Protecting Thacker Pass
An interview with Will Falk
The forces in our lives are constantly colliding—sometimes in ways that work out well and sometimes in ways that don’t. This interview series is an exploration of what it can look like to work with the collisions, rather than against them. By digging into how humans and nature interact– from our relationships with other humans, to those with our non-human neighbors, to our relationship with ourselves to our relationship with the landbase–we can uncover how to best step fully into our role in the story of the world.
Ordinary Collisions: Intersections of Nature & Culture is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I first became acquainted with Wild Falk’s work when he joined the Homebound Publications author community with the publication of his book How Dams Fall—which is part of the Little Bound Books Essay Series.1 I’ve enjoyed learning about how activism and his legal work join together and how all of it is underlaid by a deep love of the natural world. It’s clear that a commitment to ensuring wildness has a voice is central to his vocation.
So, folks, as the Ordinary Collisions interview series continues, it’s my pleasure to introduce you Will Falk.
Will is an activist, attorney, and author. The natural world speaks, and his work is how he listens. He is the author of How Dams Fall, a short work of creative nonfiction about his relationship with the Colorado River. His first collection of poetry When I Set the Sweetgrass Down is forthcoming from Homebound Publications’ Wayfarer Books.
Heidi: Will, Thanks for being here with us today. To start, I always ask the same question: What are two forces that are colliding in your life right now (or that have in the not too distant past)?
Will: For the past two years, I’ve been fighting a campaign to stop a massive open pit lithium mine from destroying a beautiful mountain pass in northern Nevada named Thacker Pass in English and Peehee mu’huh in Paiute. This campaign is causing multiple forces in my life to collide right now. These forces include a so-called green energy movement’s misguided belief that we can save the planet by destroying more of it; an American legal system that is built to ensure nothing truly threatens corporate power to extract and exploit the land; the land’s fierce desire to live; Paiute peoples’ desire to honor their massacred ancestors in Peehee mu’huh; and the capitalists’ tendency to co-opt any social or environmental justice movement and turn those movements into more profit.
However, the collision I’ll focus on here is the collision between my commitment to protecting Thacker Pass and my limitations as one person to ensure Thacker Pass is truly protected. The collision produces truth: I cannot protect Thacker Pass alone. But, I can do everything in my power to help more and more people fall in love with Thacker Pass in the hopes that they might join me in committing to protect Thacker Pass.
Heidi: Wow. There is a lot there to unpack. I feels important to me to acknowledge how doing something like protecting a pass must be done in community, yet the only thing you can control is what you, yourself, put energy into. That takes a lot of love for the cause. How are you navigating the conditions this collision is creating? How does the dissonance created impact your choices?
Will: I am not navigating this collision. Instead, I’m letting the collision be. It is simply true that I cannot protect Thacker Pass alone. But, it is also true that there are many things I can do to build opposition to the Thacker Pass lithium mine so that I am not fighting alone.
If there is a dissonance created by this collision, it is overcome by recognizing that the dissonance is, in many ways, illusory. The illusion is revealed when I remember that I’m not fighting to protect Thacker Pass because I think I will win, I fight to protect Thacker Pass because I believe you must fight to protect your beloved whether or not you will actually succeed. I fight because I’m in love and not because I know I will win.
Heidi: What you’ve said here reminds me of something poet Andrea Gibson says, when they write, “Even when the truth isn’t hopeful, the telling of it is.” As is focusing on what you CAN do, and putting that energy into building that community that’s so essential, as well as simply embodying the love that is at the foundation of the work.
What has this collision taught you about yourself? The world?
Will: I think this lesson about fighting for your beloved whether or not there is hope that you will win can be applied to the whole world. Thacker Pass can serve as a microcosm for the whole planet. While we’ve been mostly successful in delaying construction in Thacker Pass so far, the destruction of life on Earth has only been intensifying for centuries. So many people either believe it’s not possible to destroy the planet or they believe it’s not possible to stop the destruction. But, in so many ways, neither of these possibilities is the point. The point is: The planet, the source of all life, our beloved is under constant and intensifying attack. We should fight back because we’re in love. We should not make our fight contingent on the possibility of success.
Heidi: Now I’m reminded of the concept of active hope, as Joanna Macy describes it. Macy writes, “Active hope doesn’t require our optimism, and we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention; we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.”
Next I’d like to hear about a collision you explore in your forthcoming poetry collection. What’s going on in When I Set the Sweetgrass Down?
Will: In When I Set the Sweetgrass Down, I explore the collision between what has been called “human supremacy” or “anthropocentricism” and “biophilia” or “biocentricism.” Simply put, anthropocentrists see the natural world as valuable only or primarily for what the natural world offers humans. Biophilia, on the other hand, recognizes that humans are only one part of the grand tapestry of life on Earth. Biophilics prioritize the needs of the natural world over the needs of some humans or even all of humanity. When I ask what the forest outside my window needs, the answer is rarely poetry or prayers. The answer is a healthy water cycle, clean air and soil, and a stable climate. These needs are not met by processes within human hearts and minds – they are met in the real, physical world.
The title poem illustrates what I mean. In the poem, I begin burning some sweetgrass that some Paiute friends I’m working with on the Thacker Pass campaign gave me. I realized that praying with this sweetgrass is likely both culturally appropriative and also not part of my own European traditions. At the same time, it’s likely impossible to actually recover those European traditions thousands of miles from the land that birthed those traditions. So, I found myself asking a mother bear how I should pray. Her answer was that maybe prayer is not what’s actually needed, but action and work are. So, I decided instead of creating prayers in my mind, I’d let my labor be my prayer. And, in the end, I don’t believe spiritual fulfillment is actually possible or even desirable when the source of that spirituality – the natural world – is being destroyed.
Heidi: I appreciate the commitment to “let my labor be my prayer.” May we all find the labor that is ours, and that which will add to the healing of the world. I’m looking forward to spending some time with this collection when it comes out very much. Thank you, Will, for sharing with us today.
Have a collision you’d like to explore in this space? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My book What Comes Next is also part of the Little Bound Books Essay Series.