In this weeks episode, acclaimed author and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith joins host Lynn Vartan to discuss his books Engineering Eden and Nature Noir. They also discuss the writing process, the manipulation of our natural landscapes and the characters that shaped our National Parks policies and protocols!
APEX website: https://www.suu.edu/apex
[00:00:02] Hey, everyone, this is Lynn Vartan, and you are listening to the APEX Hour on KSU Thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit Southern Utah University from all over learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find us here every Thursday at 3 p.m. or on the Web at suu.edu/apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on Thunder 91.1.
[00:00:49] All right, well, welcome in, everyone, welcome to the APEX Hour. It's Thursday afternoon, we're back on our usual day. This week is the middle of March. It's spring here in Cedar City. And we are doing something that we do better than almost anywhere else in the U.S. and that is celebrate the great outdoors. This week for APEX Events, we have author of two amazing books, both of which I've read and thoroughly enjoyed. Author Jordan Fisher Smith is here and we've just been exploring what it means to manipulate the wilderness. Where do humans fall in the scheme of things? We've also just been looking at some outdoor landscapes. We've been doing field excursions and then we shared time talking about Jordan's books today for his APEX talk. So without further ado, please welcome. Hi, Jordan. How are you?
[00:01:45] Hey, I'm happy to be here in God's country.
[00:01:47] All right. We have been having such a good time. And let me just fill in our audience a little bit on the two books, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Nature Noir is one title and then Engineering Eden. Jordan spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger for the Forest Service, National Park Service, California State Parks. He worked in California, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and the books have won awards. He's been a part of documentaries like, for example, Under Our Skin, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary feature. And yeah, he just has been an amazing presence on campus. So I'm so excited to have this time to talk to you.
[00:02:32] Yeah, me too. You know, I had heard about this University of the Parks and and now I've had a chance to check it out a little bit. And it's exciting to watch.
[00:02:41] Yeah, well, we want to talk a little bit about Engineering Eden and maybe before I know we were maybe going to I'm going to encourage you to read a little bit. But before maybe we could just get a snapshot about the overarching theme in the book, which is what is our role in manipulating the natural landscape? And I think you went through a bit of a change in that.
[00:03:06] I mean, you know, when when I started out as a wilderness ranger in my impression was our role is not to have a role. That what you want to do and really what we were trained to do is in being Wilderness Ranger was to prevent human beings from having an impact. And in that sense, and you know how people go out and recreate I'm still a huge fan of that idea. You look behind you as you leave your campsite. Does it look like you were there? And if you're successful, nobody can tell that you've been there. You haven't left any marks other than footprints in the sand and you haven't taken cut down anything and taken it with you and you haven't left your trash. So really, that made sense to me at that time. And for a long time, I really thought of the American wilderness as or the world's wilderness as self-regulating, and it would be best left to its own devices. And and then as time went on, as we began to understand, you know, the dimensions of climate change, it seemed like things weren't as natural as they used to be to me. And I kind of kept in touch with some scientists who were working in parks and wilderness areas, and they were already to really reach in and save things and do various kinds of manipulations to make sure that the beautiful forms of life that these areas were set up to protect would continue to exist there. And there was a growing level of desire and and lack of resistance to manipulation. And it was there that I started thinking, yeah, I think I wrote a book about that.
[00:04:44] And so one of the talks that we had this week, you said that you kind of started on on walks, that you got some inspiration on walks. You started thinking on walks about tell me how that idea specifically for this book and these stories came about.
[00:05:02] Well, you know, I the way I write, I don't write facts are just a collection of facts. I really don't write arguments for or against things. I think of myself as a storyteller and the stories that I've been interested in telling really in some way come out of my life as a ranger in that I spent a long, you know, many years working on public lands. And it seemed to me that these are the places where we intend to do the best. And so it's almost the best case scenario. And, you know, initially, as I began reading the history of manipulation of wilderness and national parks, human adjustments and changes that people had made, thinking it was a good idea. It looked to me like a long story of miserable failure. Yeah, and and so certainly manipulation of nature wasn't something that just started. Now it's been going on, you know, for a long, long time and perhaps for millennia. And it hasn't always gone that well.
