Amy Irvine is NOT Coming to Rockville!

Amy Irvine to Read From her new book,  Desert Cabal

Friday, May 03, 2019, 7:00 pm
Rockville Town Hall (The Old Church), Rockville, UT

Darn it!!

Ever since Amy’s new book was published last November, I’ve been after her to come read in Rockville. The book has been so popular, she’s been on a non-stop reading tour all over the darn West. But, finally, it’s our turn! Don’t miss this! What’s the book about? WELL!

As Edward Abbey’s environmental classic Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness turned fifty last year, Amy felt its iconic author, who inspired generations of rebel-rousing advocacy on behalf of the American West, was due tribute as well as a talking to. In Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, Amy Irvine admires the man who influenced her life and work but challenges all that is dated—offensive, even—between the covers of Abbey’s book. From Abbey’s quiet notion of solitude to Irvine’s roaring cabal, the desert just got hotter, and its defenders more nuanced and numerous.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AMY IRVINE is a sixth-generation Utahn and long-time public lands activist. Her memoir, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land, received the Orion Book Award, the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award, and the Colorado Book Award. Irvine teaches in the MFA program of Southern New Hampshire University. She lives and writes off the grid in southwest Colorado, just spitting distance from her Utah homeland.

 

Interviews with Amy and Excerpts

RadioWest: bit.ly/2Q5V8Im
Colorado Public Radio: bit.ly/2Q4kwT1
Lit Hub: bit.ly/2yc0tqH
High Country News: bit.ly/2ABS8gq
Rock & Ice Magazine: bit.ly/2wWvTQy

Amy’s website: https://www.amyirvine.com/

Order the book at: Torrey House Press is an independent nonprofit publisher promoting environmental conservation through literature. We believe that culture is changed through conversation and that lively, contemporary literature is the cutting edge of social change. We strive to identify exceptional writers, nurture their work, and engage the widest possible audience; to publish diverse voices with transformative stories that illuminate important facets of our ever-changing planet; to develop literary resources for the conservation movement, educating and entertaining readers, inspiring action.                 TORREY HOUSE PRESS             VOICES FOR THE LAND          www.torreyhouse.org

Questions? Contact me:

 

Amy Irvine is NOT Coming to Rockville!

Amy Irvine to Read From her new book,  Desert Cabal

Friday, May 03, 2019, 7:00 pm
Rockville Town Hall (The Old Church), Rockville, UT

Darn it!!

Ever since Amy’s new book was published last November, I’ve been after her to come read in Rockville. The book has been so popular, she’s been on a non-stop reading tour all over the darn West. But, finally, it’s our turn! Don’t miss this! What’s the book about? WELL!

As Edward Abbey’s environmental classic Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness turned fifty last year, Amy felt its iconic author, who inspired generations of rebel-rousing advocacy on behalf of the American West, was due tribute as well as a talking to. In Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, Amy Irvine admires the man who influenced her life and work but challenges all that is dated—offensive, even—between the covers of Abbey’s book. From Abbey’s quiet notion of solitude to Irvine’s roaring cabal, the desert just got hotter, and its defenders more nuanced and numerous.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AMY IRVINE is a sixth-generation Utahn and long-time public lands activist. Her memoir, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land, received the Orion Book Award, the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award, and the Colorado Book Award. Irvine teaches in the MFA program of Southern New Hampshire University. She lives and writes off the grid in southwest Colorado, just spitting distance from her Utah homeland.

 

Interviews with Amy and Excerpts

RadioWest: bit.ly/2Q5V8Im
Colorado Public Radio: bit.ly/2Q4kwT1
Lit Hub: bit.ly/2yc0tqH
High Country News: bit.ly/2ABS8gq
Rock & Ice Magazine: bit.ly/2wWvTQy

Amy’s website: https://www.amyirvine.com/

Order the book at: Torrey House Press is an independent nonprofit publisher promoting environmental conservation through literature. We believe that culture is changed through conversation and that lively, contemporary literature is the cutting edge of social change. We strive to identify exceptional writers, nurture their work, and engage the widest possible audience; to publish diverse voices with transformative stories that illuminate important facets of our ever-changing planet; to develop literary resources for the conservation movement, educating and entertaining readers, inspiring action.                 TORREY HOUSE PRESS             VOICES FOR THE LAND          www.torreyhouse.org

Questions? Contact me:

 

May Celebration of Ellen Meloy

On Wednesday, May 1, at 7 PM, please join me at Weller Book Works in Salt Lake City for a special panel celebrating the life of author Ellen Meloy, and a newly published collection of her radio essays from KUER/RadioWest and Torrey House Press titled Seasons: Desert Sketches.

