The Work

My work chronologically: (1) A West That Works; (2) The Age of Consequences

 

It begins in the the American West, my homeland, where I spent my formative years hiking its trails, driving its freeways, exploring its ruins, climbing its peaks, and defending its wide open spaces. I’ve studied its history, read its authors, photographed its vistas, and worked to heal its wounds. The anguished questions came early: Why was the desert being destroyed for development? Why were public lands managed so poorly? Where was the fine line between nature and culture? Was there no limit to our appetite for growth?

 

With the founding of the Quivira Coalition in 1997 I became an active participant in western issues, not just an observer. The questions expanded proportionally: What is land for? Why didn’t ranchers and environmentalists get along? How could we stop the blame game and create a radical center instead? How do we reach across the urban-rural divide? Why weren’t working landscapes valued more? How do we heal damaged land along with damaged relationships? Where could we implement innovative practices? My answers to these questions are grouped as A WEST THAT WORKS

 

In response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005, my work and my questions expanded again: How do we increase resilience in our land and communities? How can we strengthen local and grassfed food systems? What does adaptation mean under climate change? How can we best sequester carbon in soils? What other nature-based solutions exist that can address our compounding challenges? How do we scale up regenerative agriculture? How do we foster the next generation of agrarians? My attempts to answer these questions forms the second half of my work THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES

 

The American conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote that the “greatest task in human history is how to live on a patch of land without ruining it.” Author and farmer Wendell Berry expressed this sentiment as an anguished question: “How should we live? How, in short, ought we to use the world?”

 

I’ve dedicated my life to answering their questions and one of my own: what can I do? My creative responses over the years crossed formats as I pursued hopeful answers. I wasn’t following a prepared path – none existed. My exploration continues to this day.

A WEST THAT WORKS

 

1988 – 2005

 

1

In the Land of the Delight-Makers: An Archaeological Survey in the American West

 

A Documentary Photography Book (with text)                  1988-89                        (University of Utah Press 1991)

 

Question: How do we get beyond worn-out stereotypes when depicting the modern American West?

 

I suspected there were more archaeologists than cowboys at work in the region and I wanted this book to poke at the stubborn persistence of icons. The cover image was taken on survey in Capulin Canyon in Bandelier National Monument, northern New Mexico. It is included in the Indelible West (see next). I think of this book as a ‘double click’ on the image.

 

“During the summers of 1988 and 1989, I had the opportunity to work with the National Park Service’s Bandelier National Monument Archaeological Survey as a photographer. Initially, I went into the field with the simple goal of capturing the spirit of the survey for the Park Service … I created this book with three goals in mind: first, to introduce a long-neglected aspect of archaeological fieldwork to the reading public; second, to contribute to the education of the archaeological enthusiast; and third, to place archaeologists in the larger context of the modern American West …” – from the Introduction

 

THIS BOOK IS NO LONGER IN PRINT – Download the PDF

2

The Indelible West: Photographs 1988-1998 / Foreword by Wallace Stegner

 

A Fine Art Photography Book (black-and-white)      mostly shot in 1990           (published as an online book 2012)

 

Questions: Why wasn’t the vibrant and diverse American West that I knew and saw getting more exposure? What did the frontier look like today and was it still influencing our national character?

 

This project was born on a summer day in 1988 while visiting my parents in Phoenix, Arizona. Driving down a street, I was struck by a thought: in less than two years the American West will mark the centennial of the closing of its famous frontier. Photographing the modern frontier as a way of celebrating this landmark event would be an interesting project.

 

“The West as a place and a process created indelible impacts on our nation and continue to change us to this day, and will never stop doing so. The frontier is very much alive. That’s because the meeting-line between nature and culture, visible on the land and in its people, is constantly evolving and renewing itself. The photographs in this book are a snapshot of one moment in the frontier’s evolution, the intersection of a time and place now gone.” – from my Introduction

 

“What we have in Courtney White’s book is a recording of one passing phase of that frontier. And what a pleasure it is to see the real Wests captured in their flow! What a reassurance it is to see the Wests recorded in their living reality, instead of getting another view of someone being cut off at the pass in the Alabama Hills of the Kanab Desert, shooting wildly with both hands from guns that never need re-loading.” – Wallace Stegner from his Foreword (1992)

View the PDF of Stegner’s Foreword Here

 

 

3

Knowing Pecos: a Small History of a Big Place

 

A History Book                      1992-1995                    (Dog Ear Press 2013)

 

Questions: What makes a place special? Geography? Natural resources? Beauty? What makes it endure in our imagination and our hearts?

