ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kindred Spirits, and Why We Should Know a Few Who Aren't

Sometimes we meet kindred spirits face to face. Sometimes we meet them between the pages of a book. And we almost always recognize it when we do, because usually they share a similar vision of the world, maybe even how we wish the world could be.


I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Susan J. Tweit's new book, Walking Nature Home: A Love Story (forthcoming March, 2009, University of Texas Press). I met Susan a few years ago and have been familiar with her work for a long time, but it wasn't until reading Walking Nature Home that I realized how many passions we share, and how many similar challenges we have faced.

In this new book, which won't be released until next March, Susan intimately merges science with heart and spirit. She writes about what it is to be human with the precision of a scientist, yet with the eloquence of a poet. If you’ve ever searched the night sky for the bright shape of Orion, or tenderly lifted the mangled body of a rabbit from the road, or had to move from a place you loved, or trekked alone across a mountain range, or fallen in love, you will be at home within the pages of this book.

Another thing about kindred spirits, is that they frequently reappear. Yesterday an email from High Country News appeared in my inbox. When I opened it, there was Susan's name, front and center, featuring a link to an online version of one of her recent "Writers on the Range" articles (this one on roadkill). Kindred spirits not only often read the same books, but we often share the same subscriptions.

Which isn't always a good thing. Pyschologist Jonathan Haidt, speaking on Ted.com about the difference between liberals and conservatives, challenges us to listen to people who don't share our values. If our goal is to seek a deeper understanding of the world, we need diversity, he says. "When people all share values, when people share morals, they become a team. And once you engage the psychology of teams, you shut down open-mindedness."

I'm not sure how that relates to the teams we're most familiar with - football or baseball or basketball -but I think Haidt is telling us that it's good to listen to those who don't agree with us. It's healthy to have friends with political views that don't match ours. It's good to challenge ourselves to think beyond our own opinions by trying to understand the opinions of others.

And it's good to read books, and magazines, and newsletters that challenge us. I faithfully read Orion Magazine, and especially find their articles on sustainability and stewardship hopeful, but just to make sure I keep my finger on the pulse of the aching hearts of small family-owned ranches, stewards who are also trying to live sustainably, I also read the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, edited by Jennifer Womack, who was reared in the same ranching country where I reared my son and daughter.


I also belong to and read the publications of the Quivira Coalition. Founded by a rancher and two environmentalists in June 1997,their initial mission was to offer "common sense solutions to the grazing debate,' principally by broadcasting the principles of ecologically sensitive ranch management." Their current mission is to foster health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration, and land stewardship.


Courtney White, one of the environmentalists who founded the Quivira Coalition ,and its current executive director, also has a new book out. Revolution on the Range: Rise of a New Ranch in the American West. The inside flap quotes Wendell Berry: "The only possible result of the human effort to 'conquer' nature and one another is human defeat. The longstanding conflict between ranchers and conservationists is not only hopeless but ruinous for both..."

Both Courtney White, and Wendell Berry, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a couple years ago at Quivira's 6th annual conference, are kindred spirits - men who share similar visions. The audience at that convention symbolized the West at its best. 450 people filled the chairs in the large room when Berry spoke - ranchers and farmers, environmentalists, federal land managers, state land managers, students, and educators - all of them conservationists in their own right. They wore cowboy hats and Birkenstocks and tennis shoes and steel-toed boots.

Like Susan Tweit, they were at the convention because they loved the West, and each held a personal vision of how to restore the land and heal the communities. You might say all of us were there walking the land we love home. And we weren't walking alone. That was the beauty of it. We were walking together.



If you don't want to wait until next March to read Susan's forthcoming memoir, check out this best-seller, Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road Home, a collaboration with photographer Jim Steinberg. Colorado's Governor Ritter thought the book was so good, he gave a copy to Obama and other dignitaries when he was in Denver for the DNC.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2008

Michael Stelzner, author of the book and blog by the same name, Writing White Papers, has named his selection of the top blog sites for writers.

White paper, according to Stelzner's book, is a kind of hybrid for the business market - not truly a persuasive essay, but far more than a dry "justs the facts, Ma'am" kind of document. Essentially, it's a literary sales pitch, somewhere between a magazine article with a strong op-ed persona and a sales brochure that doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Companies love 'em, and well-written ones, white papers that play it straight with the consumer, serve a need. They identify a challenge in the consumer's life, and fairly present an attractive solution. If you've got the talent for this kind of writing, it can be a lucrative profession.

