Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Fire in XERIC: An Ecothology

My  short story "The Fire," which originally appeared in MOJAVE HEART back in 2019, is now in XERIC: AN ECOTHOLOGY from Third Eye Sockeye Press . Download the pdf version with link. I'm on page 21, not sure the table of contents links work. 



Friday, February 9, 2024

What She Learned From Her Mother

The South Florida Poetry Journal also does a sister 'flash fiction' issue, in which I have a story: "What She Learned From Her Mother." Again, scroll alllll the way down to the bottom to find me:


 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

sueño con serpientes

My poem "sueño con serpientes" now up at Southern Florida Poetry Journal (SloFloPoJo for short). Scroll all the way to the bottom to read mine:


 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Letters to Wakoski

"Letters to Wakoski," my epistolary essay to Diane Wakoski, my mentor and former professor. Also about being a fire lookout, and life and stuff, appeared in SOUTH DAKOTA REVIEW. Print. Volume 56, no. 3. Fall 2022. And! Made it to the "Notable Essays" in the back of this year's Best American Essays 2023. That means it made it to the top 100 essays. Third essay of mine to do so!

i


Diane—


Bon jour from Tower Point Lookout in Central Oregon—

different from last year when grass cured by the time I came up

+ I had three fires already called in + $1,000 of overtime.

now, approaching July, still lupen + Indian paintbrush

air cool mostly tho finally getting warmer w/scattered rain.

one lightning strike west of West Maury Mountain two weeks

ago + this southwest wind may or may not be the start of what passes for

monsoons here. Mostly winds come from the northwest, the Cascades

forming a sort of wall—far south I've watched huge nimbus clouds

roll east w/lightning + storms at night over northern California.

west I have the Sisters + Mt. Jefferson, to the north the Ochocos,

west Snow Mountain on the Malheur National Forest, + south

Hampton Butte + Hwy 20 between Bend + Burns—Prineville

nearest town w/groceries w/a couple cafes to sip tea + even

a small movie theater tho only mostly schlock Hollywood stuff—

still, on a hot afternoon w/not enough time to go hike in the woods

when I only have one day off, I like to just sit in the cool dark

+ stare at the glowing screen. right now I'm still getting

two days off + eight-hour days—shower at the BLM Cache +

indulge in restaurant food then car-camp out in the pondos somewhere

+ day hike—I dont know anybody around here + just pass through

Prineville like a ghost, get my groceries for the week + come back

up here. a bald eagle built a nest just to the north off the butte—

I think w/a mate tho dont see her as much. Other raptors come

in when they're not around—when I catch mice + squirrels in traps

on the catwalk I leave the bodies out on a rocky point as offerings


ii


got invaded by critters last night. or a critter. squirrels

+ mice climb right up the walls apparently + slip in the cracks in

the attic. or something. spent the morning cleaning it out.

someone years ago left a sleeping bag up there, now a cotton nest

in every corner—one right on a pile of mice poison pellets.

I'll fill out a CA-2 mañana when I go into town on days off

for potential exposure to hantavirus. fun.

I switched from peanut butter to cheese in the traps,

squishing it down so they have to really work to get to it.

left a couple at the end after I sprayed the place w/bleach

+ five minutes later caught the invading critter: a mouse.

rock squirrels come up at night on the catwalk. I put traps

out there to catch the mice before they go further but maybe

that just attracted the squirrels. didnt have this problem

last year, tho the LO before me had packrats, which ate poison

+ died + rotted, which drew maggots, which spread down through

the ceiling. more fun. this is an 'historic' tower + neglected.

fixing requires red tape but the fire cache guy bought blinds—

all it takes is some engine guys seeing me using cardboard boxsides

to block the sun. they pity me. makes me wonder why blinds

have never been bought before, in all the decades, but in the last

decade the LO lived in a trailer below, also invaded

by critters. I feel if you live at the tower you need to live

in the tower—part of the job catching smokes in the off hours.