In 1994, her first book, Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River, won the Spur Award for Best Nonfiction Contemporary Work. In 1997, she won the Whiting Award. Last Cheater’s Waltz was released to high praise in 1999. Her 2002 book, The Anthropology of Turquoise, won the Utah Book Award, Banff Mountain Book Festival awards, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her final book, Eating Stone, was completed three months before her untimely death in Bluff, Utah in 2004.

In the 1990s, Ellen wrote and recorded a series of audio essays for KUER, NPR Utah. Every few months, she would travel to their Salt Lake City studios from her red rock home of Bluff to read an essay or two. With understated humor and sharp insight, Meloy would illuminate facets of human connection to nature and challenge listeners to examine the world anew. Seasons: Desert Sketches is a compilation of these essays, transcribed from their original cassette tape recordings. Whether Meloy is pondering geese in Desolation Canyon or people at the local post office, readers will delight in her signature wit and charm—and feel the pull of the desert she loves and defends.

An illustrious panel will gather to reminisce about Ellen and the impact she had on them as writers and people and discussing Seasons: Desert Sketches including Greer Chesher, author of Heart of the Desert Wild: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument; Amy Irvine, author of Desert Cabal: A New Season of Wilderness; Steven Trimble, editor of Red Rock Stories; and Elaine Clark, Producer of RadioWest on KUER. The discussion will be led by Kirsten Johanna Allen, publisher and Editorial Director for Torrey House Press. We’ll even hear from Ellen herself in previously recorded material.

Please join us for this remembrance of Ellen Meloy, her life, works, and impact.

Event date
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Event address

Weller Book Works 607 Trolley Square
Salt Lake City, UT 84102

 

 

Remembering Ellen Meloy

Ellen

It’s hard to believe I’m now five years older than my friend Ellen Meloy when she died, though she was ten years older than me when alive. And even harder to believe she’d be 73 now. That’s one thing about dying young: so you are forever. She was thin, and tall, and gangly, with haywire red hair and goofy front teeth which she exploited for her own humor. She was a caricature of herself, and always the butt of her own jokes–always the straight-faced wit.

Before I knew her well, I had to study her closely after she said something I found hilarious, as I, forever in awe, didn’t want to guffaw if she was serious. I usually found her staring off at clouds, eyebrows raised, innocent of any implication. After knowing her longer, I dispensed with checking, and just burst out laughing, knowing whether she showed it or not, she was too.

When she died at 58, I remember thinking it was her way of getting the last laugh; that she was out there, just ahead of us on the trail, unseen, around the next bend, just out of sight, laughing at how we hadn’t gotten the joke.

It’s our great fortune that the good folks at KUER’s RadioWest recently uncovered a collection of essays Ellen wrote and read for NPR between 1994 and 1998. They partnered with Torrey House Press to publish them; the book is called Seasons: Desert Sketches by Ellen Meloy and will be published in April 2019.  To buy it, click the Torrey House Press link above; to listen to Ellen read an essay, click here.

Here’s an article I wrote on Bluff, Utah and Ellen for the now defunct Wasatch Journal in 2009.

Copyright George H. H. Huey ~ Cloud Watcher Studio sign, Bluff, Utah

The Cosmic Nexus of Bluff, Utah

And the Woman Who Wrote It

Bluff, Utah. From a car hurling down Bluff’s main street, the two-lane SR191, a blink-of-an-eye tour reveals the San Juan River’s tamarisk-choked floodplain; Butler Wash’s wide, torrent-scoured arroyo; the pioneer-stopping Bluff Sandstone cliffs; and tumbleweed on course for Iowa. In town, dusty rutted sideroads struggle to maintain their Mormon-gird dignity while skirting mud wallows large enough to swallow a Hummer, and still provide access to an assembledge of dwellings perhaps best described as eclectic-historic chic. Bluff is funky and backwoods creative, or maybe desert-rat eccentric. In any words, Bluff is a sight to see.

Bluff is a pocket whirled into cliffs by dust devils, where unfurling winds dispense an indiscriminate accumulation. Empty wooden storefronts, the fading red of protracted sun exposure, and vintage trailer parks front the highway near a new timber-sided megahotel. Under ancient, breezy cottonwoods a beautiful, aged, handhewn-stone gas station stands abandoned and quite removed from the busiest place in town, the metalic quickmart that serves as grocery, gas station, and central communication network for Bluff and its multi-hundred square-mile, near roadless exburb.

