After years of dreaming about this 94-mile loop, I finally made my way around Mt. Rainier, guiding an idyllic 3-day circumnavigation with Aspire Adventure Running. Damn.
My essay, “Thaw,” was included in the Summer 2016 issue of Camas Magazine, with the theme of REVOLUTION.
As Senior Editor for Camas Environmental Literary Magazine back in 2014-2015, I learned so much about print publication, about curating works and editorial etiquette. Camas, in my opinion, remains one of the sharpest, most beautiful environmental publications out there, and it’s featured some of the best writers in the game, along with ambitious, lesser-known authors. This summer, my essay “Thaw” was selected as a nonfiction feature. The piece is about a ten-hour sit-in demonstration I organized for the first day of the COP21 Paris Climate Talks. Below you’ll find the first two pages. Consider subscribing or gifting Camas to someone you love. It’s a vital and necessary resource for imagining new possibilities in the world, and we need this more than ever right now.
A nagging bladder causes the Congolese delegate to squirm. He tries to shift focus away from his midsection and redirect it upward, towards his head. Jetlagged from recent travels, the man’s attire covers up the fatigue: shiny, pointed shoes; socks embroidered with shapes of wildlife; white cuffs poking a quarter-inch from under a black designer suit; a platinum watch at the hinge of his wrist. The delegate’s legs reorganize from spread to crossed as he props his head up with an index finger to concentrate.
November 30th, 2015. 2:45 P.M.
La Charante Conference Hall. Le Bourget. Paris, France.
The temperature outside flirts into the sixties, atypical for winter’s eve in the City of Light. It’s day one of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Conference of Parties, COP21, a twelve-day event attracting 38,000 participants from 190 countries to confront what many believe to be the most pressing issue of our time: a runaway climate. The delegates converge in Paris to broker a deal for acceptable global temperature rise and emission controls.
Fastened atop the conference is an enormous hardhat of security, its layers woven in Kevlar and barbed wire. The 120,000 policemen and gendarmes on duty nearly match the numbers summoned for the 1944 allied invasion of Normandy. In a way, our own bodies should be first to accept these precautions, as they too are designed for defense: ribcage for the heart, skull for the brain, and twenty square feet of skin to keep it all from spilling onto the sidewalk.
But COP21 security is different. It’s exhaustive, with reinforced walls and rooms guarded by thousands, all watching, listening and sniffing, while still tasting the metallic tang of vengeance following terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead only weeks ago. COP21 enters its first day as a janitor crew at the Bataclan Concert Hall wire-scrubs purple bloodstains from General Admission.
High above the cleaning crew, thin-nosed drones fly by with their rotating cameras, while anti-aircraft missiles point in all directions. Beyond the drones, satellites hover stationary like caddisflies at dusk to watch every movement from space. The surveilled include not only delegates but the thousands of climate activists nearby, recently informed of France’s State of Emergency, that all public demonstrations are banned.
Despite this prohibition, the world marched. Over the previous two days, three quarters of a million people in 175 countries marched in 2,300 events. In London, 50,000. In Sydney, 45,000. In Madrid, 20,000. A teacher from the Marshall Islands, a South Pacific nation drowning from sea level rise, walked on stage in London to read a poem for her daughter in front of thousands. In Nanyuki, Kenya, hundreds of citizens marched along the equator. In Chile, a group shuffled in solidarity across a glacier near the country’s southern tip.
Paris had been muzzled, but the world hadn’t.
A fractured sun drops behind the city’s arrondiseements, twenty districts that spiral numerically clockwise out from the city’s navel—the Louvre. Light bounces off high-rise windows from the financial district to the north, its skyscrapers peering into the cuts and curls of Paris’ Hausmannian architecture so revered by the romantic, the revolutionary, and the poet.