clouds building. more lightning. but coming w/rain


iii


big dark cell formed west of the Maurys + tracked northeast

into the Ochocos w/lightning—which has been the weather

the last month—lightning but w/rain so crews + engines chasing

single trees, holding off on calling them controlled for a few days

so as to keep earning hazard pay when they put their foot in the black.

that first day you came to class w/yr silver hair newly cut short

wearing a Silver Surfer t-shirt—I the only one to take both yr

Contemporary Poetry + Intro to Poetry Writing—people who

write poetry dont seem to want to read it + those who read it

just want to analyze it. you had us work in forms to develop

discipline. I was the only one in class to get that japanese form

right. that summer I actually made money from poetry: one guy

working the Greyhound station gave me half-price to Jackson

because he liked my stuff. meanwhile in your Contemporary

American Poetry class I was floundering enjoying everything

esp. when you played Anne Waldman reading 'Empty Space'

which changed my poetry life but couldnt understand how to write

about poetry—my natural response to want to write a poem back.

fortunately since it was a summer class you dropped

the big essay at the end. otherwise I would have failed.

as is, I got a 2.0 while being the only one in the writing class to get

a 4.0. the Maury Mountains named after a Colonel Maury—

no military training, just the richest white man in the territory

during the 'Indian Wars' so an indian killer. I have not

found out what the native name is but would love to rename

the tower. Tower Point being redundant. mañana down

for two days off. no high fire danger yet so no overtime.

I'll car-camp somewhere + do a day hike on Wednesday morning.

maybe tuesday see a movie in the afternoon. anyways, yr classes—

Fortuna shifted my Fata, music shifted to words.




iv


still cool, even in July w/clouds forming over the higher elevations.

the tower gets warm in late afternoon tho when the sun comes in

horizontal. I move my chair out on the catwalk put on a jacket

+ read in the wind. or play guitar. I've taught myself mandolin too—

I play Bach everyday sonata und partita which purifies my soul

tho I'd really like to play bluegrass w/other musicians. Sacrifice

of the lookout, not to be able to jam. a previous lookout

now plays cello for the London Philharmonic. he played other

instruments + engine guys would bring a case of beer + listen

+ talk into midnight, back when there was a guard station.

occasionally an engine drives up to collect my time

+ I go in on days off to fill my water + take a shower.

they all think I'm crazy or that I'm off because not as crazy as

previous lookouts but at least they think I'm good. one thing

you always encouraged was to end a poem on an image rather

than go for the cliché wisdom, which I encouraged in my writing

students which confused them because they'd been brainwashed

to always end with a thesis statement even in a story so

I probably ruined them for future classes but maybe not for life.

you warned me not to go into academia but I did anyways.

fortunately, o Fortuna, I escaped + made my way to this mountain.

I had some great students from whom I learned a lot but wonder

what would have happened if I'd started lookouting earlier instead.

either path would have lead here. Fortuna contra Fata. Anyway.

I still have lupen + indian paintbrush + aggregating flutterbies

+ nighthawks + wolves up on the Warm Springs Reservation.


v


another two-day weekend. luxury. actually, the horror: nothing

to do in Prinetucky. tweaked my knee too somehow so cant run

or go for a hike or hardly a walk—maybe just going down the

stairs wrong + too fast so had to stay in town. new movie house

over in Redmond, small w/drinks + meals. Hollywood mostly

but saw a documentary on the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 60s—

plus a bookstore down the street. bought Billy Budd for four bucks

just to support + finally read it—on reserve since I checked out

a lot of library books—have to stock up in case I get a dud or two.

two short story collections, Bolaño + Chekhov + Horizon

by Barry Lopez. also teaching myself Latin—at Aztec Lookout

Ed Abbey's old LO I just read all day—after that figured I'd

spend some time doing something not more productive but

different yet still language-related. good to be alone. I get lonely

around people though I miss poetry nights chez toi: good food

+ good poetry + good people + good wine + tea—magic nights for

three or four years. Tim the only one I can tell who still writes—

Heather now into knitting. you always said writing poetry helped

people figure out what really interests them—mathematics or music

or politics. you never approved of MFA programs but wrote LORs

for us. I loved having dinner w/you + David Trinidad in New York

+ taking you to the Blade Runner sequel two years ago. magic times.

