Selected magazine writing

“Claustrophilia: Do wide-open lands bring us closer together?” The cover essay in High Country News’ 2015 Books and Essays issue:

I can see a spark of tired panic in Jo’s eyes as they meet mine. Our narrow Purgon — a Russian-made UAZ van that resembles a jacked-up VW bus — is bursting with people. The rigid seats, which face each other like those in a diner booth, are crammed with butts, and our knees interlock like a human zipper. In the back, where baggage and boxes of supplies serve as yet more seats, two weathered old men hunch below the ceiling. In the front passenger seat, a woman settles on the lap of the standby driver. And yet here we are, picking up another passenger. She looks like she weighs maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, but where will she fit? More…

“Bird v. bird: The complicated relationship between sage grouse and their avian predators,” a feature on pp.16-19 of the summer, 2015 issue of Western Confluence magazine:

Rancher Truman Julian says he has “a place in his heart” for greater sage grouse. A former wildlife biologist who still works land his family homesteaded near Kemmerer, Wyoming, around the turn of the 19th century, Julian has piped spring water to troughs at the dry edges of his private ground that he says benefit both sage grouse and livestock, and has installed special ramped screens the birds can climb to escape drowning should they fall in. More…

“Where can we say ‘yes’ to oil and gas?: What we give up in so-called sacrifice zones,” a feature in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue of High Country News:

Kaye Fissinger collects Don Quixote. I met the diminutive 70-year-old at her home in a quiet subdivision of Longmont, Colorado. Amid memorabilia from her work in musical theater, black-and-white portraits and an eye-popping snapshot of her body-builder daughter, the man of La Mancha stared from prints and paintings, posed in wooden statuettes and porcelain figurines.

“Why Quixote?” I asked

She regarded me over gold-rimmed glasses, a smile quirking her mouth. “Because he tilts at windmills,” she said. More…

“A plague of tumbleweeds: A handy pamphlet on how to dig out from a tumbleweed takeover of sci-fi proportions,” an infographic from the Mar. 21 2014 issue of High Country News:

Tumbleweeds first engulfed J.D. Wright’s house in southeastern Colorado Nov. 17. Wind gusted up and there they were, piled so deep over doors and windows that Wright’s grandson had to dig him and his wife out with a front-end loader. “We had some bad weeds in the ’50s and ’70s (droughts),” Wright says, “but nothing like this.” More…

“The Odd Couple: Ranchers, enviros and managers seek a middle path on public-land grazing in Utah,” a feature from the Feb. 25 2014 issue of High Country News:

If you had never heard them talk about one another, you might assume Mary O’Brien and Bill Hopkin were enemies.

Hopkin, a sturdy 68-year-old with a shock of white hair, grew up stringing fence and tending cows in conservative, pro-ranching northern Utah. Now the grazing management specialist for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, he says he’s still “at my best when I’m talking over the hood of a pickup.” Cattle, he fervently believes, can help rangelands thrive.

O’Brien, also 68, is elfish and unflinchingly direct, with a big laugh. She grew up in Los Angeles, devouring Willa Cather’s books and falling so in love with grasslands that she would later encourage ecology students to honor native plants by thinking of each as a person. More…

“The Blue Window: Journeying from redrock desert to icy wasteland,” a two-page essay from the August 05, 2013 issue of High Country News:

“Buy this book and read it on the plane (!)”

This was David’s advice to me for our upcoming expedition to Alaska’s Harding Icefield, emailed along with a link to Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

I am no stranger to mountains, having grown up in Colorado and spent several seasons building trail, backpacking, doing biological research and writing in the state’s stretch of the Rockies. But glaciers were a mystery to me — and the Harding is the largest icefield in the United States. More…

“The Fossil Record: How my family found a home in the West,” a 3-page feature from High Country News’ October 16, 2012 Books and Essays issue:

When I was a kid, I sometimes wished that my family went on normal vacations.

Normal was what my elementary and middle-school classmates did over spring and summer break, flying to wave-kissed beaches or hitting flashy amusement parks. Not my family: My parents would load my two half-sisters, my brother and me into a big blue Dodge van with finicky air-conditioning and drive us hundreds of sweaty miles to exciting destinations like Lusk and New Castle, Wyo., Broadus and Miles City, Mont. More…

“Street artist Jetsonorama tries a new kind of healing in Navajoland,” a two-page profile from the March 23, 2012 issue of High Country News:

In 1991, a young doctor delivered a baby Navajo girl in his backseat. A man had pounded on his door earlier that evening, his girlfriend in labor and his truck too slow for the 50-mile trip to the Tuba City, Ariz., hospital. The doctor loaded the woman into his own car, thinking they could make it. The baby, whom we’ll call Emily, had other ideas. More…

“The ‘Utah solution’ to immigration,” a one-page news analysis from the June 29, 2011 issue of High Country News:

Utah State Rep. Bill Wright is conservative to the bone. The Republican seems flabbergasted by the immigration debate that’s flared up since the passage of Arizona’s SB1070 last spring. Critics say the law — tied up in federal courts over its questionable constitutionality — legitimizes racial profiling in order to ferret out undocumented residents.

