Monday, August 26, 2013

the june bug on my porch

While lively green moths
and papery powder-white ones
flutter around the lightbulb in a kind of midsummer orgy,
the june bug walks the porch floor alone,
stopping now and again to wave its front legs in the air
and lift its head as if sniffing. It walks blindly, alone,
following a bearing neither of us can see;
body heavy and lumbering, a bug
that crashes into window screens and thuds off walls,
clumsy and endearing.
Resolutely it plods along the cement floor, blind
to the daddy long legs that now strides across its path,
blind to the crane flies in the air,
to the spiders behind the door,
the earwig in the cushions –
blind to me, writing about insects on my porch
as my own neighbor walks by on the sidewalk
and the purple evening fades to dark.

the fastest woman in the West

Last week the media jumped all over the story of a 30-year-old vegan hiker who broke the speed record for the Pacific Crest Trail. Dude deserves credit for sure, but it's important to note that he had help from Whole Foods, and his record was for a supported hike. Far more impressive was a lone female hiker who arrived at the end of the 2,650-mile trail at midnight the night before, exhausted and alone. Heather Anderson, a 32-year-old hiker, has been kinda ignored by the press, but earlier this month she became the fastest woman to ever hike the PCT and the fastest self-supported hiker of any gender, shattering the previous record by four days. This girl -- who was overweight in high school and didn't get outside til she was 20 -- hiked an average of 44 miles a day for SIXTY STRAIGHT DAYS. No matter what you think about speed-hiking, that deserves some recognition.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In praise of inefficiency.

Tonight I lay in bed reading The Monkey Wrench Gang, wanting just to escape into a story, to forget for a moment about the craft of writing and editing and pitching stories that consumes my days. But once you've entered that world it's impossible to close the door and leave it behind.

I remember hating my high school English teacher for forcing me to think about structure and dialogue and other writers' tools that until then I'd taken for granted. But once I began to notice those things, they were impossible to ignore. No longer could I open the covers of a book and simply lose myself. Rather than diminish the pleasures of reading, though, my reluctant literary education made me appreciate a well-written story even more, in the same way that a well-educated oenophile better appreciates a quality bottle of wine.

So here I am, three beers into forgetting a day rife with sentences and structure, thinking I could snuggle into some pajamas, slide under the covers and enjoy some Edward Abbey. I got two pages in when when I read a passage: "Hayduke reflected. That was true. There was truth in that statement," and the subconscious editor in me flared up. Or rather, the writer who lives in fear of the subconscious editor. Most editors I've worked with wouldn't think twice about cutting the second sentence. Superfluous! Repetitive! The sirens go off. The words slashed. Good writing is all about efficiency. Clarity and brevity are the name of the game.

The books I read say that writers who break the rules are allowed do so only after they've mastered them. Maybe by the time Edward Abbey wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang he'd already reached that point. Maybe Dave Eggers and Hunter S. Thompson had to spend years proving their adroit efficiency before they were able to get a single rambling train-of-consciousness sentence published. But you know what I say? I say fuck that.

Everywhere I turn, I'm encouraged to be efficient. My car is very fuel efficient. There are only 24 hours in the day, so I must be efficient with my time. Most annoyingly, I'm encouraged to be efficient when I head into the backcountry. Nature has no room for superfluity – even the most extravagant flower is born of function – so perhaps it makes sense that we are stripped to the bare necessities when we venture outside. But really? Ultralight backpackers who cut the tags off their clothing to save weight and measure their freezedried food by the ounce seem only to further distance themselves from the natural world, more in tune with the machinery of urban life than the meandering nature of the trail. When I used to work on trail crew, the attitude was that the more weight you carried, the tougher you were. Leave sparseness to the monks. I find beauty in the excess weight, the unnecessary sentences, the pleasure in lugging a bottle of beer or a book of poetry 12 miles into the backcountry. I don't want my life — or my writing — stripped to the bare minimum. I want to spill over the edges, explode with extravagance, resist the pressure to reduce word count and fit only into the space allotted. Ramble on. 

Open skies and wildflowers

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Great Chicken Dump

The joys of small town life, and my favorite HCN blog to date:

The news infiltrated the High Country News mothership like a cute animal video (which editors Sarah Gilman and Betsy Marston are particularly fond of) and spread through the North Fork Valley faster than a stomach flu. Soon, from the barstools of Revolution Brewing to the ratty couches of the HCN intern house, the Great Chicken Dump was all anyone in town could talk about. More than 100 hens had been found clucking and wandering around a dusty mesa above town, and no one knew quite how they had gotten there.

Not since the infamous 2012 confrontation between the billionaire (Bill Koch) and the hairdresser ("Tiananmen Sid") have the North Fork’s collective feathers been so ruffled.

“THESE CHICKENS WERE CLUELESS HOW TO SURVIVE ON THEIR OWN,” wrote one woman (determined to express herself in capital letters) on Paonia’s unofficial Facebook page, where there are over 300 poultry-related comments and counting. “THE FEW THAT KNEW TO GET INTO THE BRUSH AND NOT STAY IN THE OPEN DIDN'T KNOW TO EAT A RIPE SERVICE BERRY IN FRONT OF THEIR NOSES.” And so a herd of Paonians headed up to the mesa to take matters into their own hands, rounding up the hens and searching in the chicken scratch for clues. For breathless hours, the chicken dumper remained at large....
Nature Blog Network