I have an artificial owl to scare off squirrels trying to nest in my truck.

I've named her Athena.


vi


getting too warm in the tower in the afternoon. not unpleasant

to read out on the catwalk in a cool wind to keep flies off

+ so far yellowjackets aren't bad at all—I was proactive

+ set traps early to catch the queens. at chez toi gatherings

you showed how if a poem wasn't quite working that simply

moving a line or two—usually the strongest one to the beginning—

opened it up tho at the end of your tenure you chose to teach

intro classes because younger poets were more open to suggestion

and/or you wanted to give them the discipline before they studied

in programs where everyone receives a participation ribbon.

you cared particularly about trope—all imagery in a poem

relating to the main setting or idea, like catching a fish or exploring

a wreck any similes or comparisons would involve the sea or water.

you told students what wasn't working + helped them figure it out.

I suppose if someone offered me another teaching gig I'd take it.

I still occasionally send out a curriculum vitae but I think those

days are past unless I publish a best-selling book of poetry (ha)

or a Great American Novel (double ha). the flying ants are here.

down in the southwest that used to mean monsoons. up here

in central Oregon it's only sort of true—we do get July moisture

w/some lighting but not dowsing rain. two different winds:

Zephyrus comes in south of the Cascades tho mostly Boreas

down from Canada + the Columbia. some days clouds come

in from both directions + merge like influences.


vii


cool cloudy morning. yesterday lightning down in

the Glass Mountains—farthest south section of my territory

tho I can see further—called in a weather update to Dispatch

which was enough to extend me an hour—for once I worked longer

than the Forest Service towers to the north of me—no smoke tho

+ another cell formed + left rain on the area tho that cell

dropped lightning just to the south of Hampton Butte—a blind spot

but the cumulus so thick they're turning into a stratus layer.

fifteen/twenty years ago I had the idea of collecting

from all yr former students, Sapphos + Troubadors, things learned

from you + assemble them in some kind of Confucian text but

poets herd like cats + I never tried tho did write an essay

about you for the collection that Heather + Carrie were to do

which also never went anywhere. I wrote about your table—

gathering at it to eat + drink + read poetry + how I hoped

to be able to do that one day—still do—except I'm rarely

around poets, or not any that I know, though for about a year

when I was teaching in Jackson I did gather fellow teacher poets—

I couldn't host but Martha, who you met once after reading there,

did + good food + drink + poetry were had. we even met

on a night the whole city shut down for a blizzard. I walked home

right down fourth ave through snow drifts. never understood why/how

people get so traumatized when told that something in a poem

isn't working—with you, you were always right. I've learned—

at least a little, how to be critical. sometimes it takes time:

I just revised two long poems I considered done for five years.


viii


back to Tower Point Lookout from another 2-day weekend.

for end of July that's amazing—last summer I was on 10-hr days

w/just one day off. my knee better so did short hikes in Mill Creek

tho nothing epic + still had time to see two indie movies in Redmond:

American Woman + The Last Black Man in San Francisco—both

about merikan lower-class life, white + black respectively. if the poor

could just stop infighting the guillotines could come back out! kidding

tho I'd fall in love w/a woman who wore guillotine earrings. tower life

is voluntary poverty—excuse me, simplicity—but at least I'm free.

the key is not paying rent, to keep moving in the off season + visit

friends (what little I have)(left) + see the world + yes I'm a white male

+ national forests are kind of white spaces tho hispanic + natives

were not uncommon down at Cerro Pelado Lookout in New Mexico.

