrock country that Cactus Ed first brought to international attention with Desert Solitaire. I lived in and river-guided out of Moab, Utah, in the 1970s, when Ed was still writing there. He rafted the river with us: he both eschewed us as his devoted readers and needed us. And his was a place out of time—an outdoor-lover’s dream and a beloved backwater. Now I consider the word “Moab” as code for “loved to death.”
Mobbing the beautiful and sacred is something we do, something difficult to avoid as there are more of us drawn to the open lands that inspire us. Our need is huge for protecting/creating as much of the wild as possible—like the water we drink, nature needs to be shepherded with care and love. We haven’t yet tried hard enough, given our all as we’ve done in periods of world war, to see what we’re capable of doing for the world this time.
What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
Getting more people on board with climate reality. Finding a new solidarity among all socioeconomic groups about our generation’s biggest challenge. It’s been said that we need a common enemy to band together for planetary good—we have that enemy, and it’s world change. I’m looking forward to our gaining momentum as a people working together.
Help bring The Oasis This Time by Rebecca Lawton to the page.
Rebecca Lawton grew up exploring rivers and deserts throughout the American West. Her writing on water, climate, and wild and human nature has been honored with a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair, the Ellen Meloy Award for Desert Writers, the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, a WILLA for original softcover fiction, Pushcart Prize nominations in prose and poetry, and residencies at Hedgebrook, PLAYA, and The Island Institute. She lives with guitarist Paul Christopulos in Summer Lake, Oregon, where she directs PLAYA's residency program for writers, artists, and scientists. Her essay collection The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West is forthcoming March 2019 from Torrey House Press.