[00:06:11] One of the things that struck me is exactly that. I mean, it's you pick up the story, if you will, at a certain point where a certain group of people and a certain group of places are trying to influence things. But the story begins much earlier than that. We've been trying to manipulate and even the people at that time in the story are dealing with what they've inherited and then onward and onward.
[00:06:38] So this is the problem with telling nonfiction stories, is that if you're if you're telling about true life or real life, the story really goes off in every direction, right to infinity. And there's no end to it and there's no end to connections. So you have to in some ways set some bounds for the story and decide what you've come to do. And what I did then after reading a little of the history, is I went on a long walkabout. I took a lot of wilderness trips and national park trips and I embedded with scientists. I embedded with scientists at Yellowstone. I embedded with scientists at at Everglades and other places. And I sought out things that would inform me about all the things I you know, I didn't know because even though I'd worked for many years in some of these places, there were others had never been to. You know, I took canoe trips. I you know, I did a Grand Canyon, rode a boat down down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and other things that people around here do. And the intent was to try to get a sense of the overarching issues that were in play. And then I really had to pick out a story to tell. And that one story and I like to tell stories about individual people facing individual situations, not everything in the world, not save the world or the whole globe, but just set in place in one little place and how they're struggling to understand nature. So that's what I did next.
[00:08:03] Well, this might be a really beautiful point to give us a little bit of a taste of that story.
[00:08:09] Yeah, well, I ended up telling I ended up finding this this trial. I was doing research about something else in the National Archives at Yellowstone. And and I found this box of trial transcripts for a case I'd never heard about that went to the United States court in the central district of California, but wasn't from there. It was from really from Yellowstone. And it involved the death of a young man by the name of Harry Walker, who was killed and partly eaten by a bear in right in the middle of the centennial festivities of the Yellowstone.
[00:08:48] That's the amazing thing, right?
[00:08:49] So I'll read just the beginning of the first pages of the book a little bit. "In the spring of 1972, the chronic pain in Harry Eugene Walker's right arm had come to coexist with such a yearning for freedom and self-determination that it was hard to distinguish one from the other. Harry was 25 and he had been raised since early boyhood to succeed his father as owner and manager of a family farm in northern Alabama. His labor was critical to the farm's survival. Yet the farm didn't make enough for him to have his own place. So he stayed in his childhood room in the little White House on a hill overlooking the lower pasture, where he came to chafe against his mother's criticism and attempts to direct his life. Because money was so short, in addition to working on the farm here, he had other jobs, among them as an equipment operator for a construction company and a part time soldier for the National Guard. The ache in the elbow and the ache for breathing room came to Harry at all times, rolling over in bed at night, pitching a hay bale, reaching under a cow to hook up the milking machine. It hurt when he moved the levers on a backhoe for the construction company and when he saluted his commanding officer at the National Guard, whose authority he had come to resent even more than that of his mother. The pain got bad toward the end of 1971 and favoring his right arm led to muscular pain, injuries, neck and back. He went to the hospital and the doctor who injected his elbow with cortisone and gave him a cervical collar said Harry would need to make would take up more sedentary work. But Harry didn't see how yet people depended on him. It's not uncommon for rebellion of the body to a way of life to be treated solely as a medical problem. In the spring of 1972, Harry had surgery on his elbow. But because nothing else had changed less than a month into what would have been a four or five month rehabilitation. He was called into work at another of his jobs, where the weakness in his arm seems to have contributed to causing a minor traffic accident in his employer's vehicle. Harry had never taken a real vacation. He had been talking with his father about having some time off to think about things. On Tuesday, June 6th, 1972, someone offered him a ride out of town and Harry left Alabama, headed north with no exact destination in mind."