Although Bluff is also home to a wonderful, if unconventional, restaurant or two; miscellaneous poets, sculptors, and painters; a bona fide coffee shop; some of the most beautiful sandstone-block Victorian homes in Utah, and the increasingly rare roadside stretch of junkyard sculpture, it’s the not the kind of place you’d expect to harbor a Pulitzer-prize finalist; a yearly arts festival drawing the likes of Terry Tempest Williams; or a fund encouraging desert literature, but there you have it.

About 250 people claim to live in Bluff these days. And although founded in 1880 by the Latter Day Saints’ famous Hole in the Rock Expedition (whose mission was to protect this remote quarter from invading gentiles with their cows and immoralities), it is now better known as the put-in for San Juan River trips. Latter Day Saints and river runners invaded the place in the last century—it was water that drew everyone here in the first place—making for an adventurous mix of caffeine-shunning rancher-Mormons; mocha-sipping, self-proclaimed misfits; holdover cowboys; Athabaskan-speaking Diné; missionary Episcopalians; erstwhile artistes and moon-eyed tourists all regarding each other suspiciously while doing the wash down to the Cottonwood Laundromat. Bluff’s slogan, “Whatever the Great Southwest is to you, you’ll find it ALL in BLUFF,” is alarmingly accurate. Bluff could be the accrued answers to a cosmic-scale free-association quiz.

You might be wondering why anyone would set roots here if they weren’t born to it, or for that matter, do anything but hit the accelerator on a drive-through, but, you see, that’s Bluff’s mesmeric charm. Amidst the seemingly endless miles of tawny, cliff-edged desert, Bluff serves as portal—not only to the desert’s ancient imagination, but to our own. A walk in any direction earns the San Juan River’s soothing waters, the Bluff Sandstone’s wind-carved hoodoos, and glimpses of prehistoric dwellings where rock art still radiates enigmatic messages. A daily seat under a lone pinon atop a sandstone ridge has been known to inspire more than one prize-winning book. In the world’s abundance of perfect, magazine-spread landscaping and arbitrated adventure travel, Bluff’s surrounding desert, with its unnumbered canyons, golden mesas, hidden springs, rescue-less dangers, and even its accidental distinctiveness is beginning to match roadside sculpture in rarity.

Ann Walka, a poet who splits her time between Flagstaff, Arizona and Bluff, says “There is a sense of endless space here, and the quiet spills from the canyons right into town. What people notice is so much more connected to the earth. Meeting on the road, people talk about last night’s moon or the neighbor’s hollyhocks. Bluff is a place where you have a sense of belonging and of privacy.”

Spectacular and idiosyncratic, Bluff’s sense of place is difficult to capture in words; luckily it was home to someone who wanted to spend a lifetime trying. If you want to experience Bluff’s enigmatic nature without the long drive, read Ellen Meloy. Perhaps best known as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her book, The Anthropology of Turquoise; Meditations on Landscape, Art, and Spirit, Ellen moved to Bluff with her river-ranger husband in 1995. It was Bluff’s paradoxes that drew her: access to the nearby faraway, the desert’s striped-clean calm and blistering passion, its endless adventure and small embraces, the close community of “exibitionist hermits.” And Ellen fit right in. Tall, slender, her mind-of-its-own red-blond hair awhirl on the slightest breeze, her sun-baked skin glowed the color of redrock. Following those long, brown legs up a steep canyon from the San Juan River was a trot for anyone altitudinally-challenged. But even at her strong pace Ellen noticed the faintest pink blush of Indian paintbrush in bloom; spied the perfectly cryptic, thumbnail-sized baby toad popping away from moving feet. She knew the exact shade of the sky that day, turquoise not azure; summer’s intense light burned “the color of a sparkler’s core.” Ellen’s observations were always specific—detailed, accurate vignettes of this particular desert—her books’ language matched her brain’s precision and called a distinct vision of Bluff and her home desert into being.

Ellen wrote, “The San Juan River flows by my home and is so familiar, it is more bloodstream than place. Everything about it is tangible—a slick ribbon of jade silk between sienna canyon walls hung solid against a cerulean sky, pale sandy beaches, banks thick with lacy green tamarisk fronds, in which perch tiny gold finches.”

Ellen’s precise language had the unexpected effect of sending the reader not only from armchair to a full-body river dunking, but from specific to universal. Ellen evoked a deeper understanding, an echoing memory of an unfathomable connection we share with all that is not human, the pull that calls us still to places like Bluff. It may not seem many people would be fascinated with the intricacies of this remote landscape’s esoteric workings, but Ellen’s enthrallment and love burned from the page. She was able to speak openly about her sensual intoxication with this place, and by so doing evoke in others similar reactions. In her book, Eating Stone; Imagination and Loss of the Wild, Ellen writes, “Behind a gravel bar, a dense grove of tamarisk has turned the color of ripe peaches. An ellipse of pale rose sand lines the inside of a river bend of such beauty, you could set yourself on fire with the rapture of that curve. In it lies a kind of music in stone that might cure all emptiness.”

