Category Archives: Essay

New West Microcosm

I have been promoted.

The other day I was compared to and quoted on the same page as Yvon Chouinard and Peter Metcalf. Chouinard has never heard of me and Metcalf might have to be reminded, but I will take it as my moment of greatness anyway. I guy now from Monticello, from Moab before that, and perhaps New Jersey originally, got worked up about a comment I made about not wanting a gravel pit in Torrey-Teasdale on a Facebook post of his and he dedicated an article on me (and Yvon and Peter) in a faux objective, compulsively contrarian piece. The unhappy guy refers to himself as a journalist and considered reporting about me his duty. So as not to seem too flattered by the attention, I admit he comes across more as a committed victim than he does as an objective journalist.

Superbowl Sunday hike.

The worst place in the world for a cow.

Continue reading

My three legged plan to defy Trump

12/30/2016. The country is in a deep kind of trouble that requires a response from every thinking citizen. For the sake of my posterity I am jotting down my personal plan.

We have a Republican president-elect who is unfit to serve. I don’t say this just because my candidate lost in a normal election. I do not feel about Trump like I felt about George W. Bush. Certainly I do not feel about Trump like I felt about Romney. In fact, I have thought that it would have been better if Romney had won in 2012 so that white backlash would not have produced Trump. I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the most qualified person to ever run for the office. That we would be electing a woman after electing a black man amazed me, and I was thrilled at my country’s ability to continue to mature and progress socially. But instead of electing the most qualified person possible, we elected the least. Misogyny, bigotry, and racism are constantly espoused by Trump, ripped out from our darkest closets and made to seem as acceptable. Ignorance and intolerance are praised. An anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-environment cabinet is being put in place. The GOP, drunk on the prospects of unlimited power, continues to put party before country and will not provide check and balance.

The country is in deep shit. Continue reading

Why Torrey House Press

I was so smitten by the red rock canyons and high country of the central Colorado Plateau that in the late 1990’s I built a home there near Torrey, Utah.  With the house underway and drawn to the landscape around it, I went for day hike on nearby Boulder Mountain. I hoped to spend a little time writing near Meeks Lake which I anticipated would be a pristine natural alpine lake perched on 11,000 foot high Boulder top. On the way up the mountain I noticed there were a lot of cows and that the grass was hammered everywhere. I hiked around barbed wire fences and cattle guards, all on U.S. National Forest lands. I was surprised that there were always cows on both sides of the cattle guards and that livestock gates were always open. When I arrived at the lake I found it inundated by cows. It looked and smelled like a stockyard. Continue reading

Review: All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found

All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found
All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found by Philip Connors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ALL THE WRONG PLACES is a hero’s journey and the story of the emergence of one of the best of the West’s new writers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Connors at an Association for the Study of Literature and Environment writer’s conference where he was a speaker. Dave Foreman was there too and the three of us had lunch along with my wife and publisher at Torrey House Press, Kirsten Allen. Kirsten ended up sitting with three men who had lost their brothers by their brother’s own hand. It was a moving experience for me, one I still feel and am grateful for. Continue reading

San Juan River minus two

That's funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

That’s funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

It is not an adventure until something you would rather not happen happens. And you always want a good adventure. So it was good of two of our boat owners to oblige.

On a Thursday in mid June Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to the Sand Island campground in Bluff to meet up with a gang of pals from Durango. We arrived in the evening before the others and happily found plenty of camp sites available. Kirsten had her usual picnic feast ready and we sat at a table by the river noticing above all else a lot of water. Everything was damp and the river was swollen above its banks. We have had a wet May and June in the Southwest and the San Juan Mountains still had a lot of snow. Add the recent unseasonal rains and the river that in mid May had been running at 1800 cubic feet per second was now at 8,000 cfs. In fact we had experienced two separate pulses of moisture from tropical storms already by mid June, an unprecedented event for so early in the year. Global weirding.

Ronni and Mark

Ronni and Mark

Not wanting to take any chances I brought our camp stove and coffee pot for the first morning even though it was planned that a grab and go breakfast would be ready. The grab and go food was great but our coffee pot was mysteriously popular. I went with Ronni, our venerable boat captain, down to her camper to get her crew sized coffee pot but we seemed a tad slow in getting coffee going in it. We never did.

With the river high it was also fast. We only floated five miles the first day but stopped often to visit several terrific petroglyph panels including Butler Wash and another massive wall near our camp site. During the day the two adult sons, Sean and Casey, joked with their dad Mark about his paranoia about losing his boat. The next morning on the river Sean woke us up early saying we needed to get going. Their dad’s boat had disappeared during the night, “no joke.”  Minus one.

Breezy camp dinner.

Breezy camp dinner.