[00:11:42] Thank you so much. That is an excerpt from Engineering Eden, and I'm joined in the studio with the author, Jordan Fisher Smith. And we were just hearing the prologue of what Harry Walker did when he left his dairy farm. And then and then it inspired the trial that is really this one of the centerpieces of of the book. Well, this is a great moment for us. I have so many more questions. But we also have some music that we want to play. As many of you know, we we try to play some music during the APEX Hour. And the first song that I'm going to play for you is one that Jordan and I have been using as a collaborative spark for his talk and time here. We did some work with music and nature earlier in the week, and the artist Paul Winter came up. And Paul Winter is famous for a genre sort of developing called earth music, and he worked with wolves and whales. It has a very famous song called "Wolf Eyes." So we're going to have a listen to that. This is KSUU Thunder 91.1. And you're listening to the APEX Hour.
[00:18:48] All right, well, welcome back, everyone. This is the APEX Hour, KSUU Thunder 91.1. That song was called "Wolf Eyes" by Paul Winter. And it features, you know, wolf howling and the the sort of convergence of what a saxophone sounds like when it's really trying to capture that quality and mix in with live sounds. I am joined in the studio with author Jordan Fisher Smith. Welcome back, Jordan.
[00:19:17] Hey, great to be here.
[00:19:19] So we were talking about the main iconic character in your book, Engineering Eden, and that character is Harry Walker. And you had read the Prologue. And now we want to pick up that story. What happened to Harry Walker?
[00:19:35] Well, Harry left, as the Prologue says, left home, headed north with no exact destination. And he went to ride north through Kentucky and Tennessee and north from there, all the way to the Great Lakes and then up through Ohio and New York, and then eventually went west again, went across the Great Plains to Colorado and from Colorado, hitchhiked up to, uh, to Livingston, Montana. Mm hmm. And on the day after the summer solstice, in the summer of 1972, the next to longest day of the year, he was hitchhiking, gone to get groceries, and he was staying at a KOA and he was hitchhiking back toward the KOA. And I have to say that this was a time when hitchhiking was just immensely popular in America. And everywhere you went, if you that summer, there were young people lined up with backpacks and cardboard signs. Now, maybe a lot of places all you see is maybe mentally ill people or somebody pretty down and out. But in those days, every college student and any anybody who wanted to go on vacation put their thumb out. And there were lines of these people, if you'd been here at SUU, you probably would have seen a line of people trying to get rides on the freeway. How it certainly was true. At the University of California Berkeley, a sociologist did a study of hitchhiking and the line of people trying to get a ride on to Interstate eight on Interstate 80 going east was started at dawn and went a mile up University Avenue with people standing in line with their thumbs out trying to get a ride on on the highway. So this was a time when American culture really, you know, had this hitchhiking thing going on. And, of course, people made popular songs about it. There was a song that some of the people who were listening to us now would recognize called "Take It Easy." This guy is standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, and it's such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my lord, and, you know, and so on. And and there were other other songs and bits of popular culture about hitchhiking. So true to form here. He was hitchhiking in Livingston, Montana, on the 22nd of June 1972. And sure enough, a girl in a Ford slowed down, passing him, checked him out and pulled over and let him in. And her name was Vicky Slaked. She was a farm girl on her first summer away from home, working as a maid at one of the big hotels in Yellowstone. And she took Harry fatefully into Yellowstone National Park, where in the next two and a half days they fell in love. And we're more or less planning to get married and he was killed by a bear.
[00:22:41] Yeah, and it was during the centennial.
[00:22:44] It was the summer of the 100th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park, and they had made a big deal about it. This was the, you know, the celebration of successful preservation of America's first, the world's first national park. And all kinds of, you know, ribbon cutting ceremony for new visitors, center visits from senators and congressmen, a conference on a world conference on national parks. They had invited scientists and rangers and administrators of parks from 84 nations. And the president's wife, Mrs. Nixon, would land in Marine One in the parking lot at Yellowstone to give a kickoff speech. That was kind of a big deal, behind it, behind all of that, Yellowstone's ecology was was seriously and dangerously unbalanced, particularly with large animals.