I still haven't learned the native name of these mountains—

at least this isn't Maury Lookout—that would gall. still windy + cloudy,

still some Indian paintbrush + lupen hanging on tho the grass curing

+ Prineville felt Phoenix-hot when the sun came out yesterday.

I could actually drive up tomorrow on the clock but if I'm going to camp out

might as well just come up to the best view around. remember when I wrote

from Chile? I didn't know what else to do after graduating so went

to Pablo Neruda's country to hear the birds + ocean. I needed to tell

myself maybe that I was keeping poetry in my life but also to say

thank you + ask permission—you who wouldn't think I was crazy.

or maybe you do. I wrote asking what I should do w/my life

+ you said when one gets lost there is usually a sign nearby. which

took me that long to realize you were saying keep going.


ix


called in my first fire of the season way down south past Hwy 20

actually on Lakeview District tho we weren't sure until helitack

got on scene. two Rivers South BLM engines got dispatched tho

stood down. at least I got them some overtime. I think I finally

broke double digits on my OTs. the fire an acre, probably

lightning, a big cell formed around there + tracked northeast.

so I feel useful finally, end of July. at least Forest Service LOs

to the north have to take days off now too. their supe works

wonders w/fire numbers to keep them on + extended. End of this

pay period we'll be in August! already! re-reading Jim Harrison's

Essential Poems. he passed away earlier this year, supposedly

at his desk writing. which is how I'd like to go. I think he'll be

remembered as a poet more than novelist tho Dalva will live and I

went thru his novellas in a phase about fifteen years ago. that

long? loving Letters to Yesenin especially, tho hadn't before—

and his general irreverence to people but reverence to land

+ animals. same as Ed Abbey. I just cannibalized some poems

to save a longer poem from my Aztec Lookout time—added large

sections in, as is. they weren't working on their own, just

needed to be part of a larger whole. these are the things that keep

me absorbed for hours. I'm not sure what normal people do. watch tv.

not sure what I would or will do after being a fire lookout.

living the dream + better than working in a cube staring at a screen.

most of the state lookouts got replaced by cameras which dont work

very well—effective range ten miles and some poor kid has to

sit in an office all day and stare at six to nine screens (!)—

technophiles + the progress of man. o fortuna.


x


smoke haze today from a big fire down along I-5 milepost 97

another in the mountains above La Pine. end of July + fire

season has finally sort of come, tho here I'm still finding lupen

in the shady north faces. worked one of my days off last

week but not tomorrow. no lightning. would be warmer except

for gusty afternoon breezes. open my window + door

+ sit outside on the catwalk reading + playing guitar. Singing.

birds around here cant quite figure me out. they'll come

perch on a nearby tree + listen for a while. I played an Eagles

song to an eagle. I've been revising, rescuing poems out of

my shite folder + converting them to stories + essays, experimenting

w/keeping them flashy and micro. why do they work as prose?

changing the Romantic 'I' to third person allows some distance

for readers (if any) tho I find myself adding thoughts about other

people, since stories seem to require tension between humans, unless

you're Jack London, who I've re-read recently. not everything, I'm

avoiding the dog stories he's remembered for now, but at one time

he was the best-selling writer in America and a marxist if not an

anarchist. anti-capitalist in any case tho able to make money outside

industrialist economy, making his publisher rich of course, + buy a ship

+ just sail away to adventures, writing as he went. even popularized

surfing. w/my revisions + editing I always hold the question WWWD—

What Would Wakoski Do? tho it's so ingrained now. cant bring myself

to try to be pithy—you explained that word to me—like, say,

WS Merwin, who we lost this year. so I go with the image.

I wrote him, thanking him for his writing and including my chapbook.

