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Conservation through conversation

The original impetus behind Torrey House Press was the idea that we could promote love of the land through literature. We jumped in with both feet, believing that by publishing great books, our start-up literary press would be self-supporting through book sales. As we realized how difficult it is to sell good or even excellent literary fiction and nonfiction, we fished around for topical titles that were commercial enough to provide adequate sales. Now, in our fifth year, we are finding ourselves in a no-man’s land where our books sales are not sufficient to be self-supporting, which means we are not necessarily achieving our goal of promoting love of the land. The status quo is not working and it is time to embark on a new adventure, a journey into nonprofit land.

My son Nick earned a degree a few years ago in Environmental Studies at Prescott College. He now likes to say that I am following in his footsteps. Indeed, in the founding of Torrey House I have been hugely influenced by one of Nick’s college texts, Max Oelschlaeger’s The Idea of Wilderness. My copy’s binding is falling apart from overuse and in my numerous re-readings I have used five different colors of pens to highlight, underline and make notes on perhaps more text than I left alone. In the book’s last chapter, enticingly titled “Cosmos and Wilderness,” Oelschlaeger suggests that we could be entering a a much needed postmodern wilderness cultural paradigm. He argues that culture is changed through conversation and that philosophy and literature are the cutting edge of conversation. If we are going to have a new idea of wilderness then “nature’s experiment in humanity” will need some fresh literature. We think that our conversion to a nonprofit will allow us to provide such literature and, we hope, to amplify the conversation.

No matter how many times I encounter them, Oelschlaeger’s ideas in “Cosmos and Wilderness” always seem to slap me awake. He was among the first to suggest that the story of reality is an evolutionary drama, a journey of the entire universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of human self-aware consciousness such that we are now “nature watching nature.” He submits we can create a new mythos that does not leave us stranded between beliefs and faith that are “divorced from facts” and a scientific materialism that is “value free.” Oelschlaeger contends that in order to ring true in a postmodern age, a new creation story “must have both scientific plausibility and religious distinctiveness.” To recover a sense of value we must see ourselves as natural, sensitive registers created through a process generated by the unfolding of time. We are the product of trillions of stars forming and dying and reforming, creating new elements, iteration by iteration. The reality is that we are created by wilderness and could not exist without it. We are now in position to reawaken a primordial consciousness, an old one that is newly informed. Earth, our veritable source of life, can be seen as more than a resource to serve human purpose, more than an eco-machine, and more as a sacred process of which we are part and have the ability to stand aware, in awe and reverence. Ideas like these seem to us worthy of amplification.

By converting Torrey House Press to a nonprofit, we will engage new partners, which will allow us to expand our mission and publish books that more closely focus on conservation through the conversation of literature. Stay tuned to these blog pages and you can be a part of the new, exciting philosophy, strategy, and conversation story behind our nonprofit press adventure.


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