The World without You, Me, and Alan Weisman

Strangely enough, Alan Weisman lives in a place that is very slowly returning to nature. By "nature" we mean to say its pre-human state, although we don't mean to suggest that humans aren't part of nature. We are. Weisman lives in Massachusetts, which is covered in forest more than anytime since the American Revolution. Alan Weisman is the author of the The World Without Us, the immensely fascinating book that vividly imagines and then scientifically describes what might happen to our human paraphernalia once we're gone.



steven lee beeber: The World Without Us begins in the forest primeval, specifically the half million acres of old wood forest standing between the border of Poland and Belarus known as Bialoweiza Puszcza. What it is about this forest that made you want to start there?

alan weisman: Well, you know, I honestly am not sure what made me start there, but it turned out to be the right thing to do. And later on, analyzing my own book, I understand why. Frankly, when I came in from the field, I had so goddamn much research that I was totally overwhelmed. I had no idea how to begin this book, what to do. I mean, where do you start? There's so much to say. There's so much to talk about. And, finally, you know, sort of in a panic, I just decided, well, start anywhere and then later on worry about what order this stuff is going to go in. You know, one of the great mysteries of the creative process that makes a lot of artists believe that maybe God does exist, is that, at that point, something takes over that you swear didn't come from you. Maybe it comes from your subconscious, whatever that is, I don't know. But in my case, this book all came out in the order that you just read it in. I didn't know then why, yet, as I look back on this thing now, I can see that the structure of the book works so well. In the very beginning, I've got this little parable that I go through very quickly, this thing that sets up the question of the book, which is what would happen if we weren't here. I've got these drunken Indians in Ecuador, eating their ancestors...  

conduit: Their ancestors being in the form of monkeys, right?

alan weisman: Yes. The monkeys represent their ancestors. They're a metaphor.

conduit: I just want to clarify for our readers.

alan weisman: Right. I see. Okay then, the people of Ecuador do not actually eat their ancestors and they did not evolve directly from the primate. [Laughs]

conduit: Okay. I see. Got it. [Laughs]

alan weisman: Seriously, that short parable is there mainly to shock the reader into paying attention. After that, the main body of the book begins. And, as you have noticed, it begins in paradise. Now, what other book that you may have read in your life starts in paradise?

conduit: Ummm, the Bible?

alan weisman: Bingo. I wasn't thinking about that consciously, but after the fact, I've realized my book works very much the way the Bible works. We're in THE FOREST and there's something about it that just feels so right to us. We see these gigantic trees that are unlike anything we've grown up around, yet they don't seem exotic at all. In fact, they seem perfectly natural, almost as if something in us recognizes this is the way it's supposed to be. And it's like this odd homecoming feeling and it just connects you so much with the earth that you sort of remember who you are. And it's totally visceral. You don't sit and think about this so much as it's just this incredible feeling. But then, of course, as in the Bible, we lose paradise. And, you know, the rest of the Bible after Genesis is really about how we can work our way back to it.