I mentioned you. he wrote back + said to tell you hello.


xi


lightning season in Central Oregon. strikes to the east, at 0800.

isolated cells dropping strikes everywhere the whole day. engine

guys running around just containing a fire going on to the next.

nothing around me tho—strikes yes, but no fires. starting to take

it personal, but last year I had more stupid human tricks—abandoned

woodcutter warming fires. not a lot of people in the mountains

this summer, neither campers nor visitors which I'm also

starting to take personally tho not complaining. and now

getting some overtime! plus nice cool air—thirty degree difference

from yesterday. my favorite time, rain on the roof, thunder rumbling.

no bugs. I expect more of the same mañana. in the 2nd week of August!

went into town for a day off yesterday. no good movies so just

sent poems + stories into the ether. every morning I run or walk

unless like now I'm on the clock early. then a pot of tea + yoghurt

while I read a poetry anthology, the Oxford of American currently

tho the fact that you are not included is fucking bullshit.

after a good dose I dive into writing revising or editing—better

in the morning, radio quiet, unlike now—almost dark w/rain—

they could leave all these single-tree fires, won't go anywhere

might burn up some fuel and go out but adrenaline is pouring

out of the speakers. you should see the clouds:

huge towering cumulus anvilheads. wall of rain to the north.


xii


after a week of august heat a week of lightning and blessed

cool clouds, plus overtime + firefighters running all over

chasing smokes. so everyone is happy. I've finally felt useful,

calling in some smokes tho, for example, I called in two

last saturday then the whole area submerged in rain all night.

three days later + still puddles on the road. now on two days off

two months to go if we dont get a season-ending event

or the government doesnt shut down. or the zombie apocalypse.

reading Han Shan + Stone House in maybe not greatest translation

but still the refusal both to participate in a corrupt economy

+ corrupt spiritual practice even if—for Stone House—

he was the head of that power structure. I prefer the chinese

mountain men to the american version. here I'd have to wear furs

+ own lots of guns so people would leave me alone. in China

I'd be respected. or that's my Romantic vision based on poetry

500-700 years old. any loners retreating to the woods now

are probably rounded up + put in internment camps. or forced

to work in smartphone factories. but we're americanos, let's not

think of those things. still tho, puertoriqueños just ousted a corrupt

governor w/huge street protests—when will that happen here?

I know, what am I doing about it. well, not making things worse.

I hope. I really do believe tho that creative people, especially poets,

create the world, like Heidegger wrote. too bad about the nazi thing.

but then, most college professors I've known and worked with

always kowtowed to authority. what did their students learn.


xiii


mid-august, Tower Point Lookout. warm + sunny this morning

then low stratus clouds pour over the Cascades + rain all afternoon.

'socked in' in the clouds + it's my day off so I'm earning overtime.

with luck my duty officer will forget I'm up here + I'll extend

until 2000 as previously scheduled. not a season-ending event but

we're not going to get into severity this summer either. fire danger

got to 'high' last week but will go down to moderate tomorrow

tho by friday will be dry + sunny again tho breezy. nothing to do

but curl up in bed + read—Jim Harrison + Stone House

'discovering' Katherine Mansfield finally at 50 via Chekhov

tho she wasn't brought back until the 90s + postcolonial studies.

Stone House lived like this for 15 years all year round—asked

to then lead a zen monastery which he did for seven years then quit

+ came back up to his mountain for another twenty—he had more

temperate weather but some poems got so cold he burned saplings.

I'd never read Harrison's first novel Wolf I realized so now am—

one last pleasurable jewel to honor his passing, actually the poet

I've seen most, or heard, at readings—twice at MSU + at least

once in Santa Fe tho maybe twice—didn't appreciate him until

my thirties when I left New Mexico + came back to Michigan

to help mom build her retirement house near Empire. I've been

writing about Michigan this summer. I never explored the beautiful

parts, the northern parts, until my 40s when Jackson sucked me back in.

never had a problem w/the land tho I never cared for the winters.

the people tho mostly disappointed. bitter + angry. every time I go

back there I get hurt so much I forget the kindnesses like your poetry

nights + good food. any friends always left because no jobs. my mother

+ father who I finally stopped trying to please much too late.