[00:23:40] Yeah, the bear problem had been increasing in its severity for some time.
[00:23:46] Well, the interesting thing about the bear problem was that very early on when there was really no ice, nobody knew how to run a national park, nobody in the world had ever done it. And so they started building hotels, large hotels. Resort hotels and and all the garbage that came out of these hotels went into a pit. A short wagons ride away and beer started coming out of the woods and feeding on garbage in the pits. And then people would feed bears, particularly black bears, which are a little more likely to come close to people, is feeding them by hand, holding out morsels of food out of carriages, and then after 1915, out of automobiles, and this went on until the bears were really acculturated to getting food from people. And frankly, the real problem started when they tried to take the food away. You know, the food was a problem. I think, in you know, in the early 30s, in one year, they had roughly, you know, 450 people got, you know, arms chewed up or scratched or a bear tried to climb somebody for a food that was being held above their reach and breaking into cars and so on. But the real trouble started when they decided we we were wrong. We needed not to do this. And now we're going to stop doing it.
[00:25:05] And how to stop doing it was a point of contention.
[00:25:08] It was a big point of contention. There were a pair of famous biologists, the Craighead brothers, Frank and John Craighead, who had been studying grizzlies and had actually invented the radio collar, which we think of as so common and on so many wild animals that nobody really knows where it came from. But these two brilliant scientists invented it. And as a way to follow grizzlies, you know, grizzlies are kind of dangerous to follow and they can move at night in pitch blackness through heavy timber, much faster than a horse or a human. And they maybe don't like it if you come around their den.
[00:25:47] And the Craigheads were rock stars.
[00:25:49] They were amazing. So so they warned the Park Service, whatever you do, don't cut the food off suddenly. Don't close those dumps suddenly because there's going to be big problems. Those bears will go from the dumps to someplace where they can get food other than the dumps. And that means all the places where there are people, campgrounds, the back door of a restaurant. And sure enough, the crackheads were right about that.
[00:26:14] Yeah, very infamously so. But you do it's such a good job of telling the story of Harry and his young love. And they, those two really fell in love in two days, it seems.
[00:26:28] You know, they had their first kiss the night he died. They had been out hanging out in the little club there and at Old Faithful and on the way home, he asked to kiss her and she said no boy had ever asked my permission and and their first kiss was under. She described it as under a canopy of pine boughs. And he very courtly, you know, treated her with great respect. And he walked her back to the women's dorm and she never saw him alive again.
[00:27:06] Yeah, well, even just in that momentary retelling, now it's obvious that the passion you have and the for for just the the perfect research that you do, that, you know, from her that nobody had asked her for a kiss and that she describes I mean, you must have elicited that description.
[00:27:29] And it wasn't easy, you know. Because Vicky was very, very traumatized by what happened next, and she didn't really want to talk. I eventually reached her through her parents who were still on the farm in in eastern their wheat farm in eastern Montana. And for a while I sent messages through her mother. I would write her mother, her mother would write her, she'd write her mother back so that I didn't have any way to reach her. She didn't want to give an email. Vickie had found the love of her life in a boy that she only knew for two and a half days. We can't say what would have happened to them. But they were already making plans for the future. Yeah. And after that, she was married several times and it didn't work out. Yeah. And so in the beginning it was very hard to and I gradually, you know, as an author, you have a responsibility to the people who you who are going to be in your stories to be respectful of their space, to be respectful of their privacy, and over what amounted to a period of years, we started to correspond. And eventually she was quite open about about the whole thing. But it really traumatized her.
[00:28:48] I can't imagine.
[00:28:49] She was called as a witness in the trial that followed over Harry's death for the prosecution. Oh, I'm sorry. For the, yeah. For the plaintiffs against the the the Park Service.
[00:29:04] Right, right. Right. OK.
