Category Archives: Literature and the Environment

In wildness is the preservation . . .

We are sick and Nature is in charge. Is her wildness also our preservation?

It is not quite five in the morning and a rose colored light is starting to fill the room. I’m in Cooke City, Montana in early June 2013 with Torrey House Press publisher Kirsten Johanna Allen in bed beside me and THP author Susan Imhoff Bird asleep in the other room. The cabin is ancient and in poor repair, the bed is lumpy. We are in Yellowstone to start research on Susan’s book Howl, of Woman and Wolf and I am wide awake. I have a question on my mind. What the hell did Thoreau mean, exactly, when he said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world?”

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Cooke City in a June dawn.

Next door to the cabin is a coffee shop that makes its own baked goods. The proprietor opens the door at 5:00 because she is there with her ovens preparing for the day and I know they have internet. I get dressed, grab coat, hat and iPad and head over. There is still snow in the crevices of the craggy peaks surrounding the town, just visible in first light. Wispy clouds are pink and orange. The warm smells of hot coffee and bear claws great me along with the proprietor at the cafe. She’s my age with blonde hair pulled up loosely on top of her head, busy with her baking trays. A steaming cup next to the iPad and I log on, type in my question to the oracle that is Google Search. To connect to that question, in this place, with such comfort and beauty around me and a day of wolf watching ahead is vaguely thrilling. Continue reading

In spite of Trump, the COVID-19 curve is being flattened. And Trump will be re-elected.

Republicans will successfully frame and spin the relatively benign outcome.

Trump, who rarely speaks truth, is right when he says there are a lot of deaths every year from the flu. This season the Center of Disease Control estimates that, as of mid-March, between 29,000 and 59,000 have died due to influenza illnesses. Globally the World Health Organization estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. In comparison, as of April 8, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington forecasts there will be 60,000 deaths caused by (the first wave of ?) the COVID disease in the U.S. In Utah there are 13 deaths so far. Experiencing no more additional deaths than occur in a flu season will be a sort of success compared to how bad it might have been. It will be much worse than necessary, yet Democrats will fail to frame it as such. Continue reading

Cut it all down and plow it all under?

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great WestNature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was more into the Midwest I might have given this title yet another star. Even so, the perspective of the mid to late 19th century conversion of the Midwest from natural landscape to a completely extracted farm was enlightening. Excruciating, but enlightening. The prairies were plowed under on farms made possible by converting the great northern forests to lumber. Chicago markets and finance made it all possible.

The voraciousness of markets and the shortsighted lure of immediate profits spell doom and destruction for natural and wild landscapes. The 19th century mindset held no conception that the natural world was a limited resource. And one that is necessary to the maintenance of life.

How does the culture get changed to become aware and develop some reverence for the natural world? Books like this help.

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Creating Culture to Match the Scenery

Power of Story

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Publisher Robert Underwood Johnson created Yosemite National Park

In the late 19th century a publisher named Robert Underwood Johnson set out from Boston by train to California in search of a new writer who could make an impact. When he arrived in San Francisco he began asking around for where he might find a man by the name of John Muir. He was directed toward a remote valley to the east in the Sierra Nevada mountains where he set out by horse and wagon. He found Muir in Yosemite Valley, camped with him and invited Muir to start writing articles for Johnson’s Century Magazine. Johnson was understandably inspired by both the valley and the man. A powerful and effective friendship ensued. Johnson was well connected, introducing Muir to such names as Theodore Roosevelt, John Burroughs, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling. Muir’s articles captured the nation’s thrilled attention and Johnson began to turn them into books. Johnson then took Muir to Washington D.C. were both men successfully lobbied Congress to create Yosemite National Park. Muir subsequently founded the Sierra Club. Continue reading

Deep Ecology can save the planet – and grow your soul.

I am revising the premise of Thots and Shots to the notion that cultural change brought about by adherence to the philosophy of Deep Ecology can save the planet-and expand our souls. I changed the tagline for the website to “Deep Ecology and the American West.” I even made a logo.

Deep Ecology website title and logo

New Thots and Shots logo

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Bridges in the dark

Salt Lake City | Torrey, February 2017

Last August I received a call from my 83 year old mother. “Your father wants to speak with you,” she told me. It is like that with Dad and me, not a lot of direct communication.  I told Mom I would come over the next day after dinner. When the time came I was surprised to see my wife, Kirsten, grab her purse and head for the door with me. My father has a reputation for being difficult and there are rarely volunteers to join me in seeing him. Dad is in his mid-eighties and as his oldest offspring I am to be the executor of his will. I thought he might want to talk about some details or arrangements, but when we all sat down around the table together, including Kirsten and Mom, he asked me if I wanted his observatory. I thought he was asking if I coveted his belongings, which I surely do not. But in my own advancing years I may have gained adequate wisdom so that when Kirsten kicked me under the table I ceased my objections and turned to see her silently mouth, eyebrows raised, “This is an honor.”

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Dad at his Alpenglow Observatory in Salt Lake City, August 2016

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Economic extinction

In the economy, as in ecology, diversity is critical. And just as in the environment, our economy is losing diversity. Particularly in the press and newspapers. From a recent article in The Atlantic Magazine, “One analyst told The New York Times last year that 85 percent of all online advertising revenue is funneled to either Facebook or Google—leaving a paltry 15 percent for news organizations to fight over.” How do the journalists get paid who provide the news–for free–that Facebook and Google feed on?

No pay, no journalists. Big problem.