Local Histories- The Children of the Tillamook Burn

Between 1933 and 1951 more than 550 square miles of forest west of Portland burned in what were, back then, unheard-of conflagrations. The fires were driven, much like the fires of today, by extreme temperatures and windy conditions and the inaccessibility of the terrain and lack of human power to fight the blazes conspired to render the state relatively helpless. For nearly two decades, the coast range burned. As each fire decimated once profitable timber stands, the logging companies, some responsible for the ignition of the blazes, stopped paying property taxes and the land reverted to public ownership. When the fires finally spent through the available fuel, Portland and its surrounding areas were left to face a scarred and blackened landscape that now belonged to them. In what at the… Read More >


Summer this year stretched on seemingly forever- the rain only coming to this temperate corner of the world a day after we passed the mark for the longest dry spell on record. For weeks we watched through smoky skies as first perennials and then even the trees began to suffer and brown from thirst. Fall though, now presses fully upon us, and the entire world seems to be relieved, save for my tomatoes, which cling to the hope of ripening in the sun’s waning moments. This year, more than most, I have found solace in their persistence. Gardening is our most tangible reminder that we will always reap what we sow, good and bad. More than that, it is proof that nothing, not even the most diligent care, can protect… Read More >

Physical Space

One of the primary goals of my writing is to advocate for people to spend more time outside, for their good and the good of the environment. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people from all over the world about barriers and challenges they face in doing just that. What is becoming clear to me from these discussions is the existence of a deep divide between people’s desire to be outside and the capacity of their modern lifestyle to allow them to do so. Moreover, what is increasingly described is a fundamental difficulty in trying to exit virtual space and step into physical space, regardless of whether that physical space is outdoors. Modern lives, it seems, are being led from the shoulders up, making… Read More >

The Alsea Papers

Alsea, an unincorporated community of less than 200 people in the Siuslaw Forest of Benton County, Oregon is home to one of the most important private libraries of environmental information with respect to chemicals, herbicides and pesticides in particular, in the United States. What started in the 1970’s as a community lawsuit against the National Forest Service for spraying residents with herbicides containing chemical found in Agent Orange has become over the years the final resting place for documents obtained in the course of scores of similar lawsuits across the country. Last year, the information was made widely available to the public for the first time on a searchable database through a collaboration of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. The contents are shocking. Want… Read More >

The Sound of Silence

It’s been years since I’ve heard my own, or any other neighborhood for that matter, alive with the sounds of children. It’s not a subject much discussed, perhaps in large part due to the lack of adults outside to notice. The streets of the small city I live in are barren. On any given day I step outside to find a world more similar to the beginning of an apocalyptic movie than any of us might have imagined possible. But it is, and it’s the world we live in now, as evidenced by study after study documenting American life in the 21st Century. Suffice it to say, studies of ourselves indicate that we are overweight, lonely, inside, staring at screens, drowning in piles of our own possessions, and pumped full… Read More >

Year of the Artichoke

This year spring has arrived with a whimper, heralded by icy rains and hard-frost mornings, dense fogs and high winds. Crocuses sat for weeks with lonely daffodils, waiting for an early rush of greenery and blooms that never appeared and snow clung to low hills with alarming tenacity. Now, the daffodils are stooped from frosty mornings and the cherry blossoms float like snow through the air, carried by whipping winds. I do not know what to make of this. My mind fights back perseverations on hidden meanings of such an extended winter, dark thoughts of warnings, canaries, and the consequences of these strange and changing times. I try hard not to take each cold rain as a sign of impending doom. And then, hope, in two small leaves. The sad… Read More >

Overheard- Playing with Fire

Building a fire in the 21st Century is a political act. Camp fires, that is. For most of human history camp and cooking fires were symbols of home, safety, and security. Today, modernity has replaced hearths with screens and kitchen fires with microwaves to such an extent that the skill of fire building itself is becoming a lost art form. In A Woman’s Guide to the Wild I argue that fire building is not only an essential and life-saving skill, it serves a clear purpose in increasing feelings of self-reliance and competence. Further, I argue that a lack of fire building skill decreases female participation in outdoor activities in general, which has negative consequences for mental, emotional, and physical health and for the environment as a whole. What I learned… Read More >

Road Signs

Washington State is a place of divergent cultures, a meeting ground for tech and timber, old and new. It is a region in flux, redefining itself on a generational scale so broad that it can’t help but run against itself. For example, the northwestern corner of the state houses Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and also the largest protected stand of old growth in the United States, the Olympic National Forest and adjoining Wilderness Areas. One way of taking in this culture clash, and perhaps coming to understand the essential nature of a place, is via its road signs, which I did, on a recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula. In no particular order: ‘Roddy O’s Square Dance Lessons’ ‘We plant some more/for future bounty’ ‘What supports habitat, houses and hospitals? State… Read More >

The Affluence of Time

Recently, I have been reading about a shift in the American psyche related to how we define, and experience, affluence. Like most institutions of the 20th Century, affluence itself is undergoing a radical makeover, shifting from the mid-century model of keeping up with the Joneses, in which your collection of things, and the leisure time to enjoy, them were the primary indicators of affluence to a culture in which affluence is primarily defined by busyness. Busyness, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the state or condition of having a great deal to do, the quality of being excessively detailed or decorated.’ Busyness, evidenced by living one’s life from event to event, by constant contact, connectedness, and a carefully curated sense of frazzled urgency. Busyness, the reliance on texts to… Read More >

The Next Generation

Years ago, when I was writing A Woman’s Guide to the Wild, I knew that I wanted to include the knowledge, stories, and voices of other outdoor women throughout the book. What I didn’t know was just how hard it would be to find and connect with them-how few there really were. I found this to be especially true when looking for women-owned outdoor businesses and woman-centered and designed products to showcase. What I wanted was to give women choices outside of the male-dominated mainstream, products better suited to their tastes and needs, and the opportunity to support women-owned businesses. What I found, was not a lot. Then I met Kate Blazar of Animosa, an outdoor company dedicated to equipping and empowering women to explore. At the point that I… Read More >