that was part of the early hurt, the divorce + being exchanged

'like a potted plant' as one therapist said in Ypsilanti during grad school

when I almost quit from frustration + anger—she didn't save my life

but was the first person to take my point of view + show it to me.

that was the winter I'd drive an hour one-way in a blizzard

to your house just to be with poetry + wine. I wonder could I have

skipped those last few years in Michigan + gone directly to fire lookouting.

dinner time here. something warm. boil rice + heat up tikka masala

my sister brought me w/toasted pita. add cayenne pepper.


xiv


moisture from a pacific tropical storm in from the southwest—

huge anvilhead cumulonimbus. lightning out in the southern

desert + just east on the mesas. whole area got a soaking tho.

already one engine going after a small juniper down south

of Hwy 20. more smokechasing tonight + tomorrow—all little

stuff that would just go out or putter around + burn fuel.

I give weather updates over the radio—they have radar of course

+ lightning maps but apparently do listen to me—

hard to believe—+ pre-position engines. also just getting folks

out of the field when this weather moves in—rain turns

roads to mud. there's a bunch of cold wet bowhunters

in the woods right now or maybe they all said fuck it + went

into town to drink. flannel shirt weather. just plucking my guitar

watching all directions clouds + waterdogs + ground strikes—

a rainbow. I tried reading Faulkner up here but just dont care

about a bucket of scorpion-rich white mississippians screwing

each other over. I'm besieged by rats. or squirrels. something

skittering around outside at night trying to find a way inside.

gnawing at the vents + doors. HP Lovecraft's rats in the walls.

I've gone full-on rat poison—I need to sleep + dont want hantavirus.

I hope they go back to their holes to die w/o poisoning raptors.

hawks come everyday to hover towerlevel over the butte.

+ eagles + falcons + buzzards. occasional crows. six weeks left!


xv


already a week into september! rain has come—felt it

yesterday, autumn is here. we had some lightning last week,

with rain, tho the Glass Butte Fire down south—

alas I didn't call it in, couldn't see it through the clouds—

burned into the night, 10 acres, but finally washed down the hill

overnight. I called in a single struck juiniper to the

southeast but it too got rain. right now there's a dark wall

to the west rolling off the Cascades—will probably

track to my north, but anyways I'm back to 8-hr days

+ taking two days off—woke this morning in clouds—had the

windows shut all day wearing long pants + flannel—No

bugs or rodents at least. best time to be at the

tower—clouds + rain on roof, wind, no worry

about missing the Big One. wish I could stay up

here longer, look for something else—wolves maybe.

a litter of them caught on camera up on the Warm Springs

Reservation to the northwest—surprisingly close to Mt. Hood

w/Portland just beyond. I hope they make it. seems like

they'd come down to the Ochocos + if they crossed the

Crooked River to the Maury's they'd have all kinds of space.

but this is rancher country. Sacred Cows. they'll leave

straggler cows in the forest to die over the winter but if a

wolf pack killed one they'd howl (the ranchers,

not the wolves). I had a wolf pack come down near Tripod LO

on the Boise one summer—their howls not scary at all—primal.

they killed one cow so the ranchers killed seven of them.

but the moon rising.


xvi


I seem to be in a 'season-ending event'—rained last night

'socked in' most of today in the clouds w/more rain + tonight

snow to 7000' + tomorrow down to 6500'. Tower Point is 6300.

my boss warned me yesterday that I may be pulled down end

of the month instead of going to mid-october + I cant see how

or why they wouldn't. fire danger basically in the negatives

at this point. I finally got the heater working—last night w/strong

gusty winds I went through 15 matches. probably will be on

for the remainder of my time. I still have tomorrow + wednesday

off, if I can drive out thru the mud puddles. but I had a productive,

restful day. read poetry for breakfast, then revised an essay

about being a fire lookout that an editor actually requested—

about a day from hell at Aztec Lookout, Ed Abby's old tower

+ my first season—some prepper hunters messed w/me,

teenagers showed up w/a cooler of beer to party all night

+ a crazy guy appeared after hours + tried to force the trapdoor

+ threatened me + when the LEOs arrived they blamed me

for everything + not being the welcoming Forest Service face.

the District stopped staffing that tower after that. two years

later the whole area burned up. I worked on a short story all

afternoon. I'd started it, but was scared to attempt to finish it

because I didn't know if I could or if it would be good or a waste.

