Next week, in Seattle, 12,000 people will gather for an event called “AWP,” the annual conference and bookfair of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It’s a big deal for scribblers, “the largest literary conference in North America,” and it’ll be my first time attending. But I know that as soon as I step off the plane at Sea-Tac, my mind won’t be on books, let alone my little essays, eager as they are to prove themselves. Nope, I’ll be thinking about football. NFL football and Peyton Manning. Read more
Take a stroll up “Pitman Creek,” my new essay in Ascent. I’m pleased to announce the publication of my work in such a highly regarded journal — “simply and unobtrusively one of the best,” said Literary Magazine Review. It’s an honor to appear its pages, and I’m grateful for the support of W. Scott Olsen, the editor who helped me improve the piece. Thanks, too, to many friends and family members, especially my father, as well as the Ashland University MFA Program, where I began writing the story in 2010. Read more
The War on Christmas rages on, and last week Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly threw a few punches for ol’ Saint Nick himself. That’s right — Kris Kringle, Papa Noel, the red-clad septuagenarian who’s jolly, bearded, and beer-brat fat. And he’s white. White as the North Pole. White as a penguin’s belly. White as the snowballs tossed like sweetly blown kisses by happy, happy elves. White like, well, not a black guy. At least Megyn Kelly sees it that way. Read more
I couldn’t believe she said it — an elderly woman in La Crosse, Wis., short and frail as she exited the boat dock, holding my hand to steady herself. We’d just finished a backwaters cruise on the wildlife-packed Mississippi River, where I work in the summertime as an ecotour naturalist, teaching all ages, all comers from around the world. A great gig. I meet thousands of people, including senior ladies who tap my arms and elbows with tightly folded dollar bills — tips for a job well done. Or so I’ve thought.
In Hopi culture, as I recall from my graduate work in environmental education years ago, there are people who serve as kachinas, or ancestral spirits, during religious ceremonies. Imagine colorful, otherworldly costumes and pulsing, drum-driven dances. There are mudhead kachinas, too — clown-like spirits who poke fun at the serious types. Like Jon Stewart, I suppose — good laughs along with insight.
Summer’s over, it’s time for school, and this weekend I’m tweaking my syllabus for ENV 201: Introduction to Environmental Studies. For a couple of years I’ve taught entry- and upper-level courses at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and soon I’ll be seeing dozens of sleepy-eyed, tan-faced undergrads in a “Gen Ed elective” that attracts biology majors and physical therapy students, artsy types and future business leaders. I love the mix. I love the challenge. I love what happens when we get to know each other — laughing, listening, debating. We get out of our chairs. We stretch. Read more
I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in July 1969, two weeks before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The next month, at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in upstate New York, 500,000 people gathered for rock and roll, free love, and a whole lot of marijuana — and thanks to three days of rain, a let’s-get-naked mud bath acres and acres wide. The following May, in northeast Ohio, the National Guard killed four college kids during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State. Neil Young immortalized the tragedy in a song: “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming…How can you run when you know?” Read more
Ever wanted to be a wilderness ranger? I tried it one summer when I was 38. Things didn’t go as planned.
Check out my short narrative “SAR Talk,” appearing recently in The Common in its online department called Dispatches. The journal “publishes fiction, essays, poetry, documentary vignettes, and images that embody particular times and places both real and imagined; from deserts to teeming ports; from Winnipeg to Beijing; from Earth to the Moon: literature and art powerful enough to reach from there to here. In short, we seek a modern sense of place.” Read more
As a tree hugger since childhood, the kind of kid who actually looked out the car window during road trips with his parents, before Game Boys and iPods and other gizmos stole all the scenery, I loved maps. And I still love them today as a writer and environmental educator. Maps help us investigate the ties between people and landscapes, how places shape who we are and how we in turn shape them. Read more