Category Archives: Literature and the Environment

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

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

Why a robust response to Bundys at Malheur is important

Equal justice under law

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U.S. Supreme Court

The immense damage I see to public lands in southern Utah caused by private livestock grazing motivated me to start Torrey House Press. The public would not put up with current land management practices if they knew about them and I want to get the word out in literature.  The land practices are absurd, and I will get to that, but what concerns me even more about the Bundys taking siege to the public buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is how it makes a mockery of the American principle of equal justice under law. Continue reading

Napa and Point Reyes

Kirsten and drove the A6 to Truckee and then on to Napa and Pt. Reyes leaving Saturday March 28 and back to Salt Lake the next Friday. Kirsten was meeting with our latest author, Sasha Paulsen for an editing session on Dancing on the Spider’s Web. Now back in SLC I notice that I did not take many photos and did not take any notes. Thinking about it I decided to combine this blog with my previous entries from THP Green Adventures and change the site title here to Notes and Shots. I will use it both as a travel and conservation journal in the  blog and a place to keep my best photos in the galleries.  That way I can feel more free to take notes and shots without thinking they need to be interesting and good enough for National Geographic.  Even though I will make the site available to the public I think of the audience as my kids, Kristen and Nick, my uncle, Ted Kehl, and maybe my grand-kids some day. Hi guys.

View from our room

View of tidal Napa River from our room

Truckee was conspicuous with the absence of snow. No shots, but resorts that look like they should be closed with mostly dirt showing still have skiers working their way down presumably man made snow ribbons.  California’s Gov. Brown ordered mandatory water use reductions for the first time in the state’s history while we were there. Residents are required to cut back, but big farms, which use 80% of the water, are only required to write reports — but that may be another blog.

In Napa we continued with my suggestion that Kirsten find us nice places to stay and not tell me what they cost. Works in the short run, time will tell about the finances. We had dinner that night with Sasha and her adult daughter Ariel at an equally elegant place nearby. The food in Marin county is nonstop amazing. I was thinking that I would throttle back while away from the fridge, but not-so-much.

On Monday we met up  in Petaluma with Lise Soloman, our Torrey House Consortium sales rep with Karel/Dutton Group, and drove up to Sebastopol to have lunch with Sheryl Cotleur, the adult book buyer for Copperfield’s Books. Both women are a forces in books sales. Lise is credited by author Paul Harding as the impetus behind his winning a Pulitzer for his debut novel Tinkers. Tinkers was published by a sister publisher at Consortium, Bellevue Literary Press.  Kirsten and I always say the best thing about publishing is the people and with women like these two out there we will keep saying it. At one point during lunch I told Sheryl about how our author Mary Sojourner feels no hope about the West and conservation. Mary gave that response when asked about Stegner’s phrase, “The geography of hope.” I told Sheryl how Mary thinks writing about nature and the West is dead and wondered if she agreed. Sheryl sat back and said she “100 percent” did not agree. She encouraged us to keep going and started telling us we needed to meet Steve Costa and Kate Levinson, owners of Pt. Reyes Books and asked if we had ever been there. In fact, that is where we were going next anyway.

Our B&B in Pt. Reyes

Our B&B in Pt. Reyes

Kirsten had already made another excellent arrangement at a B&B in the small town of Inverness in Pt. Reyes. We poked our heads in the bookstore but Steve and Kate were out. Fabulously, Sheryl and Lise had forewarned them we were heading their way. Kirsten left a card at the bookstore and Steve and Kate got back to her asking us to please come by. When we showed up the next day they interrupted some poor sales rep’s pitch to say hello, suggested that we should have dinner together, and even insisted that we should do so at their home and stay with them. There goes those great publishing people again. The Bailey in me was appalled at the imposition, but of course it all turned out great. I hope somehow we can return the favor with a stay in Torrey.

At dinner with Kate and Steve we asked them a lot of questions about their biannual conference. It seemed natural that Terry Tempest Williams had been involved in the area for some time including with the conference.  The most recent called The 2015 Geography of Hope Conference after Wallace Stegner’s phrase in his Wilderness Letter — major sections of which were read at Kirsten’s and my wedding.  Kate and Steve were our kind of nice, smart people but way, way ahead of us in the world of connections and conferences. Kate encouraged us to stay regional if we try a conference and perhaps to consider starting with just the LDS enviro authors we are interested in supporting.

K's smart phone shot of Shell Beach

K’s smart phone shot of Shell Beach

Point Reyes was astonishing. On the last morning, April 2, a day before my brother’s would be birthday, at sunrise on Shell Beach near Steven and Kate’s place I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the loss of Mike. Mike, the world is beautiful, it is worth protecting, and I wish you were here to help.