I have to label stories 'notes' in order to tell myself that what I

write doesn't have to be good, tho usually take a lot of those notes

as they are. (dont tell myself). like poetry, I never know what's

going to happen but need to have a basic idea to start. the rest

gets worked out in the process + hours pass.


xvii


well, it's decided: staying up until October 11th. amazed

+ grateful. I would have been ok coming down next week

two weeks early + had been telling my friends + sister that I was.

the mountain drenched in rain. I've been on two days off.

drove up this afternoon + almost got stuck in a mudbog—

I'll have to use a different route down (I have three)—

cant see the Sisters or the Ochocos so cant tell if they have any.

when I arrived I had rain + a little hail. here for hunter fires—

no restrictions, not like last year, but all hunters light campfires

even if sleeping in trailers these days. I would too in a big group.

but some tend to not put them out when they leave.

70% of all wildfires human-caused + not just hunters.

Cerro Pelado Lookout one summer one same guy camping

every Sunday night caused an escaped campfire every monday.

+ he probably never knew. but we've had four days of rain here.

cold rain. winter has come. an fire wouldnt go anywhere.

but, it's submitting season—in town I sent out a bunch of

writing—poems, stories. all for what? all of us unknown writers

thinking maybe someone will notice + offer us a book deal. ha.

so then it's just for the process, submitting part of process,

creating a space for words in + against a world that doesn't care.

but when a complete stranger does care + accepts something—

a miracle. for about a week. then back to the slog.

I've been part of a new literary magazine in actual print

just came out, proud of having brought out others' work.

who knows how many people will read it. 300? on the other hand,

how amazing that 300 people will read it. at MSU I was assistant

editor of the Red Cedar Review—still kicking, though they

never take any of my stuff. raining again. mountains in clouds.


xviii


surprise! coming down early after all! pre-october!

so this is it! last night at the tower! I am sad I admit

but also ready to leave + go down into civilization like a

fool. four different prescribed fires burning today—one

last glimpse of smoke—they're getting them in before the cold

front this weekend—snow down to 3000' thursday or friday.

rain all weekend—which is why my boss is pulling me.

FS LOs to the north all staying one more pay period. Crazy.

but normal. I'll be back next summer—the BLM treats me

well, w/per diem + mileage, + they mostly like me, tho some

think they dont need the tower anymore. they'd rather spend

more money on less effective new technology. I may be

the last generation of fire lookouts, tho we're cheap + easy

to please—just leave us alone. one guy over at Aldrich

LO quit early. not for everyone. if I got an offer

for a meaningful 'real job' which allowed me to survive

in the 'real world' I might—if it were a new adventure—

teaching again, tho I think that's done—maybe teach abroad,

tho that doesn't pay well at all—I'm in voluntary poverty—

er, simplicity, but I'm happier than I've been. ever.

wish you could visit. you're welcome any time. I wish

we could go to the movies together again. I wonder what you

thought of the latest Tarantino. I miss Michigan autumns,

the melancholy leaves, but I dont miss Michigan—too much

hurt back there. no one can hurt me up here. but I'm leaving!
mañana I'll be showered + presentable. alas.

thank you for the company. un abrazo. vale.

 


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine

This book review appeared in the literary journal DEEP WILD in Summer 2020. You can order that issue here.