[00:29:05] I'm sorry. Forgive me. She was, she was a witness for the defense against Harry's family.
[00:29:12] So meaning they wanted her and she refused to do it and they threatened her with being thrown in prison. Wow. If she wouldn't testify against Harry's family.
[00:29:22] So the whole thing traumatized her and took quite a while to gain her trust.
[00:29:25] Well, that's just one of the the long tales and and how it went over the timeline many, many years after the fact. You mentioned something that I want to hit on again, which is the responsibility of of the writer. And you said the responsibility of these families. And one of the things I wanted to ask you is what other responsibilities do you feel as a writer in writing a book like this?
[00:29:56] Well, you know, I was I was speaking to an English class at a university about this size in another state. And a young guy in the class raised his hand and said, you know, when I write nonfiction, I find that if I put just a little fiction in little made up stuff, it just gives sparkle to the story that I'm trying to tell. So his question was, how much fiction is it OK to put in nonfiction? And of course, from where I stand, my answer was nothing. And I think we're living in a time when we're seeing. You know, a kind of battle between factual material and pernicious fantasies that are designed to manipulate people and to develop political support for things that probably shouldn't be supported. And I think it's very important for writers who claim to be nonfiction writers or journalists not to make things up, and so that means that what becomes incumbent on me to do this kind of exhaustive research and find out what really happened and enough so that I can tell the story in the way I do, which is, you know, told with a richness of detail.
[00:31:15] Yeah, right. Thank you.
[00:31:16] I think that's my answer to what my responsibility is. And then my responsibility is if I want to write fiction, to call it fiction. And not make out like I'm making truth.
[00:31:25] Right. Got it. Well, thank you for that. I think it's time for another song. And speaking of "Take It Easy," I had "Take It Easy" ready to go. Because having read the book and enjoying it, I any time there was a little song that came up, I took notice and said, this is the one that I chose to put in there. So this is the 2013 remaster of the Eagles classic "Take It Easy."
[00:35:11] All right, well, welcome back, everyone. You're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1. This is Lynn Vartan and you are listening to the APEX Hour. As usual all of the songs that you hear are available on our open Spotify playlist, which is called the Played on APEX Hour. And you could find it on Spotify. It's an open playlist that that I have authored, lynn Vartan. Or you can go to suu.edu/apex and click on the podcast link and you can find where to find the podcast, but also the Spotify playlist. We are talking with author Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Nature Noir and also Engineering Eden. Welcome back, Jordan.
[00:35:51] You know, I should have known there was a Spotify playlist. Everything in Lynn Land is so organized.
[00:36:00] Well, that's Apex Land. Lynn Land. Apex Land, you know. Well, it is good to be organized, right?
[00:36:07] Apparently! I wouldn't know.
[00:36:09] Systemize yourself so that you can really enjoy the moment.
[00:36:14] I think at least.
[00:36:15] Yeah, that's right. Well, speaking of being organized, the next thing that I'd love to talk about is something that really struck me in the book. And we've had a couple of conversations about it off air. And that is your respect for the characters far and wide, regardless of perhaps if you agreed with their platform or their choices in terms of park management. So, you know, we I hesitate to say good guys and villains because almost there's no villains. You're so respectful of everybody trying to do what they thought was right. And I wonder if you might comment on that.
