As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.
I’m in the time of life when one’s thoughts often turn to that mythical thing called “The Bucket List.” As in, checking off the top priority items before the sands run out.
Of course one way to deal with the backlog is to trim the list. As in:
>> Hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium, against the Evil Empire.
>> A torrid puppy love fling with Annette Funicello, just when we both reached legal age, and she was still wearing Mouseketeer ears. (Sigh.)
Not gonna happen. Along with some others.
But then there are the unlikely yet still possible items.
One of these latter, for me, has long been getting a certain book back into print. Not a book of mine; those can take care of themselves, or I will when I get around to it.
The Bucket List book for me is called Goatwalking. Published in 1991, it was not a bestseller, and soon went out of print. Like most books.
But I had read it, and found it compelling, from many perspectives, one being my activist history, another an introvert’s thoughtful side; and not least from under my Quaker tribal broadbrim: Friends, I felt, could use some new mind-opening reading that brought together activism and theology in ways “outside the box” of our usual keeping up with middlebrow liberal trends.
My own interest didn’t have much to do with goats; but that’s another story, and there’s much more to it.
Goatwalking is hard to summarize; it was written by a desert Quaker, Jim Corbett. Jim was part rancher, part Indian, educated in the Sonoran desert, on reservations, and at Harvard; and thought by many to be a quiet genius. He was certainly just about all “outside the box,” but he still knew a lot about boxes anyway.
Among other achievements, Jim co-founded the 1980s sanctuary movement, which spread meaningful nonviolent resistance to the Reagan administration’s habit of denying legal refuge to thousands of refugees fleeing across the southwestern U.S. border from bloody wars and insurgencies the Administration was financing and in part directing.
Corbett did this while spending much time wandering in the desert with goats, helping guide refugees, while thinking, dreaming, and following the implications of his broad studies in philosophy and religion. They took him down tracks uncharted and not yet visible to many of his colleagues who had stayed safe in the precincts of academia.
He also thought about the land, the limits of our conventional ways of life on it, and plausible but little-discussed alternatives.
There’s more; the Feds tried to put him in jail during the sanctuary struggle (they failed, and that’s yet another story). After that, he returned to the desert, and put to work his bone-deep familiarity with the rapid deterioration of the human-environment connections there and elsewhere, rethinking life in relation to Nature and beyond conventional activism.
Goatwalking was the first major statement of findings, tales and ideas. It more than fit the bill for new Quaker-flavored thinking, I felt.
But soon it was gone, except for scattered secondhand copies. Shouldn’t it be back in print? Shouldn’t Friends and others be able to grapple with Corbett’s prescient, original ideas, discuss and debate them, see how they fit into unfolding Quaker practice in these times of multiple unfolding crises?
I thought so. I met Jim a couple of times, yet we were a continent apart and like the book, he was soon gone; he died in 2001. Goatwalking‘s consignment to Publishing Oblivion seemed permanent, and hopeless.
But the revival idea stayed with me, like a chronic hangnail. I’m a Quaker after all, and hopeless causes are one of our specialties.
Then last summer, dogged by lockdown brooding over my Bucket List, I decided to find out if Jim’s wife Pat was still alive, and then . . . .
Sure enough, Pat is still kicking, down in the desert outside Tucson, where she and Jim settled, what now seems like ages ago. She wrote back that she too hoped to see Goatwalking get back in print — but there were obstacles, so far impassable.
The biggest problem, she said, was the copyright: it was jointly held by Jim and by Viking Press. To reprint it Pat had to get the rights back. She and others in Arizona had written to Viking’s address in New York City, but got no response. Stonewalled. Ignored.
Yet long story short, by early March, I managed to find Viking and got the copyright “reverted” to Pat. Or actually, a friend of mine, a lawyer named Mark Schwartz, who had offered to help out if I ever needed it, did the heavy lifting. And the key part of Mark’s work deserves note:
So “Viking” in its zombie state was stashed somewhere in the dozens of floors that Penguin Random House occupied in a Manhattan skyscraper. It took persistence and skill, but Mark Schwartz finally managed to get through to someone who actually answered their phone.
The situation was as we imagined: Goatwalking was buried in publishers’ oblivion: no one “suppressed” it, the book, like hundreds of thousands, was simply forgotten. Down the Memory Hole. But Schwartz prodded, and they woke up and after a few days’ thought, did the right thing: we finally got the rights “reverted” to Pat as Jim’s heir. We had also discovered along the way that “big” vs “small” in publishing can be elastic and bewildering terms.
Since then, a crew of Corbett fans, many Quaker or Quaker-adjacent, scattered from Arizona to Ontario, have labored diligently and coordinated by Zoom to retype, proofread and compile the manuscript, and now we’re close to done.
Besides needing to reclaim the copyright, there was also no money for a conventional reprint. But in 2021, that is not the roadblock it once was. To the dismay of some, we’ll be issuing Goatwalking via Kindle Direct Publishing (or KDP), which is part of Amazon, a company some folks love to hate. But KDP offers some big advantages for impecunious self-publishers: in particular, its fee for taking on a book is exactly $zero.
KDP makes money when they print and ship the book, which they do one copy at a time. Their print-on-demand technology has opened the doors of the publishing marketplace to thousands of small-scale authors who were previously shut out.
It’s a modern paradox: one of the biggest, least employee-friendly corporate giants is also a key enabler of a great many tiny, under-capitalized creative ventures like — our scheme to retrieve Goatwalking from the murk of Oblivion, and bring it back for Friends and others.
I wonder what Jim Corbett would think of all this; I know that Pat, who is fully informed, is on board, paradox and all. (She picked the cover design.)
If you’re interested in this project, and want to be notified when Goatwalking is ready, send your name and email address to: email@example.com (We promise we won’t sell your address to anyone.)
Our target date for this new paperback edition of Goatwalking is Labor Day, September 6, 2021, or maybe bit earlier. It will be modestly priced, and available as an e-book also.
UPDATE, August 13, 2021: the book is now available, in paperback & E-book versions. You can find it here.