Why Development in the Arctic Refuge is a Terrible Idea and What You Can Do About It.

I attended a BLM scoping meeting at the community hall the other day. Folks in Arctic were asked to describe specific concerns about the development required in the Arctic Refuge by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and to suggest ways that the required development can be done sensibly.

The unanimous position of the speakers was this: any development, regardless of location and timing, will disrupt the porcupine herd and the migratory birds that nest in the 1002 area. Disruption of the herd will mean catastrophic cultural and economic disruption for the Gwich’in.

It was fascinating. I learned a great deal about caribou: the scent glands in their feet that allow them to relay information about trail conditions and hazards, the vital nutrients that the cows and calves glean from the unique ecosystem of the coastal plain, and the cultural, economic and spiritual relationships Gwich’in people have with the caribou and have had for millennia.

Developing nonrenewable resources on the coastal plain is shortsighted. Attaching this provision to unrelated legislation was deceptive. I am disappointed in my government and disturbed by the speed with which all of this is moving forward. I am humbled by the activists in this community, some of whom have been fighting this battle for decades. I am hopeful that the voices of this community will be heard, that this process will be slowed and ultimately reversed, and that eventually the coastal plain will be protected as wilderness.

If you’re interested in learning more, please read the expert opinion of a former and long-time employee of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game who also served as a lead biologist for caribou studies.
To have your voice heard, submit comments here.

The tribe has requested an extension of the scoping period and that meetings be held in other Gwich’in communities, such as Fort Yukon, Beaver, Chalkyitsik and Circle. They have also requested a careful examination of the 1987 treaty that protects the Porcupine caribou and an invitation to the planning process for impacted Canadian communities.

Please consider lending your voice to theirs and seconding their very reasonable requests.

If you are an Arkansas duck hunter – as many of my former students are – you should be aware that the health and migratory patterns of waterfowl may hang in the balance as development moves forward.

A spring snowshoe hike in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Three Faces of Saying Goodbye


It’s best if we simply choose not to acknowledge the inevitable passage of time.  I’m sure we’ll have another chance to say goodbye.

It’s easiest to get through days like today by focusing on the details. I blasted Dixie Chicks in my classroom and picked every bit of ticky tack off the walls. It was strange and freeing, peeling off the faded posters from my first year and unearthing graffiti from when the graduating class was in the ninth grade. I didn’t want to make small talk and try to keep my composure. I didn’t want to start saying goodbye too early and have to avoid seeing people in the hall after long, heartfelt farewells. I didn’t allow myself a single tear until C came to say goodbye, and then I dropped a couple (splat) on the linoleum floor. I make light, but it broke my heart. I will miss that kid like crazy.


WHAT HAVE I DONE! (And all I can think about is all that I still have to do!)

I scored finals and entered grades and peeled tape off the chalk board and cleared drawers all day until my room, usually messy, often fluffy with snowflakes or hung with geometry mobiles or draped with graphing posters, sometimes smelly and always colorful, was neat as a pin. I didn’t think about Alaska until I turned in my keys and slid my gradebook under the office door. By the time I came through the front door at home, I had a to do list all ready to draw up and start marking out. It feels like everything is happening all at once and far too fast, and all week I’ve been struggling to switch gears quickly enough to keep up. Now I’m heading into open country and the last stop sign’s in my rearview mirror. It’s smooth sailing into fifth and I’m about to be barreling into the unknown at a whopping 95.


I hate saying goodbye, and I’m afraid I’m leaving good things behind, and I’m also looking forward to something extraordinary, so I’m not ready to look backwards yet.

I said goodbye to my Principal today. He calls me his daughter and treats me like one. I’ll miss his kindness and his unshaking faith in me. I’ve been very lucky, and I won’t soon forget any of the people I have come to love here. I missed saying goodbye to lots of folks, and I think I like it that way. Feels more like “so long, but not forever.” My colleagues have been more than kind to me, and I wouldn’t want to inflict my hideous, blotchy crying face on them anyway.

I lost my cool on the ride home, thinking this might be my last cruise down our county road in the dark, listening to gravel spraying the belly of the car. I think I’m quite brave and perhaps very stupid to give up awesome for the chance of something better.

Things that have been making me happy

1. These stories and photos from the Yukon flats. I am interviewing with a somewhat (ha!) nearby school for a position that would start in January. More on that later, if it comes to pass.

2. This package from the incomparable Becky of Westwick Dreaming who will soon be receiving something in return. Probably something strange.


Note the marvelous lady swineherd card

3. On a related note, reading in French has made me happy. I’m finishing up with Harry Potter the first and getting ready to tackle the second.

4. Pancetta. Especially on pizza. Thank you Sean. You’re an everloving wonder.


5. Friday ‘s sushi party at Pearl Street. Marianna doesn’t see a lot of sushi parties.

Scallop sashimi

Scallop sashimi


6. Swift and efficient butchery of chickens that left us time to spare for laughing at this not-rubber chickenDSC010797. Trapped in the Closet chapters 1-12, which makes an appearance in my life about every five years, go figure. Maybe it can sense when I need to split my sides guffawing. Thank you for this inspiring and delightful film, R. Kelly.

8. Daydreaming about our “Holiday Residency” at the farm with Jesse and Chelsea. I’m planning to focus on video projects and eating.

9. My wonderful, comfortable kitchen in the sunshineDSC0109010. No school this week. Time to enjoy the sun and the quiet and maybe even to start on one of the thousand projects I have waiting in the wings.

this morning on the screen porch
a bird trapped in still cool shadows
impossibly whipping her insubstantial body
failing against the breathing wall.

her lover fluttered outside crying
and there were two silhouettes slamming wretched
and pointless

do I wish now for a bird’s eye view?
I wonder, could they see the screen?

