The Final Word: Michael Branch
Michael Branch is an award-winning writer and a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is also a humorist, father, and environmentalist.
NM&VG: When did your love affair with Nevada begin?
MB: When I graduated from college in Virginia in 1985, I jumped in my pickup and came west for the first time. Encountering the landscapes of the Mountain West was an absolutely transformative experience. Of all the spectacular environments I encountered, none captured my imagination the way the Great Basin Desert did. Nevada shattered all my assumptions about what a landscape could be, and I vowed that I would become a permanent resident of this high desert wilderness. That dream came true in 1995, and I’ve been a high desert rat ever since.
NM&VG: Tell us about your Great Basin activism and stewardship.
MB: For me, environmental activism comes in several forms. There’s the kind of direct advocacy you might expect, which comes in the form of supporting groups like Friends of Nevada Wilderness. There’s also education. I teach a course called The Literature of Nevada, which allows students to learn more about their home landscape and to think about how they might engage it in a meaningful and sustainable way. Then there’s my writing, which I always conceive as a form of advocacy.
NM&VG: As a professor, has humor always been a part of your lessons?
MB: Definitely! Humor not only entertains students, but it helps open their minds to ideas they might otherwise resist. People who laugh together trust each other more. Humor is also a powerful tool for building community. Most importantly, humor is an agent of hope, because when we laugh at something, however painful that something might be, we have an uplifting sense that we can endure it. Laughter helps us live to fight another day, and that’s something we all need.
NM&VG: When you encounter people who don’t know Nevada, what is the first thing you tell them?
MB: That they’re about to encounter something so weird, alien, surprising, bizarre, unimaginable, fantastic, and astonishing…that unless they’re willing to let go of all their preconceptions about the Silver State, they won’t be able to really see this place at all.
NM&VG: Describe your perfect Nevada weekend.
MB: It might involve climbing in solitude to the high ridge of a desert mountain range. Sit and watch in silence as the moon rises above the serrated horizon. Or it could include crouching in the shade of a granite outcropping and watching in awe as a band of pronghorn glide across the sage-dotted land at a cool 60 mph. It certainly isn’t complete without drinking a Great Basin Ichthyosaur IPA while playing croquet on a remote playa, where the ball rolls so far that the wickets must be placed out of sight of each other, and hiking from one wicket to the next feels like traversing a distant planet.