Texas is where I was born (Fort Worth) and where I grew up (Houston). It’s also the place I left shortly after turning eighteen, which sounds kind of snarky, but…
A ton of stories in my first short story collection, The Watch, are set in Texas—the petrochemical corridors of my adolescence—but surprisingly, so too still does the hill country of Texas continue to occupy a big chunk of my creative territory. My first book, The Deer Pasture, was set there, as was one of my more recent, A Thousand Deer: Four Generations of Hunting in the Hill Country. My father and youngest brother still live there, and half of my novels have been set there—The Diezmo (albeit Texas circa 1848) and, most recently, All the Land to Hold Us. (Texas circa 1930s and 1966-1976).
You never know where paths will open up nor where, if you step onto them, and ease (or charge) down them, where they might lead. A few years ago, the Missoula folk/astral chamber music band, Stellarondo (named for the character in Eudora Welty’s short story, “Why I Live at the P.O.,” contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working with them on a project where they would score music to accompany live readings of my short stories and essays: not improve stuff, but carefully composed and rehearsed pieces, like the scored music for movies. It’s been great fun, some of the most stimulating artistic work I’ve ever participated in. We’ve played in Missoula, have shared a stage with Blind Pilot in Astoria, Oregon, with Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine in Portland, among other venues, and have been selected to play at the AWP annual conference in Seattle this next year. We have recorded a CD, which is available at:
I was starting to become more interested in music even before that. My daughters’ adolescent crush on the country rockstar, Keith Urban, led me to attempt for years to interview him, as a way of impressing them during that adolescent window—it never worked out—but along the way I did get to write liner notes for the Drive-By Truckers (Go-Go Boots) and did a profile on James McMurtry for Garden & Gun Magazine, and wrote a historical novel about country music, Nashville Chrome.
Where to begin? I’ve been fortunate to write about hunting and hunting dogs as a columnist for Contemporary Wingshooter (at the same time that I was doing a column on animals for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review!) for a long time. Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had, and Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism, are pretty dogcentric. I wrote a long poem for Amy Hempel’s anthology, Unleashed, and have published a fair bit in Bark Magazine. My breed of choice is the indomitable and irrepressible German shorthaired pointer, and a story in Field & Stream this spring (2013) details the good fortune by which I came to this particular dog.
I’ve taught Creative Writing at hundreds of workshops, and graduate workshops for credit at the University of Texas, University of Montana, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Iowa State University, Pacific University, and Beloit College, and am an adjunct faculty at Texas State University and the University of Southern Maine’s low-residency MFA program at Stonecoast. I’m occasionally available for manuscript evaluations and consultations.
Through my work with Round River Conservation Studies, I became involved with Save the Rhino Trust, a non-profit group working to conserve and recover black rhinos in Namibia. While researching The Black Rhinos of Namibia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I made three trips to Namibia. I subsequently traveled to Rwanda to teach a writing workshop at the National University of Rwanda, in Butare, with Terry Tempest Williams; this trip resulted in a book, In My Home There is No More Sorrow: Ten Days in Rwanda (McSweeney’s). Check out Round River’s work at www.roundriver.org
YAAK VALLEY FOREST COUNCIL
To be affiliated with this group since its inception in the 1990s has been one of the great gifts of my life. What started out as a group of four folks in the Yaak Valley of extreme northwestern Montana who decided to stand up for wilderness in the face of what at the time was an extremely hostile environment for moderation on natural resource issues, much less environmentalism. There just weren’t a bunch of us up here willing to take on all that grief. Now there are a lot of us and there’s no grief, only pride.
The Yaak Valley—roughly a million acres, 97% of which is national forest (Kootenai), is a low-elevation rainforest that occupies a unique and magical seam between the firescapes of the Central Rockies and the lush maritime vegetative regimes of the Pacific Northwest. It’s the lowest spot in Montana, and the wettest. This results in astounding biological diversity. The Yaak is not a recreational wilderness, like many other landscapes in Montana, but the rarer and more valuable kind, a biological wilderness, a land of low hills, swamps, mosquitoes, and a long list of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species. I’ve written about the Yaak abnd the Yaak Valley Forest Council’s efforts to protect as wilderness the last roadless lands in the valley in The Book of Yaak , Why I Came West, Fiber, and Brown Dog of the Yaak.