 

For three seasons I worked as a documentary archaeologist at Pecos National Historical Park, located near Santa Fe. I kept a journal with the goal of writing a book about the tribulations of the national park idea in the modern world, a hot topic at the time. In the end, I wrote an admiring history of the park instead – and by extension a portrait of northern New Mexico, my new home.

 

“No other national park unit in the nation can tell the story of human history in North America as Pecos can; and no other park can do so with the aid of such an attractive landscape… Everywhere I went in the park, I ran into beauty and intrigue. Better yet, nearly every enchantment concealed a secret: the foundations of an abandoned home in a pasture, the remains of an old mill in a grove of river trees…We often joked that the whole park was one big archaeological site, and we were not far wrong. Beauty and history are interwoven at Pecos and their inseparability made every day an adventure…” – from my Introduction

 

4

Adobe Typology and Site Chronology: a Case Study From Pecos National Historical Park

 

A Peer-reviewed Archaeological Research Paper        1996       (Kiva vol. 61, no. 4)

 

Question: Why were adobe bricks overlooked as a source of archaeological information about historic structures?

 

During my documentary work at Pecos, I noticed differences in the colors and shapes of the form-molded adobe bricks used in the Spanish colonial-era buildings. Working with Jake Ivey, a historian with the National Park Service, we embarked on a research project that eventually correlated multiple adobe and mortar types to the documented history of the 18th-century church and convento, solving some stubborn riddles about its construction sequence. I subsequently wrote up our findings and submitted them to Kiva, the Journal of Southwestern Anthropology and History.

 

“The correlation between the typology and the mission’s documented history was buttressed by botanical and geochemical analyses of adobe soils. It is likely that this method of research can be applied to other historic, and possibly prehistoric, sites with equally beneficial results.” – from the Abstract

 

View the PDF Here

5

Canyonlands

 

A Two-Act Play               (1995-1999)             unpublished

 

Questions: Why are westerners so rootless? Why can’t we live side-by-side?

 

This play explores the conflict between ‘boomers’ and ‘stickers’ in the West at the start of the 21st century. It is set in a bicycle shop in a small town in southeastern Utah during one summer. The shop’s presence has caused conflict between its owner, Joshua Rose, who recently arrived with his family from Los Angeles, and the last remaining farmer within town limits, who doesn’t like the changes he sees taking place to his home. A plot twist halfway through the play turns everyone’s expectations upside down. And much like the town he has invaded, Joshua will never be the same again.

 

“This place has become so diverse nobody gets along anymore.” – newspaper quote by a resident of Boulder, Utah.

 

View Synopsis and Opening excerpt PDF

6

Grassroots: The Rise of the Radical Center

 

Three Columns: The Uneasy Chair (1995-97); The Far Horizon (1997-2006); and The Next West (2009-2011)      (Dog Ear Press 2016)

 

Questions: Why did popular environmental laws come under assault by Congress and what did it say about the state of conservation movement? What do environmentalists want? Why can’t we work together with rural residents in the radical center toward common goals? What happened to the so-called ‘New West’? Why was it a bust?

 

This book combines three columns that I wrote over sixteen years – the first for the newsletter of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club; the second for the Quivira Coalition; and the last one for my web site. The first two columns chronicle the rise of the collaborative conservation in the Southwest from the on-the-ground perspective of one of the movement’s leaders; the third column explores the broken promise so-called New West.

 

As we discovered, there is a ‘third way’ beyond polarization. We called it the radical center and defined it as: a grassroots coming together of diverse people to discuss their common interests rather than argue their differences and who agree to work cooperatively on a pragmatic program of action that improves the well-being of all living things.