Imagine a beauty that could cure all emptiness. An impossible vision? Many find such a place on a slow meander through this landscape’s austere profusion. Melding into Bluff’s lonely quarter on an inflatable raft’s summer-warmed pontoon, your only responsibility to watch clouds morph indigo sky. Flat water’s languid current swirls the raft in gentle arcs as you trail fingers in water the color of liquid rock. As you drift by, cliffs seem to unroll, echoing wavelet lappings and reflecting water’s glitter in shaded overhangs. Or mold your body to a slickrock curve, hide from shoulder-slumping heat in cold-rock relief, nap, sleep, and dream of the lion curled here last night. Feel his full-bellied paddings as, across the river, he watches you now.

But, remember too, Bluff and it’s encompassing landscape is not Eden; it is instead quite real. There can be hardship here. Ellen’s book, The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest, details her realization that the stunning landscape of her own backyard is a deadly “geography of consequence.” Amid uranium tailings, missile ranges, and atomic test sites Ellen charts her “deep map of place,” contemplating a topography “where an act of creation can mean the complete absence of life.” This writer’s skill was complete, making us both desert esthete and activist.

Ellen’s sudden and unexpected death in 2004 caught her friends completely off guard. It was as if she slipped around some desert bend laughing, while our eyes were blinded by the sun. In the days following her death, many said, “o.k., Ellen, enough of the joke. You can come out now.” But Ellen, always a trickster coyote, didn’t respond. Ann Walka begins her lovely poem about Ellen with the line, “And for her next trick…” Somehow this death at home, centered on her personal map, suddenly and without fanfare, was very Ellen and very Bluff.

In Ellen’s remembrance and tribute to the place she and so many loved, friends and family created The Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Fund to encourage writing that combines an engaging individual voice, literary sensibility, imagination and intellectual rigor to create new perspectives and deeper meanings in desert literature. The Fund offers a yearly $2,000 award (now $5000) to an individual of similar passion and desire to go to their desert and write.

Although only in existence three years (since 2006), the Fund has provided much needed recognition for desert literacy, and sent two writers into the desert to scribe their own specifics of place. Rebecca Lawton of Sonoma County, California, the first Meloy Award winner, will continue our understanding of Utah’s many incarnations with her project Oil and Water. Lawton writes, “The Uintah Basin, home for millennia to people with wildly different views, still draws those of diverse descent and interests…Over time, everyone from ancient Puebloans to modern agriculturalists has lived on the Green River’s banks. Oil and Water will contrast attitudes toward this harsh but compelling place while bearing witness to demands each lifestyle places on the basin’s limited resources. The land will give testimony to those who inhabit it.”

The Award’s second winner hopes to capture an unwritten desert, replete with its own beauty and peril. Lily Mabura, currently of Columbia, Missouri, plans to travel to the Chalbi Desert and Lake Turkana in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, a region known locally as World’s End to write about the region’s nomadic ethnic groups and arid landscapes. Lily says, “It is difficult to travel to this region of Kenya due to extreme terrain and banditry or militia incursions from Ethiopia and Sudan. One must wait for armed convoys for escort…Like most Kenyans, I am petrified by the region, but there is the writer in me who really wants to see it and, gradually, my curiosity has eclipsed my fears, even though I suspect my real test is yet to come. I am hoping that my experience and the stories that emerge from it will enlighten others about this region, which deserves more attention in terms of humanitarian aid, education, security, environmental conservation and infrastructure.”

What these writers seek and what the Desert Writers Fund hopes to provide is what Ellen sought and found in Bluff’s abundance. Ellen wanted redrock and solitude, home and community. On her daily rounds she traversed river and canyon, garden and loving relationships, weaving everything into her own narrative of life and land, home and family. Ellen’s address and kin included slickrock and wandering bighorn, boiled lizards and the “brazen harlotry” of the desert in startling bloom. Ellen knew narrow slickrock canyons to be the halls of her own home, mule deer as neighbors, and the muddy San Juan as provider. She felt—and desperately wanted to communicate—the human use and abuse of nature was as dangerous as sawing off the limb on which we sit. If we soil the ground with atomic fallout, she said, decimate the bighorn’s last stronghold, dam the last rivers—we damn ourselves.

Perhaps Bluff’s significance, its message, is that regardless of our back-of-the-hand-on-forehead human tribulations and dreadfully significant problems, unexpected, funky, irresponsible, glorious possibility exists by the bucketload, and beauty—healing, transformative beauty—still lives in the world. Go, create some junkyard sculpture; go, lie in the desert and dream yourself awake.

