Category Archives: Literature and the Environment

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.

Review: Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness

Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness by Michael Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Branch completely had me at “Bug.” I too have a vivacious, curious, energetic daughter I raised in the Great Basin and that I nicknamed “Bug.” Although mine was raised not in the wild but in the suburbs of Salt Lake City on the east edge of the Basin with only frequent trips to the Wasatch Mountains and to a remote second home high in the center of the Colorado Plateau. That and she is 32 years old already. 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