 

“In the American West during the 1990s the daily news featured political gridlock, anti-government anger, Us vs. Them factionalism, political assaults on environmental regulations, local demands to turn over federal land to the states, ‘patriotic’ armed militia groups, courtroom brawls between urban and rural residents over endangered species, and a bunch of finger-pointing and trash-talking generally. Sounds like the headlines in 2016!…If problems are cyclical so are solutions.” – from my Preface.

 

 

7

The Quivira Coalition

 

A Nonprofit Organization           Cofounder and Director                 (1997-2015)

 

Questions: How can we share common-sense solutions to the rangeland conflict? Is it possible to build resilience by fostering ecological, economic and social health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration and progressive public and private land stewardship? Can we help energize the radical center in the Southwest? Can we implement social change? Can find solutions to global problems and encourage them to be adopted at scale that matter?

 

Two important quotes that shaped my decision to start Quivira: “Out beyond the ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi …”You cannot save the land apart from the people. To save either you must save both.” – Wendell Berry

 

I cofounded the grassroots Quivira Coalition with rancher Jim Winder and conservationist Barbara Johnson with the goal of building a radical center among ranchers, conservationists, federal land managers, scientists and others around practices that improve economic and ecological resilience in working landscapes. Successful major projects included: an Annual Conference; a ranch apprenticeship program; a long-running riparian restoration on behalf of the Rio Grande Cutthroat trout; a capacity-building collaboration with the Ojo Encino Chapter of the Navajo Nation; a journal; and the promotion of the idea of a carbon ranch.

 

During my tenure as Executive Director (1998-2012), at least one million acres of rangeland, thirty linear miles of riparian drainages and 15,000 people directly benefited from the Quivira’s collaborative efforts. From 2006-2010 we managed the innovative Valle Grande Grassbank, located on Forest Service land near Santa Fe, eventually becoming producers of grassfed beef (and a member of the New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association!). We worked closely with Bill Zeedyk to disseminate his innovative ideas on ecological restoration. We organized over one hundred educational events on topics as diverse as drought management, riparian restoration, fixing ranch roads, reading the landscape, monitoring, water harvesting, low-stress livestock handling, and grassfed beef; published numerous newsletters, bulletins, field guides, and books.

 

A personal focus of my work at Quivira involved writing and storytelling. I learned that scientific and economic data tend to fall on the deaf ears of non-specialists if there wasn’t an inspiring narrative to go along with it. In 2002 began writing short profiles of innovative people and practices for a general audience. In 2005, Wendell Berry included my essay The Working Wilderness in his collection The Way of Ignorance, an endorsement that has led to many articles and books.

 

Quivira Newsletters, Journals, and Annual Reports, 1997-2012

 

 

8

Revolution on the Range: the Rise of a New Ranch in the American West

 

A Collection of Profiles and Essays          2002-2006           (Island Press 2008)

 

Questions: Environmentalists and ranchers share many interests so why don’t they get along? Aren’t both sides, and everyone in between, losing what we all value most – the health and diversity of the West’s wide open spaces?

 

While conventional wisdom told us compromise was impossible, a small group of ranchers and environmentalists crossed enemy lines for the sake of preserving the land they all deeply loved. And remarkable changes started to occur…Courtney White brings us the story of these peacemakers, including White himself, who began turning resentment, conflict, and suspicion into respect, cooperation, and trust. It is a powerful lesson in resolving environmental challenges, not just on the range but across the land. – Island Press

 

“As the grazing debate faded in the region and as hope began to grow alongside the wildflowers and bunch grasses, an answer to my anguished question began to reveal itself. We could get along, and in places did, especially where the dialogue started with soil, grass, and water. Peace, in other words, was possible.” – from my Prologue

 

“In a time when environmental reporting has become justifiably gloomy, this book is a refreshing breath of pragmatic optimism. White’s vision of stewardship, openness to new ideas, giving as well as taking, and flexibility will inspire anyone who loves humanity or the great outdoors.” – Publishers Weekly

 

 

THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES

2005 – present

9

Grass, Soil, Hope: a Journey through Carbon Country

 

A book.                               2010-2013                           (Chelsea Green 2014)

 

Question: Could soil carbon and regenerative agriculture save us from climate change?