[00:36:58] Yeah, well, you know, again, we're living in a time when we're watching, you know, certainly America and other nations turn into a thing of demonizing people. And this objectifies people with whom you feel some difference between your background or your political beliefs and so on. And so I don't really want to practice it in particular in this book. I'll say that there you know, if there are the opposition, it is it's a built around the idea that in that 100 years leading up to Yellowstone Centennial, they did a lot of things, a lot of reckless things because they didn't really know how nature works and they didn't really know how to work with it. So they kept making mistakes. And then the mistakes would cause unforeseen consequences. And then they would try to repair those and they'd cause other consequences. And so what had happened was in the years, the five years leading up to the centennial at Yellowstone, that Harry hitchhiked into the middle of a new superintendent, park superintendent and his new chief scientist said, that's it, we're just not going to do anything to nature anymore. Going to leave it alone. And in fact, they lived up to that in some ways. The first lightning strike tree that burned in 1972 that they never allowed. They did that in 1972. They were trying. Unfortunately, when you have about a million visitors a year, if you take your hands off things, it isn't like the million visitors are taking their hands. That's for that matter, their potato chips that are in the campground that the bears can get to. So it was a very idealistic position and ultimately it was a dismal failure. And so, Anderson, the superintendent and Glen Coal, the scientist, become the foil of the Craigheads. Craigheads are saying, you better watch it. You better think that you're in a position of having to manipulate probably forever to get the best, most natural park. And you can't just walk out of it and think it's going to go well and you shouldn't try to close those dumps all at once, right? Mm hmm. So let's say that coal and Anderson are our foil. But the thing about Collin Anderson and everybody else that we know, aside from some of these terrible people that walk in some place and shoot somebody for nothing or people they don't even know, most of us really think of ourselves as the good guys or the good women in our own drama. And it's important to understand people's intentions, which are many times pretty good. They don't come out well. And so when I write about people, it's much more interesting for me to remember that they really believed they were trying to do the right thing and in many people try to do the right thing. And it comes out horribly wrong. But still, it's good to see their souls as essentially they think of themselves as heroes in their own journey.
[00:40:03] You know, that's a beautiful way to put it. And I think I think that's very true in the book, because I know when I was reading. It and those guys came along, I was like, oh, these must be the bad guys, you know, but then, you know, as you read more and more about them, I mean, I mean, everybody was trying to do what they thought was right. I mean, nobody was trying to be a bad guy, you know? And I think-
[00:40:26] I mean, really, the Glenn Cole, the chief scientist, suffers in my book because I basically lay out the his thinking and then really let the reader know that it failed miserably. However, I portrayed him as a man, as a good man. He loved his family. He really loved and felt strongly about doing his work. He was just wrong. And as a you know, as an outcome of that, you know, I'm Facebook friends with his daughter and his widow. They didn't feel I was unfair to him. And so that's the way I would prefer to write about human beings I think.
[00:41:07] I love towards the end of the book, you in the Epilogue and you you sort of hearken back to some of the wise words of, I believe it's Starker Leopold. And some have kind of his lasting comments. And I I wonder if you might share after all of this research and after all this time that you spent with this story in the stories around it, what some of your takeaways, you know, those words of wisdom with regard to manipulation?
[00:41:37] Well, I think to begin with, first of all, you know, I was very much against or fearful of the idea of engineering, the atmosphere of spraying small particles of sulfur dioxide from in the upper atmosphere or other types of particulate matter to make clouds, which would then cut down on the amount of sun coming in and lower the temperature. And I still am. However, other things that have to do with saving species, you know, we've been given this great creation, this magnificent network or net of beings that we have to do our best to take care of and and in many cases, they require some deliberate manipulation to continue to survive during this time. And I think I started out much more of an anti interventionist than I am now. I think writing the book helped me understand that, that we will need to manipulate nature in order to save what's left of it. Yeah, and and Starkel Leopold, who's a scientist that's in the book, who's in the book, said, you know, we're probably in for this for the rest of our lives, will be trying to tweak things to make sure that they continue to exist. And we cannot walk away from our responsibility because the unintended effects are always there, if you look at us as very powerful species who have now control more of the nitrogen running through the global system, the nature itself controls mostly through obviously through nitrogen fertilizer who control the carbon cycle and so on. A lot of that isn't intentional. It's a big accident. And so to say that we know what to do to engineer the whole world, take over, let's run it is is something like saying that because you got in a car accident, you're now qualified to be a highway traffic engineer and it's just not true.