But COP21 isn’t poetic. If it’s attempting to be, the stanzas don’t work. The metaphors don’t pop; they read clunky and synthetic. Most delegates don’t exude the passion Parisian lovers might. They don’t smell of cognac and cigarettes but more like dry-cleaning and hand sanitizer. Plastered along these conference hallways is a different type of poetry, the sharp-fonted edge of corporate song. BNP Paribas, a French multinational bank and one of the largest in the world, has billions of investment dollars in coal-fired plants. Another, Engie, is Europe’s largest importer of natural gas. Other sponsors include Coca-Cola, BMW, and Dow Chemicals. It’s as if Budweiser and Coors were sponsoring a Mother’s Against Drunk Driving convention.
The Congolese man leaves and returns to his seat holding a hot beverage. His shoes squeak at each step. A few heads swivel. Perhaps he doesn’t worry about his brief absence because there are 300 other colleagues from the Democratic Republic of Congo in attendance, all focusing on piped-in translations of the current speaker on stage.
At least this is how I imagine it all going.
This is how I imagine COP21 from 5,000 miles away in Missoula, Montana. This is how I imagine the single most important convergence of world leaders and activists to agree on solutions for a livable planet, the same planet I’m sitting on now, alone, cross-legged and overtaken by an uncontrollable shiver in this pre-dawn, subzero dark.
The short piece “Why I Run,” was inspired, in form, by Terry Tempest Williams’s “Why I Write,” something I’ve read at least fifty times myself and have shared with at least fifty others. Gold. The writing was included in a package offering from Territory Run Co, a unique, trail-wilderness-lifestyle company based out of Portland, Oregon, of which I’m an athlete-writer-ambassador. Along with the print journal, the package included apparel and a bag of rich coffee from Rucksack Coffee. Running and roasting. What else is there?
Ten beautiful days back in Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico, proved restorative, nostalgic, and productive. Photos + words.
Todos Santos Music Festival. Death Cab for Cutie. Santa Cecilia. John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. David Fricke from Rolling Stone Magazine. Dharma Talks. Todos Santos Writer’s Workshop. Cerritos surf. Late night music jam with old friends and family. Fish tacos, ceviche, everything covered in lime. And arroyo running. Lots of arroyo running. Todos Santos in Southern Baja remains one of my favorite spots on the planet. Great trip south of the border this time, packed with inspiring people and events.
A synchronized sunrise run was organized around the world by my running sponsor Territory Run Co. so a dear artist friend and I went out for a hunt.
Jackrabbit crosses the path as we start up, start in, start out. A swerve left. A swerve right. Sandy paths, fishtailing feet. Go. Go. Go. The sun is making things pink over there, over in the Sierra. Hurry.
Down the arroyo. Technical. Watch that prickly stuff—ocotillo, pitaya dulce, torote, cardon. Baja wilds have teeth; they bite. Catch a toe, take a fall, and you bleed.
Go faster. Sun about to crest. That knife-edge ridge above the cactus canyon is where I want to be for sunrise. Cross a wide arroyo choked in sand. Common to see coyote here. None today.
A climb. Colin behind me with a long stride, a graceful gait, an adjunct art professor from Bennington College, Vermont. Solid man.
Climb. Climb. Climb. Up the ridge we make it, only to flare off a pair of white-dotted birds. Rustle in the bramble right of my ankle. Once saw a six-foot rattler here. Only the wind this time. Onshore, 25 mph today, Colin tells me.
We reach the ridge of awe. I smell torote peel, like cinnamon. There’s my heart beating. There’s warmth. There’s red. There’s orange. There’s that fiery reminder that all things in nature reset. Everyday. The sun rises, and us with it. Bees nearby, too, have risen to collect pollen by the pound next to us. Industrious bastards.
Awe. Reverence. Simplicity. Migration. I think of my home in Missoula where ice fringes everything. I recognize my privilege to be here in Todos Santos, Mexico. And I’m grateful to my core for this place, this moment, this friend, this sun.
We keep noticing. We keep attending. The great dawn helps us attune and attend with its shadow and easy light. We descend through hundred-year old cacti that look like stampeding elephant legs and return to van, to coffee, to family, to life.