I raised my arms and skirted behind her
she flew the long way round and out the door

In which I vacuum seal some chocolate cake


It may look unappetizing to the uninitiated, but that is what is known in my neck of the woods as The Chocolate Cake. After you’ve tasted The Chocolate Cake, you can never eat other chocolate cakes without regret. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for “Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake” if you’re interested. Sean made it for the first time on my 20th birthday, and I shamelessly hid it from all of my friends and devoured it in secret. It’s that kind of cake.

It’s smooshed up in that baggie because we decided to go backpacking to celebrate Sean’s birthday last week, and the vacuum sealer was (er… is) still on the counter from all of the bacon-processing. We took the cake, took Friday off, and took to the woods with our friend Morgan (we were later joined by friend Andrew) to have an adventure on the Sylamore Creek section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.

By the time we reached the trailhead on Friday, it was 2:30. We’d had to de-mildew our gear and take care of the critters and run a few errands before we could leave, and the drive took nearly three hours. We planned on camping out and meeting Andrew a mile or two from the next trailhead (he’d hike in from that direction a little later in the afternoon). That afforded us a six or seven mile hike for the afternoon. Satisfied with the plan, decked in blaze orange, and full of chicken-salad sandwiches, we set off.

DSC00975The trail is mostly well-marked with white blazes, though it clearly sees little use. We did the crunchy-leaf shuffle for miles, the rustling so loud that we couldn’t carry on a conversation. The leaves on the ground sometimes obscured the path, and we once lost the trail completely and had to just aim ourselves north until we hit a jeep road that we recognized from our map. Getting lost in the woods spiced our afternoon with adventure, but it also cost us some time, and when it started getting dark we still had miles to go. The moon was huge that night, and it broke the horizon orange like an egg-yolk, but not until much later. For the last hour or so, we walked in full dark, navigating from bright blaze to blaze along the trail and then following the wide swath of a jeep road. At one point Morgan stopped, turned off her light, then turned it on again. “It’s spiders!” she said, “there’s hundreds of them! Their eyes are glowing.” She handed me her headlamp but I couldn’t see it, no matter how I tilted the light.

We reached a wide-open feed plot at around 6:45, but it felt like midnight. The stars were bright on the sky like I’ve heard the eyes of spiders are bright on the forest floor. We built a fire in the middle of the jeep road and set up camp. We roasted home-made venison sausages and baked sweet-potatoes in the coals. Andrew joined us later that night, ready to hang out by the fire, but by then we were all half-asleep, curled up in our nests around the coals.

DSC00954I got up just before dawn, chilly beside the ashes of the fire, and lit my stove to make myself some tea. When I sleep out, seeing the sunrise is a priority for me. I feel like a sunflower, smiling at the sky, getting my bearings for the day. I loaded up a bottle with hot tea, stuffed it into my sweater, and grabbed my camera. I found a nice corner of the woods and let the world light up with me in it.

DSC00958When I got back to camp, dragging some dry wood, everyone else was still asleep. I re-lit the fire and built it up a little, then crawled back into my sleeping bag with my hot-tea-bottle to warm my toes. I pulled out Harry and read a little by the breaking light of the sun and the flickering light of the fire.

DSC00953Too soon, everyone else was up, hustling to get coffee ready and start breakfast. We had bacon and eggs (ain’t nobody does deluxury backpacking like us folks) cooked in paper-bags over the fire. You rub the bacon on the bag to grease it, then make a bacon-nest in the bottom. You crack an egg into the nest, fold the top of the bag over, then spear it on a stick and hold it over the coals. To tell you the truth, a foil-pack works better, but the paper-bag scheme has a cool-factor that foil packs don’t offer, plus you can burn your cooking implement when you’re done, instead of packing it out. At one point, my bag caught fire and burned down to the bacon, but we slid the charred remains of the bag into another bag and I cooked on with great success (and at great length, this took something like an hour)


As you can see, my egg is seasoned with paper bag ash

We spent Saturday on the trail and came across our first hunters only a short walk from our camp. Saturday was opening day for deer season in Arkansas, and we’d been concerned about hunters coming upon us early in the morning, especially sleeping as we were in the middle of a feed plot. I heard four-wheelers and some shots in the early morning, but there was another feed plot down the road a stretch, and our sleep had gone undisturbed. The hunters we met looked bemused to see us tromping through the woods, all decked out in orange and with heavy packs and no guns, but they were friendly and chit-chatted with us a while.

We filtered water twice in some cold pools in the bottoms. They weren’t flowing (trickling at best) but we pushed our concerns back and drank up. We’re still fine.

We looked a little smurfy in our bulletproof hats, but our ears were damn warm.

We looked a little smurfy in our bulletproof hats, but our ears were damn warm.


Sean quite liked these funky formations.


We were forced to abandon our filtration mission at this pool with the cool rock wall when Andrew went for a swim. Brrr!

DSC00970We camped the next night on a north face, and I pointed my hammock east. I didn’t have to break my cocoon to watch the sun come up: I just basked under the pink sky and read about Harry’s adventures at Poudlard (that’s french for Hogwarts, it seems). After a time, we all got up and reluctantly stuffed our aching feet into our frosty shoes and boots and set off down the trail to the next road crossing where we dropped our packs, hitched up our pants and stuck out our thumbs. A young man, unsurprisingly in a pickup loaded up with hunting gear, stopped for us, and (surprisingly) he didn’t make us ride in back but allowed our stinky selves into the cab. We chatted about spray-foam insulation and pheasants as the red hills swooped by, and he left us at Andrew’s car, ready for a pizza.