[00:43:47] That's awesome. Another thing that I wanted to hit on was that the creativity we had a conversation over coffee the other day and you said creativity is a great miracle. And I just I wrote that down because it's just a beautiful way to to capture a thought or a sentiment. And I know that as a nonfiction writer with what we've been spending a lot of time talking about, the endless the copious amounts of research that you do. But you also said in today's talk how you view your work as an art. And so I wondered if we might just talk about that balance of the miracle of creativity, the artistic process and nonfiction writing as an art form and how that resonates with you?
[00:44:38] Well, you know, I think we've all heard this story about how little of the brain that we actually use in a lifetime. And so part of my general belief system is to try to keep using it as much as possible and see if you can. It's almost like going to the gym. And, you know, we all have some boring work to do or some work that we do by rote. But when we do, we stretch out a little bit and do things that we're not sure we can do when we reach for something that we're not sure we can make. That's where the magic is. And for me. You know, I've been writing for a pretty long time now, I turn out a small amount of high quality stuff and, you know, every day when I get up in the morning, I get my coffee and all I want to do is go to work.
[00:45:34] Oh, that's great.
[00:45:34] Those mornings writing are very special for me, and I feel very lucky to have something like that in my life. Does that answer your question?
[00:45:42] Yeah. I mean, it it just kind of shows your motivation and your inspiration and how that and the creativity, you know, strikes you and resonates.
[00:45:54] And creativity isn't just in the arts.
[00:45:57] In fact, if you look at what great scientists have done. Great engineers, you know. You know, if an engineer is looking at a at a new project, doing something that, you know, hasn't quite been done before, she's working in a creative field. So, you know, I think the creativity is the spark of life. It's just, for me, a joy to work in a field where I get to try to do something and I'm not sure I can do. And in my case, what I'm doing is, as I see it is storytelling. Now, that doesn't mean storytelling is making things up, but how you tell a story matters. And the thing that I realized now is and always have as a writer is that everybody's got a little thing in their pocket that they can play games on. They can look at the headlines. They can, you know, check their Instagram. They've all got something they could do other than read one of my books or listen to me. Therefore, I don't assume that I have people's permission to board them. And it's very important to me to give the reader a good experience to, you know, to and the way that cultures have inculcated their values really throughout millennia, largely stories write these great epics, both the religious books, you know, the Gilgamesh epic, the Ramayana. All these things are stories about heroes. And we learn what the with the values of heroes are, what their weaknesses are, and it tells us how to be human beings.
[00:47:44] You've mentioned you've been asked this and this sort of lead leads to where we just were, which is who has influenced you and who inspires you. And and I know you've answered that question before, but I guess the spin I'd like to take on it is who inspires you right now? You know, where do you find your inspiration in the moment? It could be writing inspiration, but it also could just be, you know, where do you find that that spark getting lit these days?
[00:48:20] In the names for things, hmm, you know, when we went for that walk in the snow the other day, one of the students was showing me the local grasses. And, you know, that was wonderful for me. Because grasses are kind of difficult, they all look the same, you know, to a layperson and and I notice that I'm still I'm a terrible naturalist, you know, but I'm still learning little things about the birds that come to to where I live. And when they come in language, my language inspires me. And also it inspires me to work with smart people doing fun stuff like APEX, this has been a real joy to work with the people at Southern Utah University.
[00:49:14] Well, thank you, but that's a beautiful thing that you said and invites us to pay attention, you know, pay attention to the words around us, pay attention to the the the details around us. Pay attention to the world around us. That's a beautiful call. Call to arms. Beautiful challenge.
[00:49:33] I think one thing it's common for the more destructive ideas that are around us right now is they're simple, huh.
[00:49:41] And I think that one one way to know that you're in the real world is it it's complex. And always will be complex, and it has shades, it's not all black and white, it has lots of shades.
[00:49:55] And wouldn't it be beautiful if we all were looking for the complexity, rather looking for?
[00:50:00] All you have to do is look at the natural world. And what you ought to be seeing if you if you can learn a little bit about it is a lot of complexity and nothing simple. There are no simple solutions to anything. And people are shopping around really simple, dangerous ideas right now. And we should look for ideas that understand and can tolerate complexity and the shades of things.