So, that's a bit about white papers. More about Michael at Michael Stelzner. He's an impressive kind of guy. Which makes me more apt to take seriously his TOP TEN choices of blogs for writers. Here they are - commentary is Stelzer's:

1) Copyblogger: As the undefeated champ, this blog has held the number-one spot for three straight years! The baby of Brian Clark, this blog keeps winning because of its excellent and educational articles.

2) Men With Pens: James Chartrand and Harry McLeod are the dynamic duo who continue to deliver rich content and community discussion.

3) Freelance Writing Jobs: Founded by Deb Ng, this site is the first stop for freelance writers seeking new work and great articles (and it remains a top winner since this contest began).

4) Write to Done: This blog delivers a steady stream of excellent articles for all writers and is the product of top blogger Leo Babauta.

5) Confident Writing: Looking for encouragement? Joanna Young will help you take your writing to the next level.

6) The Renegade Writer: Linda Formichelli and Dianna Burell, authors of a book by the same name, help freelance journalists find inspiration.

7) Remarkable Communication: One part writing, one part marketing and one part selling, this excellent blog by Sonia Simone will help any writer succeed.

8) Writing Journey: Looking for a great stop on your writing journey? Bob Younce’s blog will refresh and energize you.

9) Freelance Parent: Two moms, Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry, provide excellent perspective on writing while balancing time with little ones.

10) Urban Muse: Susan Johnson covers a wide range of excellent topics that all writers will enjoy.

And, of course, you're reading this on my blog, which is a good thing. I hope you'll take the time to also visit my website - who knows, maybe someday you or I will make the "top ten" list.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going with the Flow


Twenty-one women just spent five days floating down the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon together. Artists, writers, sisters, river guides, friends, cohorts. We were the lucky ones.

I say that every year, when one of my River Writing Journeys for Women launches and I enter the world of water and rock - red canyon walls, brilliant blue skies, smooth green water, ancient black rocks, dark star-filled nights. If rains fall, upstream or in the desert where tributaries drain into the river, the water turns cocoa-red and silt as soft as cornstarch settles on the bottom.


The nights were cool, the days sunny and just hot enough to entice us to cool off in the river. We swam, floated actually, alongside our four rafts as our women guides, Brenda, Annie, Jamie and Brie (Sheri Griffith Expeditions), maneuvered us through the canyons - Horsethief, Ruby, Westwater. We took turns playing in the inflatable duckies - small yellow kayaks that follow the motherships, two women paddling, or snubbing up behind the big yellow rafts for a free ride.

We camped beneath grandfather cottonwoods. Saw great egrets, band-tail pigeons, whiptailed lizards, spotted sandpipers, great blue herons, bighorn sheep, mule deer, river otters, ringtailed cats, hawks and bald eagles. Warmwater catfish and chum and carp hugged the dark holes close to shore. We never really saw them, but they were there. Like the sisterhood of river women that grew during our five days together - an invisible bond, as strong as the desires that brought us together, as undeniable as the coolness of the clay we sculpted. Not something to be seen, only to be felt.


We sculpted with grey Colorado River clay, dug up by Roxanne and Rose. Two amazing women artists, mother and daughter, from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, who were my featured guests. They brought red clay from Minnesota with them, too. And drawing paper for contour drawings of the curvaceous black schist rocks, and the layers of Entrada sandstone and the spires of the Wingate sandstone.

We swam, floated, wrote, sculpted, drew, laughed, ate outrageously delicious meals, laughed some more. Circled under the stars and shared our stories. We honored the morning silence and allowed the landscape to speak to us...


Our feet stir the sand and wisps of ancient earth rise, spiraling into the air like miniature dustdevils. Roxanne brings pinch pots to the circle. We hold the sand in our hands, ooh and aah at its solidness, marvel when she polishes its belly with a stone as smooth as the bottom of a baby's foot. Our feet stir the sand and our hands hold the pot and the black rocks stand witness. Overhead, young eagles ride the wind. In the morning, not even the tracks of our feet remain.


"Sculpt your face in the sand each morning," suggested Roxanne. "See how it changes each day."

That is the purpose of a trip like this - to change. Back into a deeper understanding of who we are - creatures of nature, at home on the edge of the river, at home with each other, at home with ourselves. Yet, even as we experience this change, this reawakening of our senses, we are comforted by the ancientness of this place. Life endures. Life thrives. Life is joyful. Life is good. Life, at its best, is simple. Nature is our home.

More "River Writing and Sculpting" photos!