In Ellen’s Words

One morning in a rough-hewn, single-room screenhouse, in a cottonwood grove but a few wingbeats beyond the San Juan River, I poured scalding water through a paper coffee filter into a mug that, unbeknownst to me, contained a lizard still dormant from the cool night. I boiled the lizard alive. As I removed the filter and leaned over the cup to take a sip, its body floated to the surface, ghostly and inflated in mahogany water, its belly the pale blue of heartbreak.

I sat on the front step of the screenhouse with sunrise burning crimson on the sandstone cliffs above the river and a boiled reptile in my cup. I knew then that matters of the mind had plunged to grave depths.

With these words Ellen began her second book, The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest, a book about the “geography of consequence.” At the end of this opening prologue, Ellen describes most clearly what she was questing for in life and writing. After fishing the lizard from her coffee and unfolding a Colorado Plateau map, she carries lizard, map and notebook to a sandy bench, and writes:

Beside a thick stand of rabbitbrush I spread out the big map and anchored its corners with stones…” “First I marked my present location with a small, shapely O. Next I reduced the Colorado Plateau to a manageable two hundred square miles or so around the home O. Then I outlined this perimeter on the map with a ring of fine red sand trickled from my fingers. A circle has no corners. So, to make my Map of the Known Universe portable, I transcribed all that fell inside the circle into sections and roughed them out on pages in the notebook, like an atlas.

As the sun rose higher, the cliffs shed their crimson light and turned flat and brassy. Tenderly, blue belly down so it would not sunburn, I placed the lizard on the map. The small corpse rested on our land—literally on the very dirt where my husband and I were soon to build our house—on the O, at the center of the circle.

It was time to get to know the neighborhood.

This, without doubt, is my favorite passage from Ellen’s writing; it is unexpected, funny and at the same time poignant and a clear manifesto of Ellen’s life and purpose. Ellen wrote four books about getting to know Bluff and her Four Courners neighborhood.

While the multi-award winning Anthropology of Turquoise is a tour de force, another of my favorites, Eating Stone is, to me, the most Ellen-like. The book reminds me of sitting atop a sandstone outcropping low over the San Juan River with Ellen, hearing what she’s been up to and laughing in the sun’s warmth. About camping in the desert with friends while tracking bighorn, Ellen writes,

Sunrise in the redrock desert has the calm of water. Strange that it be thus in a parched expanse of rock and sand. Yet this is how it comes: a spill of liquid silence, sunlight the color of embers, every surface bathed in it. The heart aches to live to see the start of a day, every day, luminous in the unmoored distance.

How can there be such quiet among a most garrulous species grouped together in space and task—no voices yet? I believe that the quiet prevails because all of us are desert people. We are known gazers into the horizon at early hours. That pause between social discourse and the solitude of the senses feels acute today…Perhaps the quiet is accidental prayer, an attentive stillness that conflates perception with desire. Maybe it is sleepiness at the early hour or the fact that some among our group are quite bashful. The low sun torches the buttes and mesas around us. Each saltbush stands distinctly silver-green on the cayenne red pediment, casting its own violet shadow. The light is what we watch, what steals our voices.

 

 



End 2 End

Somewhat amazingly and out of the blue, or grey as the case may be today, I stumbled upon the blog I attempted to keep before blogging was a viable technology and while I attempted to ride a horse from one end of the island nation of England to the opposite end of Scotland. While neither worked very well I do recall that most folks complained they never got to read the blog. So, if you care to read it’s abbreviated life, you’ll find a link below.

I see that many of the posts I sent from my various outposts never made it to the blog; England in 2009/10 was still the land of paying to connect in crowded, London-only foggy-windowed literal chat rooms where one paid for a computer by the 1/2 hour, and where whenever I asked where there might be wireless hookups or cell phone connections, Brits and Scots alike stared snob-nosed at my obvious alien-ness! And this although Americans kept stopping to ask directions of this one approachable-looking, and obviously exceedingly rare, nice British lady (i.e., me)! My apologies to all those Yanks who, in my best British accent, I sent on Wild Goose Chases! 

 https://greersendtoend.blogspot.com/

Researcher Finds Way to Fight Cheatgrass, a Western Scourge

The New York Times
By Christopher Solomon
Oct. 5, 2015

Cheatgrass could vie for the title of the most successful invasive species in North America. The weed lives in every state, and is the dominant plant on more than 154,000 square miles of the West, by one estimate. When it turns green in the spring, “you can actually see it from space,” said Bethany Bradley, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who studies biogeography, the spatial distribution of species.

