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‘Dragons’ a must for mountain living

KIMBERLY NICOLETTIsummit daily news
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The title of George Sibley’s latest book, “Dragons in Paradise: On the Edge Between Civilization and Sanity,” points both to the storytelling nature and the depth of Sibley’s essays.He chose the title because he laments the loss of places in wilderness where maps used to say “There Be Dragons” in these untrammeled regions.Sibley helped define the voice of Mountain Gazette with his essays in all three of its incarnations, which began in 1966 and re-emerged in 2000. He writes about mountain life in a genuine, observational voice and a style that meanders like a Southern gentleman taking a stroll and commenting on interesting details along the way.

While some mountain writers assume an aggressive, hard or judgmental approach in asserting their perspective, Sibley prefers the humble, profound and lyrical approach. Indeed, he possesses a poet’s heart, which makes his book not only a must-read, but also a must-own. It’s one readers can turn to again and again to discover hidden layers and heartfelt wisdom about why living in the mountains isn’t a choice but a necessity for many of us.Sibley’s essays would make any true mountain lover self-consciously chuckle with his observation that all transplants want to slow growth in their mountain town and keep it The Way It Was When I Got Here – as soon as they build their house. He talks about the absurdity of striving for a simplistic life when ultimately life is complex, and it’s simply childish to wish it otherwise. He recalls ski patrol work in Crested Butte before snowcats, when patrollers shaved moguls down by shovel, and some days abandoned their work in favor of playing. He explains how he and a group of artists started festivals and theater productions to ignite the rich creative sparks in the community, not to import a “quality” experience into the mountains for imported audiences accustomed to urban caliber. And, of course, he understands that snow days are as sacred as Sundays used to be, and true hiking doesn’t involve reaching the summit.

At times, his words provide pause and larger perspective, such as these lines from a poem: “This tall quiet place/was the library when all/the books were still trees.” In essays, his long and rhythmic sentence structure serves to slow and deepen the reader’s experience. But most of all, Sibley speaks to the heart of mountain life – the sacred in everyday life. He recalls an aspen grove that seemed to summon him, but when he presumptuously sat down in the middle of it, it shut up, and he learned to respect mystery by remaining on the edge rather than trying to take it all in.He spends about a month working on each essay, distilling his ideas to their essence and presenting his thoughts in the most simple and grounded way possible while still meandering through meaningful nooks and crannies.

“My appreciation for the complexities (in ideas) grows,” he said in a phone interview. “You start seeing aspects of things (unseen). No idea comes out full fledged. If it does, it probably wasn’t much of an idea.””George is driven by the desire to understand the world, to explain that world to people who may be interested, and to improve the world in light of that understanding,” wrote Ed Marston, publisher emeritus of The High Country News in the book’s introduction. Marston calls Sibley an idealist who presents his collection of essays about, and perhaps for, our collective salvation.Salvation implies a rescue of the soul, and Sibley’s words can touch readers’ hearts so deeply as to remind them of their true place in this world, and in these mountains we call home.


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