[00:50:26] I love that.
[00:50:27] Thank you.
[00:50:28] You're welcome.
[00:50:28] Well, I have two last simple, fun, playful questions for you. Oh, so my first question is kind of a fun little interview question. It's about a bar fight. So the question is, if you met the you from ten years ago in a bar fight, who would win that bar fight? And you could take it any way you want. People sometimes ask, do you mean physically, emotionally?
[00:50:59] Yeah, well, I'm one of those lucky people that never got in a bar fight. However, I was in a street fight outside a bar. And I think, you know, I think to me ten years ago, because I think as time went on, I've become even more interested in avoiding those things than I you know, than I am. Then I just don't see a value in, you know, even being the person who successfully delivers a bare knuckle punch. Your hand is likely to get badly cut up and infected with the you know, the mouth is one of the the worst places in terms of bacteria on the human body. You're going to wind up on intravenous antibiotics. So, OK, boy, bar fights. That's an interesting question. Where'd you get that?
[00:51:46] I found it somewhere in it. Well, it can be taken so many different ways. I mean, you know, we've had it answered some some people say, well, there wouldn't be a bar fight. We would just talk our way out of it, you know, and some say, well, the wisdom I have now, you know, I see what you're saying. There's all different things. Some people look at it purely physically. And that's part of the fun of the question, is that you can take it however you want.
[00:52:09] You know, as a park ranger, I was supposed to stay out of those things. And the one I got into with me versus three guys outside the bar, the first thing that happened, I broke the first guy's nose and then I was mixing it up with these other guys and I didn't get badly hurt. They didn't really get hurt. And then the police showed up. And the first thing I thought is my career is over.
[00:52:32] So we really were supposed to stay out of those things.
[00:52:35] OK, well then you are good at evading it and that is good if you've only had the one.
[00:52:39] Next question, please.
[00:52:40] OK, well, the next question is just sort of a fun thing for our audience to know something else about you. And so the question is what's turning you on this week? And it can be a book or a TV show or a movie or a food or we've had everything.
[00:52:57] You know, clearly what's turning me on this week is being here.
[00:53:00] All right.
[00:53:01] And being with the students here and being with the professors and instructors here. And, you know, I just think of universities. As for all the drudgery people are going through, I think of them as among the most hopeful places that I can think of.
[00:53:16] Oh, that's nice.
[00:53:17] And I really love doing work with universities. It's my one of my favorite things.
[00:53:23] Wonderful. Thank you. Well, the pleasure's been all ours for sure. We did it. You made it through my two weird questions at the end.
[00:53:30] Oh, thank God.
[00:53:32] And amazingly, that's all the time that we have. I want to make sure to point everybody. You can find Jordan's books on his website or of course, anywhere that books are sold. Jordan Fisher Smith is the author that we have in with us today. The two books, the one we've been talking about mostly today, is Engineering Eden. But the earlier book, Nature Noir, is also fabulous. I have loved them both. So, Jordan, thank you so much for being here.
[00:53:58] And if you go to jordanfishersmith.com, there's a contact form and you can write me if you want.
[00:54:04] Oh, wonderful. Thank you. That's great. So if anybody has a question or a story to share or something-
[00:54:10] And there's more information about the books there and what the critics say about them.
[00:54:13] So all the good stuff. Yeah. Well, thank you again and thank you. Thank you for the time.
[00:54:18] Thank you.
[00:54:19] Awesome. Well, that's the APEX Hour this week. Thanks, everyone.
[00:54:26] Thanks so much for listening to the APEX Hour here on KSUU Thunder 91.1. You can find us again next Thursday at 3 p.m. for more conversations with the visiting guests at Southern Utah University and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our events on campus. To find out more, check out suu.edu/apex. Until next week, this is Lynn Vartan saying goodbye from the APEX Hour here on Thunder 91.1.