Gertrude’s Steinhaus?

Do something DIFFERENT: frequent advice for expanding your mind, experimenting with ideas or forms, or…for some famous ‘Moderns’, moving to Paris.

In one sense, being an Artist In Residence at the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Idaho is gonna shake up my regular (non-Christian) world. But from the words of those who live in community there, “In [both] prayer and creativity we take the risk of opening ourselves up, of listening, of being transformed and offering our gifts on behalf of the world.”

The monastery’s life also includes its working landscape, where members and friends “experience an interconnectedness with the land and recognize our responsibility to reverence and care for the resources it provides.” Here at home, i harvested my first raspberries yesterday, on the same day as their annual Raspberry Festival fundraiser. We’re already connected–even though the residency they have awarded me won’t start until November. Time now to consider the appropriate project of focus…

So little, so much, so many

The Sonder Press publishes an annual collection of tiny stories that hold a large capacity to astonish. This year, series editor Nathan Leslie along with Guest Editor Elaine Chiew have pulled over a hundred pieces from a wide array of journals. The Best Small Fictions 2022 includes a flash fiction, “Permeable”, i imagined from news around northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

If corporations might be considered predatory, this story celebrates the idea of the heightened intelligence of prey, often a jump ahead. With a nod to an Escher painting someone showed me years ago, let’s celebrate the playful power of imagination to open necessary new ways forward.


Whitebark pine blister rust, introduced to North America, is changing the face of the continent’s high country. Not alone, of course–couple this with native pine beetle mortality, increased by a changing climate, accelerated by human dependency on fossil fuel burning, complicated by panicked political rivalries. Feedback loops aren’t always predictable, and scientists (and political leaders) sure prefer being able to figure things out.

Conjecture about the potential source and meanings of rock art has never landed on any provable answer. The Wind River mountains above Wyoming’s dry basins offer stories to water our necessary curiosity, to foster unimagined connections, to inspire exploration. Grateful, again, to Joe Ponepinto and his team at Orca literary journal for giving one of those stories a home. Check out the solar eclipse of Two and a Half, just out in the April issue.

Restoring Bears Ears

“…For us the Monument never went away. We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, waters and medicines. The Monument represents a historic opportunity for the federal government to learn and incorporate our tribal land management practices.  Practices that we developed over centuries and are needed more now than ever….We battled for this Monument because it matters.”

– Chairman Shaun Chapoose, Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee and BEITC member

Two years ago a quick online search yielded a growing number of development threats that bloomed across this landscape when the recently designated National Monument was rapidly dismantled by the yo-yo U.S. political scene. That search inspired my flash fiction piece published this winter by Fourth River in their online Tributaries, just months after the federal government restored the original boundaries. This blog has covered other co-management successes, such as Indigenous groups in Canada partnering with their national government. The Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition worked diligently during the past years to be ready when the U.S. might be. Their leadership could light new pathways for others across this country.

Cold temps, hot reading

Stepping away from the wilder outdoors, here’s a strange but domesticated book recommendation, providing a helpful excuse to avoid that frigid winter wind. Barn 8 is Deb Olin Unferth’s most recent–and most brilliant–writing so far. She takes us on a crazy romp through the industrial layer-hen world, for an unbelievably compulsive fiction read. Along with a story that follows fairly conventional rules for keeping readers flipping pages, she manages to pull our attention well beyond our navel-gazing selves.

For writers, Olin Unferth tosses in a gamut of unconventional experiments that provide grist for study. In one unrepeated ‘creative non-fiction interval’, she offers this:

“The Gallus, the wild jungle fowl of the early Eocene, or “pre-chicken,” tore along the ground through the trees. The ice swelled and receded, and the Gallus split into species and subspecies, constellations of them spreading and splintering, until a mere nine thousand years ago, when a band of her descendants, Gallus gallus domesticus, began to travel the world with the great explorers looking for more than their world had to offer.

At last, around 1600 CE, T. Rex’s pretty little niece stepped off the boat onto the wet sand shores of North America.”

Not only does Olin Unferth take us back in deep time, she pushes her narrative well forward, and her vision of that future is worth your attention. An activist manifesto without a single ‘should’–this treatise is truly a treat.