A short piece I wrote about my hometown is featured in the November/December 2015 issue of Orion Magazine.
Someone recently asked me: “If you were to be reincarnated as a magazine, what would you be?”
I remember the first time I discovered this bimonthly magazine. Their tagline? Nature + Culture + Place. Yes, okay. Good. That was five years ago, while living and working in Portland, Oregon. The issue had wild flora art on the cover and some heavy-hitting writing inside, most of whom I had never read.
The publication was beautiful and it met my inquiries at that time. It was a period when both my writing practice and environmental inquiries were growing fast and needed food constantly. Books. People. Actions. Anything. I asked daily: how can we share edgy, honest stories and art that honestly portray the relationship between humans in their environment? And how do we make that beautiful? How do we make that head-swivelingly hip and interesting?
How do we feed awe?
Orion Magazine feeds awe. It’s my single favorite magazine right now, and a short piece of mine, “Murphys, California,” about my hometown, was just included in the section The Place Where you Live. If you don’t know this publication, head to your closest independent bookstore and pick up a copy today. They’re ad-free, deftly honest, and exquisite in their layout, content, and vision. It’s always a big day when a copy arrives in the mail, and I’m beyond honored to finally be part of their publication. Onwards.
On Monday, November 30th, the first day of the Paris COP21 climate negotiations, friend and fellow climate activist Will Genadek and I decided we’d join in on the people’s action.
On the first day back from Thanksgiving Break, a friend and I decided to join in solidarity to the climate actions happening in Paris for COP21. Using sunup to sundown as our thresholds (10 hours, 7am-5pm) we sat in silence without any food, in the middle of the Oval at the University of Montana, Missoula. On the hour, we would walk the circular perimeter six times, to represent our planet’s six mass extinctions, the current one being triggered by us, humans.
The experience was heavy, difficult at times, sometimes boring, always frozen, and, in the end, absolutely beautiful. My toes are still waxy and red as it was 0 degrees Fahrenheit when we got up. The temperatures remained south of 15 degrees all day. Hundreds of students stopped to read our small leaflets. We chose to not have large signs or social media events or much planning. It was an experiment in spontaneous action from the heart.
We found that this actually disarmed a lot of people, made them come closer, made them engage. Some walked around the perimeter with us. Some told us we were crazy. Some thanked us. Some took photos, one of which somehow made it to the Congolese delegate at the Paris talks. Dogs ran into our laps and licked our faces. Small children would approach and ask: “Mommy, what are they doing?” We would wave; they waved back, smiling always.
These moments made me tear up, but then I thought tears might possibly freeze my eyelids shut so I held them back.
All day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the future. I listened to footsteps coming and going all day. Footsteps in, footsteps out. Thousands of footsteps. I thought about what kind of world our children are inheriting, what I’m leaving them with, what planet they’ll be walking into? With recent shootings in San Bernardino, California (ten minutes from my alma mater, the University of Redlands; I worked a mile from the massacre site) and more U.S. shootings than days of year in 2015, prayer is indeed powerful and necessary, but it’s not enough. We need to act, to demonstrate peace and restraint towards violence against ourselves and towards the planet. Now.
More words and actions to come. Here are some images from the day, by two wonderful photographers and powerful women, Alex Wardwell and Anna Schreck. Thanks to everyone who encouraged us to keep going.
Let’s keep going.
For the past two years, Chris Reed, Trevien Stanger and I have congregated once a week, without missing a single one, for dinner and conversation. It basically all started by circling the wagons in 2013 over a recently acquired roadkill deer, which, as you might imagine, brought the three of us even closer.
This article “The Art of Men’s Council Dinner” was fun to write and recount, and the man dinners continue to this day. Even though Trevien Stanger moved back to Vermont, Chris and I still grab food and talk life once a week without fail (technically, our dinner quorum was two—at least 2/3 had to get together if in the same town that week.)