Professor Char Miller’s new book, Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream, is a collection of essays that examine California’s complex and sometimes contentious relationship between nature and humans.
Inspired by his many travels across California’s varied landscapes, and with chapters like “PetroLA,” “Razed Expectations,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” among others, Miller’s essays give the reader a look into the effects that local, state and federal policies (both good and bad) have had on the natural environment, the impact of recreation on national forests, parks, wildlife and nature refuges, and current efforts to restore what California has lost or is losing.
Covering everything from water politics to wild fires riverbeds and sage and chaparral, Miller nudges the reader to look at the Golden State through a different lens, and Miller hopes, inspire readers to look at, treat and integrate with nature in ways that are beneficial to both humans and the natural environment. In “Razed Expectations,” Miller excoriates the U.S. Army of Engineers for gutting the Sepulveda Basin and the ensuing devastation left on the terrain. In “Water Fights,” he looks at the current battle the city of Claremont is waging to gain local control over water and in “Lesson Learned,” Miller looks at the politicization of wild fires and the cautionary insights gained and soon forgotten from the 2009 Station Fire that burned 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.
“I hope that people reading this start to think about our relationship to nature – and it to us. How do we protect natural habitats, animals, resources, from us?”
“The central argument of the book is that we have agency within the larger world but our actions must be consistent with systems we have to protect the natural environment. The book is an effort to give people a roadmap to act with a kind of grace.”
On field trips with students, and hikes and travels with his wife and on his own, Miller says he gets curious about why things are the way they are and looks to the past to find answers: “My writing is sparked by encounters with a particular place and time in nature that led to thinking about that space in the past.”
A prolific writer, Miller regularly publishes op-eds, blog entries and books on the West and its environmental history.
“Writing is a way of inscribing myself in the landscape and helps make the landscape comprehensible.”
Miller sees his latest book as the end to a trilogy, of sorts, of two earlier collections of essays that are framed by his own westward journey that started out in San Antonio, Texas and takes him through Arizona and ultimately to Claremont, California.
“With Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas, I am figuring out what’s going on, and On The Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest is a transitional book that takes me from San Antonio to California. Not So Golden State centers on California but looks east and raises the question about a new world, of where we’re going.”