Check out this splendid organization—the Yaak Valley Forest Council--at www.yaakvalley.org and please consider sending them a donation. No group I know does more with less resources. They stretch a dollar further than any other non-profit I know, in part due to the fact that they live in the place where they work, so are essentially on the job 24/7, fighting for wilderness.
We’ve succeeded, with the courageous support and leadership of U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in getting a bill introduced in Congress that will protect over 100,000 acres of the Yaak’s special places. Please contact BringThemTogether.com to send in your support for this historic bill. Not a single acre of wilderness has ever been protected in the Yaak—folks have been trying for nearly fifty years now—and it’s long, long overdue.
Occasionally I get the opportunity to field test outdoor gear. I’m pretty rough on clothes, or maybe it’s not me but instead the country I pass through. From time to time I’ll post reviews of gear I’ve sampled.
Lowa Cloud GTX
I’ve been such a fan of Lowa’s sturdy to hard-core badass boots, especially their winter hunting boots, that I didn’t see any way their expansion into regular shoes could be a good thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s probably some industry term for what these are—they’re what I’d call tennis shoes, or running shoes—and they are magnificent. As the name suggests, they’re light, but only up top; the all-important base is way solid, especially at the back, in the vulnerable heel area. It sounds a little silly to suggest this, but they kind of compel you to walk, or run—they make you want to, when you’re wearing them. I think it’s the combination of comfort and protection/strength/sturdiness. They also are really good for mountain biking, for those same reasons. The lower part of your foot feels encased, as if in a boot, yet the upper part is all running shoe. There’s something a little different, a little better, about their balance, too, I’m not sure what it is, but when they’re on your feet, you can feel it. They’re real sweet. The only caveat I would have is that they can be a tad toasty in summer. But for winter spring and best of all fall, they’re perfect.
For a long time—decades—I’ve been doing all the traditional stuff that we do as environmentaiists: the good and necessary work of attending public meetings and writing letters. Publishing articles, books, etc. on various crises. And there is still, as ever, such a need for that, and such a place: the slow grind of democracy.
But there is another aspect of democracy, another freedom, which is that of peaceful civil disobedience, and it feels to me now in middle age as I look back at the wreckage, the wake, of my and all the generations before mine passage through the world’s bounty, and the consequences of that passage, that if global warming (what we used to call a few short years ago “the threat of global warming”) is not the moral issue of our time, then none exists. In the last year, I’ve had the privilege of being arrested at the state capital in Helena while protesting the giant proposed Otter Creek coal mine, and at the White House, protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which threatens to come through Montana en route to the Texas Gulf Coast, leaving the obscenity of Alberta’s tar sands. I also had the great pleasure of working with David James Duncan on a book, Heart of the Monster, a protest book against the use of Montana highways to transport Exxon’s “megaloads” through Montana to service those Albertan tar sands. Through the work of incredible activists, we were able to re-route those shipments, keeping them out of places like Lolo Creek and the majestic Rocky Mountain Front.
As a former oil and gas geologist, I feel also that I know some things about the industry that should be shared with the general public. Basic stuff, about just exactly how awful coal is, and how oil and gas development might be less harmful in one location, while devastating in another.
I’ve written several essays about the arrest process—about how empowering it is—and I hope that in the coming year tens or hundreds of thousands of people will come to agree that given the severity of the situation it is imperative that “mainstream” or “regular folk”—non-enviros—step forward and take on the cuffs as protest, to get our leaders’ attention, as was the case during the last civil rights crisis. I cannot imagine that any of us want to be looing back 30 to 50 years from now and find ourselves unable to answer the question, What did you do during this time, What did you do to change things?
This is not an issue where we should leave anything on the field. This is the one where we should spend it all, and now.