I write about the New West and consequently read at book fairs throughout the region. I love the work. I haven't loved what I have heard from a few colleagues over the last three months. One woman writes about trails she loves. The man writes about the Western light he loves.
When asked if they believed they had a responsibility to be activists in their work, they responded: "I don't preach because I don't like to be preached at." Or, "I am not an activist, I am a writer." Or, "I am so easy-going that if somebody expressed an opposing view, I'd probably say, 'You've got a point.' "
I think back to Stephen Lyons' proposal for a moratorium on nature essays. I second his motion. And add this amendment: My friend calls at 6 a.m. to say she's got back-to-back meetings, 20 unanswered phone calls, 80 urgent e-mail messages and she's so tired she wants to lie down on the floor and die.
She's a working full-time student, one of a few dozen unpaid environmental activists who do most of the work for the other 50,000 residents of our besieged high-desert town. I tell her to fax me the phone messages so I can answer them. Later, I leave a message on her machine. "No wonder we're fried. We've got one activist for every 400 apathists."
In a media blitz of Gen X-ers and Scuppies, short for Senior Citizen Uppies, I introduce Apathists. We are legion. One can be simultaneously Activist and Apathist. In fact, as an American living in the Intermountain West, it is impossible to be purely Activist.
But it is easy to be 100 percent Apathist.
You're an Apathist if you didn't vote -- and watched your city council go up 36 votes from Green to Greed. You're an Apathist if you hike into the wilderness in boots that cost triple a month's wages for the Asian mom who made them, and you never question the economics.
An Apathist is the local college professor of environmental ethics who builds his "dream house" in full view of a peaceful trail at the edge of flammable ponderosa forest, saying it was the most environmentally sound location. It was Apathists who voted years ago to not buy the former trust land on which this dream house is sited, because it would have meant a minute raise in taxes.
You're an Apathist if you are wearing gold Earth Mother earrings, a crystal looted from its Brazilian hillside and a Kokopelli T-shirt, and you look up from your $3 cup of coffee in the corpo-caf to tell the kid who solicited you for a petition signature: "I prefer to do this work spiritually. I am always sending you people energy."
Apathy will tell you ranchers, loggers and construction workers are allegiants of destruction and keep you from getting off your butt to learn the truth. You're an Apathist if you read Range Rover ads set in the heart of burnt orange rock without longing for the return of the guillotine.
You're an Apathist if you think having another kid will put meaning into your dying marriage. In fact, you're an Apathist if you think more of anything external will put meaning into a frantic life fast-forwarding on an aching planet.
If you can ignore the fact that a developer describes himself as an "environmentalist" because he will "preserve" a wetland by putting a golf course around it, or if you can ignore those 40-year-old guys whose only health problems are beer guts who testify at road-closure hearings, "You gotta keep roads for the elderly and the handicapped!" and if you think, "Hey, humans are just an eye-blink on this little old rock spinning in space," well, you know what you are.
The way things are going, the day will come when you'll walk into a boutique in a gentrified former mining town and see a shirt that reads: Apathist, and Kind of Proud.
You can buy it and remember you once read a true story about a kid who owned a $400 snowboard and hated the rich, a kid who said at his parents' post-ski wine-and-cheese party: "The trouble with you grown-ups is you're all apathetic -- and, like, I could care less."
Mary Sojourner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo. (hcn.org). She writes and agitates in Flagstaff, Ariz.