 

Right now, the only possibility of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is through plant photosynthesis and related land-based carbon sequestration activities. These include a range of already proven practices: composting, no-till farming, climate-friendly livestock practices, conserving natural habitat, restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands, increasing biodiversity, and producing local food. Grass, Soil, Hope takes readers on an entertaining journey on how all these practical strategies can be bundled together into an economic and ecological whole.

 

“Hope in a book about the environmental challenges we face in the 21st century is an audacious thing to promise, so I’m pleased to report that Courtney White delivers on it. He has written a stirringly hopeful book.”

Michael Pollan, from the Foreword

 

10

The Story of Carbon

 

A blog.                                 2012-2016                              edited into a pdf (2016)

 

Question: How do you make boring carbon interesting?

 

I wrote a blog from 2012 until 2016 on carbon, an amazing element that profoundly affects every facet of our lives. My principle goal was to explore the role soil carbon plays in regenerative agriculture and its potential to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, but I quickly learned it has so many other values as well. Carbon is fundamental to life – and it’s a lot of fun too! I compiled the blog into a single document and offer it to readers in hopes you’ll come to appreciate this incredible element as much as I did.

 

11

The Age of Consequences: a Chronicle of Concern and Hope

 

A Collection of Essays.                   2002-2011              (Counterpoint Press 2015)

 

Question: Are all the polar bears going to die? How do you explain to your children what we’ve done to their planet over the past sixty years? How do we explain our inaction too?

 

 

We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent buzzing sound. White calls this moment the Age of Consequences – a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to raise anguished questions. The book is a series of essays that blend headlines with personal narrative and observation, travel, research, and hopeful answers.

 

“White strikes a refreshing tone that will resonate with readers turned off by the superior or condescending attitudes of some environmentalist writers…Throughout, he balances abstract questions and ideas with tangible life experiences…Readers will be engaged by his frank and thoughtful discussion of our modern environment.”

Kirkus Review

 

12

This Moment In Time: Photographs 2005-2015

 

A Fine Art Photography Project (color)         2005-2015            (Zenfolio 2016)

 

Questions: We are entering a critical period of time, what I came to call The Age of Consequences – what did it look like? What was normal now? Would be look back proudly? Regretfully? Nostalgically?

 

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina changed the focus of my work and made me confront the urgency of climate change. I suspected we were entering a critical period for action. Desiring to capture the mood of the times, I purchased my first digital camera began to take photographs as I traveled. My goal was to shoot images  that were “time dependent” rather than “timeless” in an attempt to interpret this important period of time.

 

The project ran until the Climate Summit in Paris in 2015, which I attended. At that point, a critical climate threshold (400 ppm) had been permanently crossed and I considered my project to be complete. I selected images based on their artistic and ethnographic qualities in documenting the decade between Katrina and Paris and collected them in a portfolio that I posted on Zenfolio in 2016.

 

13

Thinking Outside the Holocene: Paul Gauguin’s Question and Aldo Leopold’s Answer

 

A lecture.                     2012              Delivered at the Quivira Coalition’s 11th Annual Conference (2012)

 

Questions: Where are we going? What are we? Where did we come from?

 

This is a lecture I gave at the Quivira Coalition’s 11th Annual Conference, in 2012, which explored human origins, motivations, and future challenges. It is a talk provoked by Paul Gauguin’s famous painting on these topics and resolved (partially) by Aldo Leopold’s experiences and writings. I tried to express my hopeful feelings about the challenges we face during This Moment In Time.

 

14

Two Percent Solutions for the Planet: 50 Low-Cost, Low-Tech, Nature-Based Practices for Combating Hunger, Drought and Climate Change

 

A Book of Solutions.                2013-2015                 (Chelsea Green 2015)

 

Questions: What are practical, tested, shovel-ready solutions to climate change that we can implement right now?

 

This book profiles fifty innovative practices that soak up carbon dioxide in soils, reduce energy use, sustainably intensify food production, and increase water quality and quantity. Why “two percent”? It is an illustrative number meant to stimulate our imaginations. It refers to: the amount of new carbon in the soil needed to reap a wide variety of ecological and economic benefits; the percentage of the nation’s population who are farmers and ranchers; and the low financial cost needed to get this work done. Using photographs, graphics and short essays, the book is a great introduction for readers of all stripes.