The sins of cheatgrass are many. Its tenacious seeds lodge in the eyes and gums of livestock (not to mention the ears of pets and the socks of hikers). Even a moderate infestation in a wheat field can reduce yields by up to half.

Its profusion is a big reason today’s Western fires burn more land, more frequently and with more ferocity than in the past, scientists say. Unlike well-spaced native bunchgrasses, cheatgrass — its scientific name is Bromus tectorum, or downy brome — crowds tightly together and then dies early each summer to form dense mats of tinder.

After fires, cheatgrass thrives even as native flora struggle to return.

After more than a half-century of largely failed efforts to thwart the Sherman’s march of cheatgrass, a researcher may have a powerful new weapon against it.

Ann Kennedy, a soil scientist with the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, has discovered naturally occurring soil bacteria that inhibit the growth of the weed’s deep root system, its competitive advantage, even as those bacteria leave native plants untouched.


Ann Kennedy, a soil scientist with the Agricultural Research Service has discovered naturally occurring soil bacteria that are being tested as a way to kill cheatgrass while leaving native plants untouched.      Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Dr. Kennedy’s hunt for a cheatgrass killer has been nearly 30 years in the making. In 1986, she was investigating yellowed wheat in the Palouse country of eastern Washington State when she found some bacteria that appeared to inhibit the number of shoots that the wheat sent skyward, but not the wheat plant’s overall yield; the plant just made bigger kernels. Dr. Kennedy wondered if a bacterium could be used to frustrate weeds instead.

With help from undergraduates at Washington State University, where she is an adjunct professor, Dr. Kennedy tested 25,000 bacteria she took from nearby farm fields. Her goal was to find ones that satisfied a wish list of ideal attributes such as hindering cheatgrass while not affecting wheat. She likened the search to picky online dating.

The researcher finally settled on two strains of Pseudomonas fluorescens, a huge species of bacteria that is present throughout the natural world. Most of its strains perform beneficial functions in the environment.

In long-term field trials around the inland Pacific Northwest, including Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington State, Dr. Kennedy’s bacteria reduced the amount of cheatgrass in test plots by about half within three years of a single application.

“We get it down to near zero weeds within about five or six years,” Dr. Kennedy said, as other plants recover and grow more competitive. The bacteria also dispatch two other invasive plants, medusahead and jointed goatgrass. The latest findings will be published within the next year, she said.

July 15, 2015
These bacteria work differently than quick-killing herbicides, she said. Once a concentrated solution is sprayed on the land, successive generations of the organisms establish themselves in the soil, then colonize the roots of the cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass’s chief advantage is its roots: They can grow more than 30 inches deep. They grow later into the fall and earlier in the spring than those of native plants, monopolizing the soil’s water and nutrients. The bacteria produce a compound that inhibits normal root growth, however, removing this edge.

“It’s not a matter of if it works or not,” said Mike Gregg, a biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service who is familiar with Dr. Kennedy’s work. “The question is, can we take what she has done at a small scale and do it at 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 acres?”

The bacteria are living, and if not applied under the right conditions, they “can croak,” said Jerry Benson, the owner and manager of BFI Native Seeds in Moses Lake, Wash., a habitat restoration firm that is working on protocols for applying the bacteria.

One of Dr. Kennedy’s strains has already been approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency; a commercial product is expected to be released in the fall of 2016. Dr. Kennedy has even higher hopes for a second strain, now in the approval process.

Sept. 16, 2015
Interest is high because the need is urgent. Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered a new strategy to address the wildfires — fueled by cheatgrass — that are torching huge parts of the West’s sagebrush landscapes. The resulting losses of habitat were a big reason the greater sage grouse was considered for the endangered species list. (The federal government declined to list the bird last month, citing new recovery plans by state and federal agencies.)

Dr. Kennedy acknowledges that her discovery isn’t a silver bullet. Though whipping up the bacteria “is like brewing beer,” she said, spraying 100 million acres of the West would be prohibitively expensive. What’s more, the cheatgrass could eventually return.

Instead, she and others envision tanker aircraft, like those that dump water on wildfires, treating miles of fire breaks with the bacteria, to clear them of the weed and slow the spread of fires.

Professor Bradley, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, whose models show that cheatgrass could advance into northern Wyoming and eastern Montana because of climate change, said Dr. Kennedy’s bacteria also might help hold the line.

Asked if she worries that she might be replacing one problem with another by spreading these bacteria, Dr. Kennedy replied: “It’s in our soils. It’s just not in high enough numbers to do the job.” The bacteria naturally die after four years, she added.

Dr. Kennedy said that over the years she and colleagues selected for use only the strains that had entirely benign traits, screening them for their harmlessness on more than 250 grass plants in addition to insects, birds and rats.

