Recently, I discovered an alternate draft of the pitch for my novel, BEYOND THESE WOODS. Considering its position between works-in-progress dating back to 2014, I assume that I put it aside when one of the calls-to-duty that occur in my working life took precedence, and the draft was misplaced for the past four years. Reading it, I experienced a return to my state of mind at that time, which now seems irretrievably distant, a time before the flare-up of human darkness that threatens to overtake us.
The fictional dysfunction at the root of the conflict in BEYOND THESE WOODS remains with us in fact. My novel is an imagining based on facts rooted in events that have occurred in our lifetimes and remain unresolved mysteries. The passions that drive social, economic, scientific, political and military forces to their breaking points in WOODS have metastasized into a plague on America's foundational principles and the institutions upon which our ancestors built what I have always considered to be a good life. Our shared aspirations and values have become practice targets for the angry and aggrieved among us who are willing to submit to the disruptive expedient, to roll the dice and only hope they haven’t participated in the torching of civilization. Perhaps they are exhausted by the demands of progress and have intentionally submitted to a louder, dominant destroyer. It’s just easier. The duties of effective citizenship are too hard.
Reading this alternative draft through, I am struck by how everything has changed in our day-to-day reality, and nothing has changed at all. We are re-learning that consciousness of a fact is not the same as knowing it. Our history is repeating like a dark tidal current.
Here is what I wrote earlier:
When men claim that the earth was made for them, beware. Human beings - and birds, fish, mammals, plants - are of and by the earth. When men bully Mother Earth, who stands up to them? The lobbyist, the sheriff, the national guard, the average citizen, the lone wolf scientist? When men savage Earth's ancient forests, who has the courage to say no?
When all of these forces conspire to brutalize again and again, should anyone be surprised when Mother Nature pushes back?
Many of the trees on the western slopes of California's oldest mountain ranges were growing peacefully before the first nation ancestors crossed the Aleutian Island chain, and more than 1,000 years before the first Europeans discovered North America. Giant Sequoia trees were masters of this corner of our planet. No other living thing could match them for size and strength. They have endured every wave of natural disaster and human exploration, settlement and exploitation. But today, something in California's Thunder Peak old-growth forest is killing everyone who comes to harm them, who thinks the Sequoia are theirs for the taking. Loggers and hunters are dying, struck dead in their tracks when they get too close. No one has a clue about what is causing these deaths among the trees' tormentors, except Lotte Keene, who knows more about nature -- including human nature -- than is healthy for her and anyone who works with her.
What this irrepressible scientist-adventurer doesn't know is that past is prelude in this environmental crisis. A mysterious environmental activist and a ruthless shadow force within America's government are dedicated to preventing her from ever learning the truth about their goals. Worse, they are unaware of their separate, yet intersecting plans. And Lotte Keene will stop at nothing to identify the cause of this pathogen. No one is safe from her fierce, unblinking and stubborn search.
With Keene on their case, no clues are safe from discovery. No enemy is safe from the ultimate antiseptic; exposure to the people of Thunder Peak Wilderness, America and the world.
This is high-tech close-quarters warfare with causes and shadowy actors that are chillingly familiar to each of us. This is high-tech combat in which the enemy within is more terrifying than any enemy beyond our borders.
This is the story of natural justice and one woman’s tenacity to solve the mystery of sudden death in the Sierras, to rescue earth’s oldest forest matriarchs, and save humankind from itself.
This is human weakness run rampant. In the wrong hands it will rewrite the laws of evolution and permanently alter life as we know it . . . beyond these woods.
I questioned whether to share unpublished writing from another time. What decided it for me was the window this experience opened into a higher truth: humans are a fascinating breed capable of exquisite achievement and beauty, yet we are simultaneously inclined to darker deeds. There are times when we as a species can't seem to control our horrifying impulses. We allow the worst among us to rise, dominate and destroy. Just as the people of Longwood, California experience the nightmare of creeping extremism in BEYOND THESE WOODS and have to confront how far they are willing to let chaos take over their lives and everything they have worked generations to achieve, we now find ourselves at a similar moment of truth in 2018 America, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, Egypt and elsewhere.
One is fiction that gives us an opportunity to live history without paying a price for the experience. The other is fact.