 

“This book is Courtney White’s most important work. It is the best practical guide to how we can begin to address the significant, unavoidable challenges awaiting us in our not-too-distant future. It inspires us to address these challenges creatively, especially with respect to our food and agriculture future, and to do it in cooperation with nature in ways that also heal the planet.”

Frederick Kirschenmann, author of Cultivating an Ecological Conscience

 

15

THE SUN: a Mystery
(volume 1 of the Sun Ranch Saga)

 

A Mystery Novel.                         2016-2018                  (Early Hour Press 2018)

 

Question: What is land for? Can I explain it a mystery format?

 

A murdered ranch employee. A vanished suspect. A stolen rodeo horse. A black helicopter. Angry environmentalists. Menacing oil-and-gas developers. A Sasquatch hunter gone astray. A mysterious billionaire. A missing can opener…

 

Without warning, Dr. Bryce Miller, a young doctor in Boston, inherits a large, historic ranch in northern New Mexico from a wealthy uncle she barely knew. She flies out to sell The Sun to the highest bidder, but things get complicated when a body is found murdered on the ranch. Is it a warning meant for her? Meanwhile, she must choose among a colorful cast of suitors who want to turn the working cattle ranch into either: an upscale housing development with golf courses, an oil-and-gas field, a nature preserve, a casino resort, the underground home for a doomsday cult, or the plaything of a shadowy business mogul. Each is willing to pay a large sum of money – and maybe do anything – to get the ranch. Bryce has seven days to decide.

 

“I am not at all a mystery reader, but I absolutely loved The Sun and I can’t think of a better person than Courtney White to tell this tale of the New West. The Sun is a true page turner and very informative about ranching and the West whether you live in the region or hope to visit. A very engrossing read, indeed!” – Deborah Madison, author of In My Kitchen and Vegetable Literacy

 

16

The Grass Canoe: a Creative Life

 

A Rolling Autobiography                  monthly installments online              (started December 2018)

 

Question: How did I get to be a novelist at age fifty-eight? What was I thinking?

 

I’ve spent my entire life telling hopeful stories about land and people. I’d like to share a few about myself. I chose this particular title because my creative journey has been as unconventional and daunting as trying to navigate a river in a canoe made of grass. That I made it this far is something of a miracle.

 

17

Consilience

 

A time travel novel.                               set in 2016 (completed in 2019)                looking for a publisher

Question: To find answers we must look at the world with fresh eyes.

 

Daniel notices a young woman behaving oddly in an upscale grocery store where she marvels at the bounty of food for sale. Thinking she must be a spy for a foreign government because of the high-tech watch she wears, he strikes up a conversation with her that changes his life utterly. Jo is a spy, but not the usual kind. She is a time traveler on a one-way mission to record information desperately needed in the future, employing technology – and special powers – that don’t exist yet, as Daniel discovers.

 

Though Jo won’t divulge details, things have gone badly wrong in the future, including politically. She needs his help to complete five Tasks and as they work together, Daniel begins to see our world very differently. Meanwhile, a shadowy group known as The Chasers pursues them as Jo attempts to complete her assignments before her time runs out. Danger and urgency bring Daniel and Jo closer until they fall in­ love despite the impossibility of their situation. After a brief parting, they become inseparable.

 

The story takes Jo and Daniel to places we take for granted: a grocery store (Chapter One), a mall, a zoo, a road, a farm, a high school, a suburb, a ranch, a theater, and a national park, among others. It asks questions on the minds of many young people today: where are we going as a society? Will we have our current bounty of food forever? What happens if the climate changes for the worse? Can we relax our vigilance over democracy?

 

18

The Threshold

 

A Travel Memoir.                 2012-2015 (Prologue: 2005, Epilogue: 2019)    to be written

 

This is travel memoir focuses on the years 2012-2015 when the world crossed a critical physical threshold for the first time in human history.

 

Threshold: (1) the sill of a doorway; the entrance to a house or building; (2) the point at which a psychological or physiological effect begins to be produced; the starting point of an adventure or experience; (3) the maximum point or upper limit at which a state or condition transitions into another state, usually permanently.     – Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary