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Monday, January 29, 2018

Trading Tree Houses for Silos

Author Hugh Howey
“In the wake of losing my beloved dog,” author Hugh Howey wrote in his New Year’s blog post, “in one of my darkest of places, I began a novel that would eventually be about the redeeming power of hope. When I sign copies of WOOL for readers, I almost always write inside, “Dare to hope."

Really? A mega bestselling apocalypse novel about life on earth reduced to a few thousand survivors living stifled existences inside a gargantuan buried silo, is about hope? Yes, it really is.

The novel propels us into a future where the earth is devoid of nature, and the only trees that grow are hot-house fruit trees living hundreds of feet below the earth. Paper is coveted. Books that tell the way life used to be are secreted away from the masses.

Yet the people of the silo climb the spiraling central staircase, as if climbing a tree from its roots to its canopied upper branches, for the rare chance to peer out the silo’s grimy windows to a barren wind-swept horizon.

The people yearn to be outdoors, where their ancestors once lived. They yearn to a part of nature. Therein lies the hope.

The back cover of Wool asks these questions:

What would you do if the world outside was deadly, and the air you breathed could kill? And you lived in a place where every birth required a death?

Wikipedia image
I read Howey's 563-page novel while also reading a back-issue of Orion Magazine, and an essay about tree houses by UK author Paul Kingsnorth. “This summer,” he writes, “I built my children a tree house.”

His essay is about much more than tree houses, of course. It is about the ecological crisis facing our home, the earth. It is about the stories that we continue to tell ourselves that are not true. It is about the intellectual ideas that we think can save the earth, when truly the only thing that will save us is to return to the relationship we once had with the earth. The relationship.

“At the core of our animal beings, something is bleeding,” Kingsnorth warns us. “If we stop and pay attention, we can feel the wound. In the wound lies the hope.”

Kingsnorth’s essay, written in the here-and-now, is not merely a doomsday warning. Read it in the midst of reading Howey’s apocalypse novel and it becomes a profound call to action.

“Human beings, Kingsnorth writes, are the universe made self-aware…. We could do worse than to return to the notion of the planet as the mother that birthed us.”

Like Howey, Paul Kingsnorth dares to hope. The world will make it and perhaps we will too, he tells us. “If we live right by our inheritance—our inner wildness and that of the world…but first we are going to have to walk through the fires we have set, and much of what we think we are, and much of what we have built, is going to have to burn away.”

How ironic, and synchronistic, that Juliette, the heroic female protagonist in Wool, must walk through fire in order to return to a home devoid of life as we now know it, but beloved nonetheless.

Hugh Howey’s dedication page in the original self-published version of WOOL reads simply: For those who dare to hope. “I think it’s the bravest thing we can do,” Howey writes in his January blog post. “2018 should be a year in which we remind ourselves of this…”

Paul Kingsnorth, Orion
I wonder if Howey and Kingsnorth have ever met. They have, it seems, much in common - nature, the earth, a shared humanity, storytelling.

"Any new religion," writes Kingsnorth, "any new way of seeing, will probably grow from the ground where we are.

"This new way of seeing [the old way], will emerge from something small that demands our attention; something we love, something animate with the spirit of life."

Something like a dog. Or a tree. Or the patch of earth outside our window. Even the wind-swept horizon. Cherish it, we must.

NOTES: Read Huffington Post article about Hugh Howey's huge climb to success and his unique publishing deal. Browse Hugh Howey's Amazon Author's Page. Read Paul Kingsworth's complete essay "The Axis and the Sycamore Tree."