She believes she has found solutions to other weed woes beneath our feet, too. “Really, there is a beauty to soil,” she said. “It’s just absolutely a wonder world of activity. You just have to go in search of it.”

 

A version of this article appears in print on October 5, 2015, on Page D2 of the New York edition with the headline: A Way to Cut a Weedy Bully Down to Size.

Ah, Noveling

On cutting, and revising, and hanging on, and letting go.


You may know that I [the Minneapolis writer, Kelly Barnhill] spent spring 2013 engaged in a grueling editorial process with my upcoming novel The Witch’s Boy. This was through no fault of my beloved editrix Elise Howard, who is brilliant and amazing and right about everything.

This has everything to do with me. And with the work of novel production, and novel refinement, and novel discovery, and novel re-discovery. And, believe me, it is work.

  • Revising a novel is building a granite castle. And then taking it apart and building it again. By hand. By yourself. And then, when you’re done, you run a marathon. Barefoot. While carrying a very heavy and very ill-tempered goose. It’s kind of exactly like that
  • Revising a novel is a return to a garden that you planted a while ago – one that you know is loaded with vegetables, but you cannot see them because the weeds now tower, jungle-thick, over your head
  • Revising a novel is that colicky baby that will not go to sleep no matter what you do
  • Revising a novel is the thick, muddy traverse through a swamp, only to realize that you have to climb a cliff on the other side. And you forgot your rope
  • Revising a novel requires the skin of a rhinoceros and the strength of a bull and the delicacy of a jeweler
  • Revising a novel feels like performing open-heart surgery. Without anesthesia. On yourself
  • Revising a novel requires you to heft a thousand-pound boulder, sling it onto your back, carry it up a mountain, and balance it on the head of a pin

Which is to say that revising a novel is effing hard.

And that’s the case generally, and in the case of The Witch’s Boy, it is even more so. This book is incredibly close to my heart, and was often emotionally exhausting to write. I have always loved my characters, but, in this novel, I – for real – love these characters. Partially because I didn’t come up with them on my own. This story began, very long ago, as a story that my son and I told one another during a particularly grueling hike through Shenandoah National Park when he was only six. There is a lot of Leo in Ned. There is a lot of me in Aine. And Sister Witch. And the Bandit King. Hence my struggles.

Also, there’s something about working with a new publisher – it’s exciting and inspiring and energizing, but also nerve-wracking. Because we want to get it right. And we want to make people happy with us. And we want to not suck. This is the way of things.

So I worked my bum off, took three months to write two crucial chapters that were going to re-imagine and re-focus the larger arc of the novel, allowing the choices and action to flow from a single nexus point where my main characters converge, bear witness, keep silent, and irrevocably change their trajectories.

Three. Long. Months.

And….maybe it worked? We’ll see.

Anyway, apparently, in the last revision, I managed to grow the novel by ten thousand words. And that was after some major textual excising. Which explains a thing or two.

And now I am, once more, into the brink. I have tools. I have a map. I have my dear editor sounding her trumpet and spurring me onward. I have a lantern. I have a sword. I have a pure heart and a just cause and a mind on fire. I have characters to rescue. I have giants made of stone. I have a stalwart wolf and a ferocious girl and a boy who does not know what he is capable of. I have my heart and my brain and my love, and I hope it will be enough.

Anyway, I will be posting some out-takes here and there.

Like this:

He was alive. For now.

“Ha!” a man said, shaking his fist at the water. “It won’t be taking this one, by god. Only one victim for that blasted river.” He gave the river a hard look. He did not help the father, nor did he touch the boy. Everyone in the village knew that those marked for drowning were cursed by nature. The river was a greedy thing. And foul-tempered. It would have that boy eventually. This was common knowledge.

And this:

This was not magic. This was a simple practicality. Witching, after all, is tricky work. And complicated. She had learned, after all these years, to see the world from the inside – its foundation and its beams, its braces, insulation and gaps. She knew the weak places. She knew how lean against the fabric of the world and nudge it this way or that. She knew how to make suggestions. Anyone could do it, if they ever learned. But people called it magic, and conflated it with her real magic, and Sister Witch didn’t correct them.

Her real magic was dangerous – capable of great good and great evil in equal measure. It was work keeping it good. It required a firm hand and an iron will. Best to use it sparingly, if at all.

And this:

The ladies from the village came in droves. They descended onto the grieving house like an army of magpies, all feather and gossip and claw. Sister Witch thought she’d never be rid of them, and suffered the indignities of grief in relative silence.

“It’s a pity,” the magpie ladies simpered. “Such a terrible pity.”

