SICK OF NATURE
Gessner, David. Sick of Nature, Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2004. 248 pp. 978-1584654643. hardcover. $18.95
DESCRIPTION: What’s inside?
This collection of seventeen essay-memoirs covers topics about father figures, reflections on being a writer, one’s relationship with nature, urban verses rural living and… Ultimate. The individual essays are broken into four sections – I. “Sick” (which contains “Ultimate Glory”), II. “Getting Personal”, III. “Back to Nature” and IV. “Howling with the Trickster”.
The author, David Gessner, is best known for his critically acclaimed book Return of the Osprey, but has written eight other titles (to date) within the Nature-Writing Genre and has had his work appear in numerous publications. He co-authors a blog called Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour and maintains his own website. He is currently retired, but played Ultimate competitively for a number of years in the 80s and mid 90s.
DISCUSSION: How is this relevant to the sport of Ultimate?
The book, in its entirety, doesn’t have much to do specifically with Ultimate, but one essay, “Ultimate Glory: A Frisbee Memoir” does reflect on the author’s experience playing competitively in college and with some of Boston’s top teams in the 80s (I’ve read a couple of the other essays, but thought that the one concerning the sport would be most important to discuss here).
I connected with the first two sentences right off, “we labor over our big decisions and big dreams, but sometimes it’s the small things that change our lives forever. What could be smaller than this: It is the first week of my freshman year of college and I, looking for a sport to play, am walking down to the boathouse for crew, resigning myself to four years of servitude as a galley slave, when I see a Frisbee flying across the street” (p. 46). I started playing Ultimate in High School, but remember falling in love with the sport in a similar way, and it, too, has become such a huge part of my life.
In the following pages, Gessner hits upon many of the typical experiences an Ultimate player encounters: the sport’s eclectic mix of “semi-athletic half-hippies”, serious jocks, pick-up jokesters, etc.; the “mysterious motivation… to give up the normal benefits of life to chase plastic”; the unbridled immersion into a sport that is more of a lifestyle choice; the confusion of parents and non-players when you mention anything to do with Ultimate; the mythic stories about the sport told between players; the struggles the sport and its players face in cleaning up the image of Ultimate; and the wonderfully close-knit community that Ultimate creates.
I truly believe that it would be hard to find an Ultimate player who wouldn’t connect with at least some of the memories Gessner recounts in this essay.
CRITICAL EVALUATION: Any complaints?
The prose itself is fine; Gessner is a decent writer. The essay is 22 pages in length, so it doesn’t take long to finish. However, you might find interest in some of the other essays and musings, which will add to the bed-side reading. One of my qualms, is it sort of comes to an abrupt end on the final page. I was disappointed in this, and it left me wondering what stories came about as Gessner matured as an individual and player in his final years of competitive Ultimate. I think those revelations would’ve added to the piece, and shown true growth through the sport. A lost opportunity on the part of the author.
Though, I liked learning about his accomplishments and reflections on the early days of the sport (of which I’d like to see more of from other players of the past and today), my biggest complaint has to do with some of the content — mainly the recounts of drug use. I understand that we are all flawed and when writing a sincere memoir you might not sugar coat the truth about events, but you might not need to romanticize them either. At the same time, I understand that it is a small part of the “old culture” of the sport, which can be used to show how far the game has matured into a respected sport. However, it hasn’t and will never be a part of my experience with Ultimate, so when Gessner recounted those moments, I was a little turned off. To each his (or her) own.
On a whole, I still liked the essay enough to share my thoughts on it here. If you’d like to buy a copy of Sick of Nature, you can purchase it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders or University Press New England (UPNE).
READERS ADVISORY: Keep reading!
If you do read this title and enjoy the humor and crazy antics of Ultimate, I would suggest checking out Ultimate the Greatest Sport Ever Invented by Man by Leonardo. If you would like to learn more about the earlier days of Ultimate, I’d check out the Complete Book of Frisbee by Malafronte, Frisbee by Johnson or Ultimate: the First Four Decades by Leonardo.
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