Mountlake Terrace native writes about nature, America

Growing up in Mountlake Terrace, Mark Fiege was fascinated by the world that surrounded him.

While playing golf at Ballinger Lake or exploring the woods behind his parents’ home, a seed was planted in Fiege’s imagination.

The landscape wasn’t all human shaped or pristinely wild. There were remnants of logging and agriculture that once sustained this region. Urban development sprouted the neighborhoods.

And at the golf course, the juxtaposition of manicured lawns and urban wildlife stood out to the teenager.

“I had no vocabulary, no language, no way of thinking about it,” Fiege, 53, said.

Today, the history professor at Colorado State University is more than fluent.

He’ll be returning to Snohomish County to talk about his new book, “The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States.”

Fiege is scheduled to give talks in the coming days at the Everett Public Library, Third Place Books and Town Hall in Seattle.

In the book, Fiege clearly, simply and with fascinating detail, explains how the natural world — both human and environmental — influenced nine key moments in American history: the New England witch trials; American independence, slavery, the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, the railroads, atomic bomb, civil rights and the ’70s oil crisis.

The book also is a tribute to Fiege’s late father, Gene, a World War II veteran and former Mountlake Terrace city councilman. Gene Fiege loved history, a passion that passed on to his son. (Mark Fiege’s sister, Gale Fiege, is a Herald reporter.)

Fiege also wrote “Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West.”

At first, Mark Fiege planned to write a comprehensive history, but instead decided to focus on key events that would ring familiar to almost any reader.

The result is a reframing of American moments with a strong connection to the physical world.

“It’s as if you are finally given a way to look at things you’ve known all your life,” Fiege said. “The book actually became a means for me to explore deeper questions about history and the human predicament in a way I hadn’t expected.”

There are undercurrents of philosophy, borrowed heavily from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Fiege said. And, Fiege explores the connection between the natural world and the human body.

“It’s impossible to disentangle the body from the environment in which we move,” he said.

The most obvious example of how this plays out is Fiege’s examination of Abraham Lincoln.

“I was moved by his story,” the professor said. “He in many ways is the quintessential American story.”

Lincoln’s concept of improvement, fulfilling nature’s potential to sustain human life in a democracy, struck Fiege as contemporary and inspirational.

Ultimately, it may lead to another book and an argument on how to live harmoniously, Fiege said.

“We may find a way to think about how we can provide for ourselves while also respecting the environment in which we live,” he said.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Book talks

Mark Fiege will discuss “The Republic of Nature”:

7:30 p.m. Friday, Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle. Tickets are $5 at www.brownpapertickets.com.

7 p.m. Monday, Everett Public Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave., Everett. Free.

7 p.m. June 13, Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park. Free.

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