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Colleen O’Neil
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The healing power of words and wilderness

Nature writer Gary Ferguson will lead a writing workshop this weekend at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. Also included will be a reading of his book "The Carry Home" and a class on the nature of grief.

This weekend, Aspen Words presents a writing workshop that melds the craft of writing with the transformative and often therapeutic power of nature.

Wilderness author and teacher Gary Ferguson is coming to Carbondale for an evening reading and a one-day writing workshop. Ferguson's latest book, "The Carry Home" (2014), chronicles his journey to five remote, wild locations to scatter his wife's ashes following her death in a tragic canoeing accident in northern Ontario.

Ferguson will read and discuss the book at the Third Street Center in Carbondale at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, and will teach a workshop for writers of all levels and genres the following day. The events are held in partnership with Carbondale's Wilderness Workshop, a nonprofit devoted to protecting public lands.

Gary Ferguson's writing draws from his personal experiences in the wilderness. He trekked 500 miles through Yellowstone to write "Walking Down the Wild" and spent a season in the field at a wilderness therapy program for "Shouting at the Sky." He trekked 250 miles on foot for "Hawk's Rest" and covered the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park for "The Yellowstone Wolves." In "The Carry Home," a deeply personal memoir, Ferguson weaves his own healing process into a celebration of the American wilderness.

"Besides my community," said Ferguson, "what really helped me get through that dark time were things I'd come to know from having spent 30 years in wilderness." 

He will sign copies of his book following the lecture and reading on the 18th.

The following day, Ferguson will teach a workshop exploring, through the craft of writing, the things that challenge or inspire writers. He will guide and push participants to move beyond the confessional diary. Instead he will help them reach for words that have the power to connect with and transform others.

The workshop is generative, so the writing will be done there, using prompts and exercises that help people write.

"I read 'The Carry Home' a year ago," said Aspen Words director Maurice LaMee. "I was so deeply moved by it, because of the way he clearly has a deep, abiding affection for the land and the wilderness. And I think many people in this area share that affection for the natural world."

A veteran writing instructor, Gary Ferguson has taught at Aspen Summer Words, and was a Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and the University of Iowa. He is currently a member of the National Geographic Lecture Series and is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. The workshop will be co-facilitated by social and cultural psychologist Mary Clare, PhD.

To conclude their visit to the valley, Ferguson and Clare will host a separate workshop on transitioning through grief at the Council on Arts & Humanities LaunchPad on Sunday, Sept. 20. Clare and Ferguson describe the workshop as a mix of powerful therapeutic prompts and storytelling, all directed at using the inner wisdom we already possess.  

"Whether from lives of bold adventure, from illness, or even from suicide, we all know that, over a lifetime loss is inevitable," Clare said. "Still, in this valley you're uniquely situated in the beauty and strength of the land. Land that can be such a healing companion as you move through times of difficult change." 

To schedule an interview with Gary Ferguson or to request a review copy of "The Carry Home," contact Mary Bisbee-Beek at mbisbee.beek@gmail.com.