But Wright isn’t decrying Democrats seeking a more lenient approach. He’s reserved his ire for Republicans behind copycat measures that focus only on enforcement and penalizing businesses that hire undocumented workers. More…

“Lumbering along, barely: Linking beetle-killed trees to viable markets proves difficult,” from the Sept. 10, 2010 issue of High Country News:

Brad Siegel can clear 6 to 10 acres of beetle-killed timber in a day with a full crew. This summer, however, he’s settling for a single acre per day, as he removes topple-prone trees from campsites and insulates Keystone, Colo., from wildfire. There’s just not a market for the wood. More…

“Going to the gasroots: Oil and gas companies mobilize from the ground up in a changing West,” from the August 4, 2008 issue of High Country News:

Watch out! Bureaucrats want to protect prairie dogs and other wild animals at the expense of the already-faltering economy and jobs that sustain thousands of hardworking families like yours.

At least, that’s the message broadcast this summer by Colorado’s oil and gas industry in a PR campaign against a sweeping proposal for tighter controls on natural gas drilling in the state. More…

“Four women joyride the flood that will revive the Colorado River Delta,” appeared on  High Country News’ website hcn.org on March 28, 2014:

The guides warned us, of course. Or they sort of did.

It was sometime after the river outfitter’s shuttle van had passed through the latticework of gates and fences that guards the steep, hairpinned road to the boat-launch at the base of the Hoover Dam, and possibly right before we realized that we had left our two-burner stove back in Alison’s truck, in the parking lot of a casino hotel towering beigely over an otherwise nearly buildingless swath of desert around Lake Mead. More…

“After South Dakota’s deadly whiteout, a look at blizzards past” appeared on hcn.org on October 23, 2013:

It began as unseasonably warm weather – 80-degree temperatures edging into the last couple of weeks before western South Dakota ranchers were to round up their summer-fat cattle, bring some to market and move the rest to closer-to-home pastures with gullies and trees for shelter against the brutal winter months ahead. The cows perhaps didn’t mind the Indian summer, since their coats had yet to thicken against the coming cold. And beef prices were reportedly strong in early October, when the hard rain hit. More…

If we don’t get our energy here, where will we get it?: Examining the argument that any place is more special than the rest” appeared on hcn.org on Dec. 6, 2012:

A few weeks ago, a Texas oilman cornered me at a brewery in the high-mountain town of Ouray, in western Colorado. Some young women from Moab had just taken the table next to my friend and myself, when the fellow wandered over to buy us a round. More…

“Beauty and the Beast: A terrible beauty can be found in ravaged industrial regions” appeared on hcn.org on January 23, 2012:

It is a dead place — boned with black, sentinel tree trunks, veined with unspeakably polluted water, laid bare under a paste-white sky. There is no sense of space or time, only pure, absolute quiet.

It is one of my favorite images — Uranium Tailings No. 12, taken at Ontario’s Elliot Lake in 1995, part of photographer Edward Burtynsky’s troubling series documenting the ravages of mining. The most disturbing part of the work is the beauty apparent in all that ugliness: the molten orange of water tainted by nickel tailings, the taupe and gray shades of soil — smooth and tender-looking as skin — swept clean of living mess. More…

Selected news reporting

“Gas wells complicate wildfire planning,” a feature for The Aspen Daily News, later picked up as an Associated Press enterprise story, that ran June 22, 2007:

Last week’s Cottonwood Creek fire, which burned within 200 yards of gas wells and houses south of Parachute, was a stark reminder that the proliferation of mountain hideaway homes isn’t the only booming development that’s added to the challenge of wildland firefighting in recent years.

Beyond the elaborate trophy estates and quaint cabins, Western Colorado’s energy industry has peppered fire-prone public and private lands with natural gas wells, pipelines and an influx of remotely stationed workers. More…

“Searching for ‘rock snot,'” a feature for The Aspen Daily News that ran October 13, 2007:

Karl Hermann, wader-clad, pocket knife in hand, was on the lookout for a shady character as he sloshed through the Roaring Fork River and West Maroon Creek Saturday afternoon.

Hermann bent and scraped a slimy film of algae from a rock and into a baggie for later analysis. The brown goo may or may not be what Hermann, the water quality monitoring and assessment coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Rocky Mountain region, is looking for — an algae that he describes as a “native that’s misbehaving.” More…

“Consensus: Aspen could improve on bear issues,” a feature for The Aspen Daily News that ran August 10, 2007:

Just before 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Rick Wilder crouched and rooted through the trash. Styrofoam takeout containers, rancid corncobs, grocery bags and other refuse spread from an overfilled Dumpster like a stinky flag, marking the nighttime visit of a black bear.

“This is about a bad a hit as you’re gonna get right here,” Wilder said, examining a Fed Ex envelope for a name or address that will help him do his job.

Wilder is Aspen’s lone wildlife ordinance enforcement officer. Every weekday morning, he cruises the streets and alleys before trash collectors arrive, looking for the telltale messes left by bears getting into unsecured Dumpsters and garbage bins. More…

My writing for audubon.org can be found here.

More of my writing for High Country News can be found here.

Work picked up by Adventure Journal can be found here.

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