How “To Build a Fire” inspired Parks & Recreation’s Ray Greene

single-meta-cal May 11, 2017

In conjunction with Mayor Battle’s Book Club event, we asked City of Huntsville employees to tell us their favorite books from their childhoods, or the books they enjoyed reading to their children.

By Ray Greene, Youth Services Director, Parks & Recreation and a college and pro football coach for nearly four decades, including eight years as Alabama A&M’s head coach.

Compiled by Mark McCarter.

Jack London’s, “To Build a Fire” wasmy favorite book  It is an exciting story that kept me enthralled wondering if the “man” was going to make it through his troubles to get to his “boys” to find gold and riches.

I did not read it again until I was in college. We were studying Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” and his theory that environments alter the behavior of organisms and force them to adapt. Herbert Spenser applied Darwin’s theory to the human environment. The result was Social Darwinism, one of the dominant philosophies of the late 19th Century. In effect, Spencer, a Naturalist, saw evolution as proof that the world was deterministic and that man did not have free will.

It was at this point that I disagreed and took a different view. It is true that the “man” had no control over nature; however, he did not take the responsibility to prepare himself for his journey. Therefore, he suffered the consequence of not heeding sound advice from someone wiser (the Old Man) and did not prepare adequately for adversity. Additionally, he did not take the responsibility of navigating his surroundings. That eventually caused him to freeze to death.

“To Build a Fire” was significant in developing my philosophy of coaching. In building a program, one has to go through a process of determining how to get from point A to B, etc. I believe man, not his environment, determines what is needed to be successful, how long it will take and the tools needed to achieve it. He listens to those more experienced (like the Old Man), plans for contingencies and has a backup plan based on all he knows about others in his environment.

Failure to navigate his environment results in developing a faulty process. The “man’s” dog survives because his inbred instinct leads him to do what is necessary to survive. Some men are born with this instinct and are natural leaders; most are not!

I have read the book many times and use it as a personal guide in the process of day-to-day living

READ: City employees reveal their favorite childhood books