Hammock Read–you won’t fall asleep

If your annual cycle offers summer space for slowing down in the heat, you might be looking for a ‘good book’ to take into the hammock you’ve strung between two shady streamside cottonwoods. If you follow the kinds of happenings on this blog, you may appreciate this recommendation.

Joining the growing list of great stories showing polyphonic glimpses into worlds unfamiliar to mainstream audiences, Sharks in the Time of Saviors illuminates a contemporary Hawaii through the 5 voices of one family. Rather than a single Hero’s Journey, or a single savior, Kawai Strong Washburn brings to life the tangled relationships of these individuals not just to each other but also to their times, their mythologies, and their landscapes, whether that be the Hawaiian homeland or the ambitions rising in California or Spokane.

So here’s to all of us, and to learning what the land has already planted inside our souls. Let this story unfurl those leaves, and may summer’s sun bring your fruits to ripeness.

Leptoptilos dubius

For Women’s History (Herstory) Month, let’s hear it for the baby showers being held in Assam, India for the endangered greater adjutant stork, as organized and inspired by the genius and openness of Purnima Devi Barman, a woman rewriting the story of how conservation work succeeds. She delayed her PhD to first listen to the people in those few communities where these storks still nested. She heard the women’s joy in their motherhood, and helped them translate that to a pride in the increasing numbers of thriving stork babies, whether they nested in trees that might otherwise have been cut down, or foraged at the overflowing landfill.

THIS–this rare bird–is YOURS, and your gift to the important biodiversity of the world. In giving, these communities have received a renewed sense of themselves. In protecting and re-framing this former bad omen bird, they learn to re-frame their own agency in a changing world, and to understand the value of their resilience.

The Liturgists in Gwich’in communities

Here’s another link: to a short film from The Liturgists, which speaks potent truth to power. And while my heart breaks when i take this in, i also am grateful for the values and lifeways of people who’ve stewarded lands like these for the future–not for themselves, but for all of us who so need to embrace major changes in what we thought, what we’ve been hypnotized to believe, is important. Do you look at Arctic Village and wonder how those poor people survive? Or do you look at people like this and wonder how technological society has trapped us into blinding addictions? i admire the humility that roots us in cooperative and reciprocal relationships, and the wisdom and strength it takes to honor these relationships above the ones that are leading to destruction.

The Liturgists traveled from Los Angeles to northern Alaska to visit the Arctic Refuge

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas–

The Canadian Government has taken steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous Nations for its history of assimilationist and exclusionary policies towards Indigenous people. Though the precise meaning of reconciliation can be hard to pin down, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada broadly defines it as “an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in Canada see conservation as one realm where reconciliation, often criticized for being a buzzword with little tangible impact, might be made real.

“The conservation sector, which is land-based, is a good place to articulate what [reconciliation] means,” said Steven Nitah, an Indigenous thought leader and former Chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. “It allows all parties… to take the best of both knowledge systems that we have and use that knowledge system to manage these spaces in the spirit of reconciliation.”

One precedent-setting example is Thaidene Nëné, a 14,000-square-kilometer national reserve park in the Northwest Territories created in August of 2019 that is co-managed by the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and the Canadian government. The initial proposal to create a National Park there in the 1970s failed to gain the consent of the Lutsel K’e Dene due to concerns over how the park would effect the community’s harvesting lifestyle. Within the new framework, the Dine community of Lutsel K’e remains within the reserve and shares responsibilities with the federal and provincial government for managing and protecting their homeland.

“The boldest and most ambitious conservation proposals in Canada are coming from Indigenous nations,” said Nitah, who led negotiations for the creation of Thaidene Nëné.

Other examples where Indigenous-led governance is in progress include the 64,000-square-kilometer Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, the 29,040-square-kilometer Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario, and the proposed 109,000-square-kilometer Tallurutiup Imanga in Nunavut, which is slated to become the largest protected area in Canada.

Great Bear Rainforest is named for the Kermode bear or Spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei). Photo Credit: Maximilian Helm, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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