Thursday, August 27, 2009

Whidbey Writers Workshop

So I headed off for a few days to teach on Whidbey Island in their unique MFA program ( and came away, frankly, blown away. The students, the teachers, the setting were all superlative. I’d expected to find serious dedicated writers, but I didn’t expect their generosity and humility and good humor. I’d expected some nice views, but I didn’t expect to get weepy from the sound of waves lapping on the sand.

Each morning I’d walk the beach from the dorms to rehearse my hour-long presentations over and over to myself—this my own hang up, my own version of OCD; I have to do it before bookstore readings, too—and I’d watch seabirds against the blue blue Sound and the green forested Olympics on the horizon. Each afternoon, I’d speak. (Phew, got that over with!) Then each evening, I’d hang out with the writers and try to soak in as much good energy as I could.

One night I got to spend some time with Jason, my old trail crew buddy, who’s working out there on historic preservation projects. When he gave me the grand tour, including sunset from a driftwood beach with seals flapping just offshore, I understood why we don’t see him on the east side as often as we used to.

Meanwhile, from in Stehekin, Laurie reported that smoke settled hard from wildfires in B.C. Mosquitoes and yellow jackets grew plentiful and cranky, and zucchinis in the garden got predictably out of hand: one per five-gallon bucket. Now I’m home, and the brush is brown and the wind is hot, and the pickup truck we barged downlake cost more to fix than I made at Whidbey, a lot more. Still, I’m thinking that if they ask me back, I’ll go. In a heartbeat.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Garden, outhouse, lightning, not-quite-a-glacier, and some books

Summer is in full swing in Stehekin. The past couple weeks have included a fabulous 20-mile day hike to Pyramid Peak, a night camping at 6500’ watching lightning strike 360 degrees around us, and windsurfing with our friends, Ron and Vicki, to celebrate their brand new land purchase. (“The hard part is over,” said Ron. Ha ha.) Today alone included garden chores—harvesting way too many cukes, zukes, basil, cilantro, spinach, peas, and jalepenos and planting peas and curly cress (What is curly cress? We don’t know. Just happened to have the seeds)—picking up our weekly gallon of organic milk from our neighbors with a cow, commenting on about thirty student memoirs, then digging a new outhouse hole.

This week a new essay “The Seam” appears in Under the Sun. You can pick up a copy if you’ve got a (really) good bookstore in town. Or you can order one at the website: Next week, a shorty about my ambivalence about being a writer called “The Dictionary Reader” will appear on the back page of High Country News ( Meanwhile, I weaseled my way around the fact that Jon Riedel and I didn’t make it onto the Easton glacier like we were supposed to last month. We got close, so I called the piece “Glacier’s Edge” and SueEllen Campbell graciously accepted it for her forthcoming, hugely ambitious, book The Face of the Earth.

Recent reading: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, Blindness by Jose Saramago, Lush Life by Richard Price, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi, and Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Next up: I Want to Take You Higher: the Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone. I can’t wait.