Rose and Sean

Rose and Sean

We hustled to get going but still lined up eagerly for coffee at the well stocked camp kitchen. Tristen offered Kirsten some tea. Kirsten said no thanks, I’ll have coffee. Without missing a beat Tristen said, “The coffee went down the river. Would you like some tea?” Ah, missing a boat is no problem, kinda fun in fact, assuming we find it. But no coffee? Minus two.
Casey, a young man born for action and endurance was already headed downstream on a paddle-board by 6:30AM when we got up. We were on the river by nine and floated the remaining 22 miles to our planned takeout for the next day at Mexican Hat. It was a fast and beautiful trip. When we got to Mexican Hat Casey was there waiting for us. Besides one oar tangled in the flooded brush there had been no sign of the boat. We pulled all but one of the boats out while Mark and Casey took that boat on down the next 55 miles to the next and last takeout before the river runs a waterfall and meets its doom at Lake Powell.

Jeff and Tristen

Jeff and Tristen

Back in Torrey we learned they found the boat tied up another seven miles down the river. We had Ronni, who coincidentally has recently moved to Teasdale, over for dinner in Torrey. We only found out then from Ronni that the chief menu planner, who’s name I omit to protect the guilty, had forgotten to pack the coffee. Totally minus two. Adventure indeed. A regular bullet past the head. Was the lost boat a mere ruse to cover up? Be careful what you wish for. Good times. Thanks to all who made it happen.

Admiring the empty beach.

Admiring the empty beach.



The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on our way back to Torrey. The wash is normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on the way back to Torrey, normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

Sky Islands and Writers

Kirsten at Ramsey CanyonKirsten soared in the stiff breeze on a floating sky island, 1500 feet above the surrounding mile high mesquite desert, smiling as always.  We had been invited to run some publisher workshops for the Cochise College Creative Writing Celebration the last weekend in March.  Finished with our duties, we said good-bye to some great new friends and went out exploring the local environs.  Cochise County sits on the Mexican border of Arizona in the southeast corner of the state.  It is a thriving county of about 100,000 folks, all of them obviously happy to be there.  The terrain from Phoenix and Tuscon has climbed back up to around 5,000 feet, is about 20 degrees cooler on average, and is dotted with these sky islands above the mesquite flats.  It had been a little hard to believe, but we had been promised running surface water, migrating humming birds, forests of pine, fir, sycamore and locust trees at the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

We were met at the visitor center by uber-friendly Debbie Arbenz who, without drawing a breath, welcomed us and talked us into a discount from the already low entrance fee.  We did promise to re-up our membership with TNC, I think.  The visitor center is a gift and book shop, well stocked save any titles, yet, from Torrey House Press.  The preserve was as promised and more.  By the time we hiked to the overlook that Kirsten is pictured in here, she was wishing that maybe she had worn her hiking boots instead of her Chacos, but she only says so if you ask.   We saw humming birds, running water, riparian areas, birds of prey soaring the surrounding cliffs, numerous deer and a restoration pond trying to save the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs.

I may be a bit of a curmudgeon, some say, but I was  surprised by Cochise County and the college there.  Our hosts, including our own Jay Treiber, author of soon to be released Spirit Walk,  were generous and universally effusive about their home.  Spirit Walk is beautifully set and portrayed in Cochise County and northern Mexico and I was eager to see this landscape for myself.  I see why everyone loves it.  The desert is always beautiful and enticing and dangerous and menacing.  To see a black jaguar in such a place would be life amplifying.  It was for Jay’s characters, some of whom even put their guns down after sighting such a creature.  The allure and danger of the place is captured too in Erec Toro’s Zero to the BoneErec was one of the conference presenters and tells in this memoir of how his life was permanently altered after being struck and massively poisoned by a rattle snake.  I had a chance to chat with Erec just long enough to know he gets the wild thing, as in it is the preservation of the world.  As Erec says, he got a taste of wild snake when it got a taste of him.   Erec and I are going to have to talk some more.

While talking about the amazing people we met I must mention Cecelia “Ceci” Lewis.  Ceci is an instructor at the college’s English department.  She is a year older than me, Latino, and always gorgeously attired in southwest clothing and turquoise.   We had a chance to talk to Ceci about modern life and I mentioned how the white, male, Utah Taliban-Republican politicos are spending millions of dollars to “take the state back.”  Ceci’s immediate response was, “From?”  For the first time I heard the phrase, “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.”  We spoke a bit about her experience and her family.  As she pronounced her siblings’ names it struck both Kirsten and me that she was singing.  I remain smitten and charmed.

A final hello to Beth Colburn Oroxco and her pal and fellow author  and presenter, Ann Wertz Galvin.  Check out Ann’s latest novel and her upcoming one, A Dog Year.  Beth, fabulous conference, hope to see you soon, and write on.  You all looked great in the land of the sky islands.