Desert Cabal

by Amy Irvine

Torrey House Press 2018

ISBN: 978-1-937226-97-8


If there is a patron saint of backcountry enthusiasts, it is Edward Abbey. And if there is a book that has ruffled the feathers of Abbey fans recently (especially men, and especially men who haven't read the book) it's Amy Irvine's Desert Cabal. It's a short, fast, informal, read—perfect, say, for carrying with you into the backcountry, which is where her imaginary conversation with the ghost of Ed Abbey framing the book takes place. Mostly this talk takes place around his most iconic book, Desert Solitaire, though also Abbey in general, all his contradictions and hypocrisies and grumpiness. Desert Cabal is not an attack, but Irvine asks important questions, not just for Abbey but for all of us lovers of wilderness, though she is definitely claiming a place at the table, as an equal, and genuinely wanting to understand a man and writer who meant so much to her.

Each chapter focuses on some aspect of Abbey's thought, with Irvine's commiserations—we get her experiences in, and thoughts about, the backcountry too. And Irvine may prove to be a little prickly to some readers, just like Abbey—she's no fan of Republicans or Democrats, no fan of upper-middle class environmental activists who look down on the working poor while driving SUVs, and she at least has some grudging respect for the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for standing up to the federal government. And she carries a Glock.

Of course, Abbey can't answer back, and Irvine does make some suppositions about how he might react to what has been happening recently, most of which I agree with. The one big one I question is thinking that he in fact might be in favor of Trump's border wall. As evidence, she invokes Abbey's (in)famous quote about sending mexican immigrants back from the border with a rifle and a box of ammunition (which I have always thought is misunderstood by most). My thought is that Abbey would have hated the wall, not because of the humans its supposed to (symbolically, at least) keep out, but because of the wild spaces it divides. Because of the jaguars and wolves and pumas.

The biggest question Irvine has for Abbey, and the biggest revelation of the book, is why Abbey took out references to his wife and children from Desert Solitaire. Irvine has access to the original typed manuscript, and sees first-hand the sentences mentioning them crossed out. As a writer, it's clear she understands the conceit, or concept, of the solitude of Desert Solitaire, the Romantic (with a capital R) experience of the writer/speaker in and against and with Nature (also with a capital). But as a woman, and a mother, she can't help but take that (not just omission, but a) crossing out personally.

We'll never know if by keeping his family in Desert Solitaire whether it would have been the bestseller it was (and still is). My guess? Yes. It certainly would have been different. With the inclusion of those few sentences, the entire vision would have been changed. Which is Irvine's point. She sees a missed opportunity, which women would have seen—saw—automatically: "Solitude, for women, is a different animal entirely." And, a little later: "we [women] seek not so much solitude as solidarity, intimacy more than privacy. But it's the way of wilderness—in a thriving ecosystem, integration matters far more than independence." In other words, what if we'd had a bestselling book that shaped decades of activists and nature lovers which advocated for solidarity instead of a leftover sense of American rugged individualism?

Again, Irvine still values Edward Abbey as a huge, good, influence. I was happy to read that in fact, like me, the book of his that really meant the most to her is his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, for its spirit of activism. It was there she learned that she "could resist authority...on behalf of...these beloved public lands!"

Which brings us to the 'Cabal' of the title. Irvine prefers the french, and female, version, la cabale, but which in either case is the (perhaps conspiratorial, perhaps witchcrafty) group of us, all, who love the wilderness but also want to save it from our governments (local and federal) and tourists and maybe from ourselves. Her invocation (her 'calling in') to us is the reverse of the famous Abbey proclamation to his readers not to get bogged down in the activist part of life, but to "Get out!" and enjoy the wild. Irvine does not deny that at all, but suggest to us (and Abbey's ghost) that, decades later, maybe it's time to 'Come back!':

"So I say to you, go solo, into the desert. Yes, do this and love every minute. But then come back. Come back to the cabale that has joined together, to save what we know and love."



Sunday, December 31, 2023

Two more poems by Manuel Vilas

My translations of two more poems by Manuel Vilas, "Vampire Apprentice" and "Stockholm," now up, finally, at LIT, the literary journal of The New School for Social Research, my alma mater.