Go away, Sister Witch seethed.

“And on such a beautiful day,” as they munched on the pastries they had brought for the family.

She thanked her visitors for their meat pies and fruit pies and custard pies and pies she could not identify or name. She thanked them for their pots of stew and their legs of lamb and their heavy rounds of hard cheese. Their gifts were thoughtful, tender, and full of wiles.

They were gifts that asked questions.

Sister Witch had no intention of answering a thing. Her son, Tam, was dead. Her magic could not save him. And that was that.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how deft your hands may be, or how sharp your scalpel or how cunning your eye. Cutting away bits and pieces of our novels – fingers, toes, tumors, tongues, unsightly moles or pounds of pulsing flesh – well, it hurts. 

A lot.

And because I hate being alone and wallowing in psychic pain, I turn it over to you. Any sections that you’ve cut lately? Any extraneous scenes that simply detracted from the central pulse of your novel – that single, beating heart? Paste it here and share! Our amputated novel bits can assemble and congregate. They can bind together into hideous and beloved homunculi. They can resuscitate, respirate, ambulate, and live.

Here is Faust and his homunculus. It worked for him, right?

And it will be beautiful.


Kelly Barnhill won the Newbery Medal for her children’s book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and is getting much acclaim for her latest book for adults, Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories, a collection of dark, whimsical fantasies. Listen as she talks with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about it here.

girlKelly is an author, teacher and mom. She wrote THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, THE WITCH’S BOY, IRON HEARTED VIOLET, THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK and many, many short stories. She won the World Fantasy Award for her novella, THE UNLICENSED MAGICIAN, a Parents Choice Gold Award for IRON HEARTED VIOLET, the Charlotte Huck Honor for THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the Andre Norton award and the PEN/USA literary prize. She was also a McKnight Artist’s Fellowship recipient in Children’s Literature.

dreadful

Kelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her three brilliant children, architect husband, and emotionally unstable dog. She is a fast runner, a good hiker, and a terrible gardener. You can visit and chat at her blog: http://www.kellybarnhill.com

“Don’t Let This Be The Most Important Thing That Ever Happens to You”

I began this blog in May 2012 with the post, A Book Worth Swallowing Whole–The Joy of Cannibalism, after reading Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, by Nando Parrado and Vince Rause. I wrote in that post: if you were alive in 1972 you will remember the famous Andes crash of the plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team. Sixteen of the original 55 or so passengers and crew survived two-and-a-half months in frigid, impossible conditions by consuming those who didn’t. The story was made into a book and movie (Alive!); the rescue was a world-wide astonishment.

Nando Parrado, you might recall, was one of the two (then young) men who hiked out after surviving 72 days without, ah, shall we say, routine food or water. In doing so, they saved themselves and the other 14 from certain death.

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Nando Parado 2009

At the time of my original post, I didn’t realize a documentary (2009) had been made about the incident, and having just watched it, I wanted to share it. You’ll need a strong stomach for only a couple scenes (it looks like chicken).

I think of Parado’s book often (it’s way better than the documentary–but the film is interesting) and wanted to share the one line that stayed with me this entire time. It’s what Nando’s father said to him when he returned (remember both his mother and one sister died in the crash along with many of his closest friends whom he had also eaten), and it is the title of this post. I think of that line whenever things float up from my past to haunt me, and I suggest you do the same when your ghosts visit you.

Here’s a link to Nando Parado’s Website

Here’s the trailer for I AM ALIVE: Surviving The Andes Plane Crash from The History Channel. You can watch the film on Amazon for $1.99.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/64179730″>I AM ALIVE Surviving The Andes Plane Crash – Trailer – parrado.com</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user17760103″>Parrado</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Deep Work

            The Thinker            (Spencer Sculpture)

I’m regularly inspired by Richard Gilbert’s Blog, and by Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative, both of which I’ve pushed on many of you, and if you haven’t visited either site yet, I’m pissed.

In my post Thinking and Feeling, Richard Gilbert’s comment about how most of us “seldom think about one thing for hours on end” made me think about Todd Henry’s podcast on Deep Work and how that ability may be the challenge of the future. I know I find it difficult, especially when I’d rather be outside.

And in my last post, Joe Fassler’s 150 Writing Mentors, there was this:

“Deep, sustained attention is a scarcer resource than it once was… bigger feats, bolder ideas unfold over the long haul—in the space where success feels uncertain, even unlikely. It’s work that will be complex and staggeringly difficult, and made up of many individually disappointing days. By focusing only on what satisfies in the moment, or by being too easily put off by drudgery and discouragement, the real work never has a chance to begin.”

Listen to Todd Henry’s podcast on Deep Work here!