Denver author leads Hike & Write outings

By James Luidl
RMC Communications Team

Richard Fleck
Dr. Richard Fleck, right, and Keet Seel at
the Arizona Navajo National Monument

Photo by John D. Sullivan

Dr. Richard F. Fleck, educator, poet, author and Sierra Club member since 1994, is inspired by the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Too many a man has lived a life, that when he comes to die, he hasn't lived his life.”  His own life reflects Thoreau’s wisdom.

Connecting to the land through the written word has been Fleck's passion since he was a U.S. Park Service Ranger naturalist and professor of creative writing and literature in the 1960s. He continues his passion for writing and nature on the Front Range with his Hike & Write outing series for Sierra Club.

Fleck’s first book, Palms, Peaks and Prairie, was published in 1967 while working as an English professor at the University of Wyoming. Other notable publications include A Colorado River Reader, Breaking Through the Clouds and Henry Thoreau and John Muir Among the Indians. His latest book, Desert Rims to Mountain Highs, was released last year. He's lived in Denver with his wife Maura since 1990.

His idea of Hike & Write developed during a three-year stint as a park ranger naturalist in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“I would take my students on hikes into the prairie or the Snowy Range and we would write poetry about the environment,” Fleck says. “Once we visited a gold mining camp. I had everyone walk around the place and had them compose a story, either humorous or straight forward about the day to day lives of the miners. They would have to bring it in and read it to the class.”

This experience eventually developed into the Hike & Write outings Fleck conducts for the Rocky Mountain Chapter today. Fleck hopes his outings will help people connect with the land and writing.

“We hike for about an hour-and-a-half. I'll point out certain plants and birds of interest along the way. Then we sit down and I have everyone write a haiku—a 17-syllable Japanese poetry form, about our experience,” he explains, adding that when “you only have 17 syllables to get your point across, it forces you to get to the essence of your feelings in as few words as possible. It's a telegraphic message to their memories, which could be a springboard for a longer essay.”

Ipads, Ipods and 5Gs

He is concerned that modern conveniences—Ipads, Ipods, 5Gs, etc.—make people more reliant on tecehnology. “If my grandkids don't have the latest smart phone, they feel left out,” he notes. “It creates a lazy mind. Getting people out into nature is a way to stimulate writing.”

Fleck thinks this could be a problem for teenagers and younger children, “Back in the ‘60s when we would drive on I-80 through Nebraska, our kids didn't have TV screens that flipped down from the ceiling. They had to observe what was going by. They may not have written them down, but they did express them,” he points out.

Fleck says his daughter, observing cottonwoods swaying in the wind, told her parents the trees were talking. “She thought the leaves on the trees looked like tongues and were speaking to her,” he remembers.

Most parents driving through Nebraska today, Fleck doubts, would say, “The heck with I-80, let's drive down to Red Cloud and see where Willa Cather lives. Most modern kids would be bored to tears.”

Fleck also sees a disconnect from the land at the University level. “I think the average undergraduate today demands the class they're taking will enhance and increase their financial earnings,” he states. “I was teaching a course in humanities for engineers at the University of Wyoming, when a student asked me... ‘Why on earth as an engineer should I sit down and read Nathaniel Hawthorne? I could be in my reinforced concrete lab doing something constructive.’” 

The emphasis on turning universities into technological training centers is not fostering that connection to the land, Fleck believes. “Instead, now, it's about how much oil can we get out of it.”

But some early students eventually turned into authors. “More importantly, it adds a rich dimension to our lives, rather than just going through life trying to earn money to pay the mortgage,” he states.

Fleck hopes to restart the Hike & Write series in the Denver Metro area in May, “when the flowers pop up and the birds return.” He hopes he can help people re-connect with the land and maybe inspire a few writers along the way.

A schedule of Dr. Fleck's Hike & Writes will be available through the outings calendars of the Denver Metro Network or the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. You can also sign up to join a Hike & Write through Meetup. Fleck will speak at the Denver Metro Network's monthly Meet & Greet at Tavern Uptown, 538 East 17th Street, Denver, on April 16 at 6 p.m.

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