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Picking a Fight

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My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles
River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism
by David Gessner

As a writer who travels frequently from our port city to Boston, Massachusetts, I’m constantly looking for ways to join the two cities I call home. Luckily enough, I never have to look too far. In most cases the union is simply a matter of scanning a local book store. February led me to Old Books on Front Street’s Going Green Book Club; their selection was “My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism” by UNCW professor David Gessner.

“The key message to the book: Everything starts with a joyous interaction with a place we love and then fighting to protect it,” Gessner opens up about his work.

Author of several titles such as, “Soaring with Fidel” and “The Tarball Chronicles,” “My Green Manifesto” is part essay because of its proposed ideas of urban wildness and roots within the semi-annual journal, “Ecotone,” which Gessner oversees at UNCW, merging the literary and environmental world. It’s part memoir due to its true, unyielding first-hand account of the author’s travels on the River Charles. It’s also part war and love story because of its strong ethic toward fighting for what one believes in.

Gessner takes readers on a canoe journey with friend, mentor and fellow environmentalist Dan Driscoll (a native to Newton, MA). Together they paddle down what many consider to be the very life blood of Boston: Charles River (also called the River Charles). Known for its rowing, sculling, sailing and holiday celebrations, the Charles River is unfortunately notable for having exceptionally dirty water. So, it seems appropriate Gessner would choose this waterway as a focal point to battle his case toward conservancy and ecology. However, the major undercurrent in “My Green Manifesto” isn’t just about protecting our environment; rather, it’s more so about finding the wildness in our own backyard—realizing we don’t need exotic places to dictate our love for nature. It also means we need to fight for cleaner water, better air and pristine upkeep for our own environments.

“The Charles River seems to me to be emblematic where we are in terms of the natural world, because it was so dirty,” Gessner tells encore. “It’s the social focus of Boston.”

Originally from Worchester, MA, Gessner followed his heart to UNCW where, for the last eight  years, he has been a professor of creative writing. Among his impressive magazine and journal credits, “The New York Times Magazine,” “Outside,” “The Georgia Review” and “The Harvard Review” included, “The Boston Globe” spotted “My Green Manifesto” in President Obama’s possession as he stepped out from the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore during a Martha’s Vineyard vacation.

Hailed from notable critics all over the media and across the world—National Geographic Traveler even highlighted “My Green Manifesto”—the book is a thin yet charming and inspirational work. Throughout every turn of its pages, readers will lose the sense they are in the middle of a bustling city, home to millions of people. Instead, they will find beauty as if they were scouring uncharted land. Coupled with poignant environmental issues of today, such as climate change, and our Earth’s overcapacity and over-consumption issues, readers will become inspired to start making small changes themselves.

As Gessner and Driscoll endure an ever-growing leaky vessel on its pages, they fix it with a simple sandal. This symbolizes the overwhelmingly negative idea that our environment is too hazardous and interconnected to solve. As Gessner strongly believes, there are two very important threads tied throughout “My Green Manifesto.” The first is the journey which Gessner and Driscoll took to become environmentalists and the importance they put on appreciating a sense of place. The second weaves itself around the concept of having common sense, humor and picking small fights for the places we respect and regard. By doing so, the overwhelming doomsday philosophy can be conquered: Environmentally our society’s scope of thinking and needs, along with Earth’s already scarred body, are irreversible.

“It was an imperfect trip on an imperfect river,” Gessner remembers. “We were literally paddling inside a canoe full of muddy water. It felt like the cracked imperfect world we live in, but we kept going.”

Gessner’s book celebrates something beyond nature; it opens up the fire within to see how far one would go for what they believe. It’s what Gessner calls “wildness.”

“And when I say ‘wildness,’ I’m not suggesting the wilderness,” he explains. “I am talking about having wildness in your fight to protect the places you love. The wild world is accessible to us. It doesn’t take a super human to fix (our environment). There’s hope in small nature and small fights. We need to just find a place we love, have a larger project beyond ourselves of that place and fight for it.”

For more information, please visit “My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism” is available for purchase at local books stores, including Pomegrante Books and signed copies at Old Books. Old Books’ next read as part of their Going Green Book Club is Woody Pasch’s “Slow Money.”

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