Author Archives: Chris Clarke

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

Poem with one vowel

Edge effects
Glee! The deep freeze recedes.
Even the bejeweled bees, ever kept penned,
Greet the respected beekeeper.
These stretched present vessels, these feeble knees, 
These leveled, dependent legs,
End the secret sense the experts set,
The present red-dressed regret.
Yes, pen the letters. Send them west, 
Let sweet green verses rest well there.
Let them needle-test the chest-nerves’ senses.

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

Chris reading in Joshua Tree: Save The Date

I’ll be reading some essays and some poetry on Saturday, September 20 at 6:00 at the Radio Free Joshua Tree Listening Lounge, 61597 Twenty-Nine Palms Highway in Beautiful Downtown Joshua Tree. Admission is a few dollars tossed into the hat to keep Radio Free Joshua Tree and the Listening Lounge going, but no one will be turned away etc. etc..

More details are here.

This is the first time I’ll have read in public in six years, which makes this event an important collectible. I’ll try to arrange to have some copies of the Zeke book for sale and signing as well. Hope to see you there.

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

Bump me with your plastron, you sexy Threatened thing you.

Making new desert tortoises in Joshua Tree.

Interstate 5 near Lost Hills. Photo by Annette Rojas

Fencepost hawks

Interstate 5 near Lost Hills. Photo by Annette Rojas

Interstate 5 near Lost Hills. Photo by Annette Rojas

I drove twelve hundred fifty miles this weekend, a quick trip to Oakland and then back again. Our anniversary. Six years.

From 1990 through 1998 I lived with my ex-wife and Zeke in an apartment not far from downtown Oakland. It was the longest span of time I have ever spent with one address. Annette and I stayed a few blocks away this weekend. Awoken Saturday by the sound of distant trains, the smell of trees, I remembered oddly that I woke that way every single day for eight years. Wondered how I could ever have forgotten.

Back then I drove that same route, more or less, on desperate trips to forsake Oakland for the Mojave. Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley was a gauntlet to be run, and I breathed deeply only after dropping down the far side of Tehachapi Pass into the gloaming desert.

After a few trips I began to find things to value before the desert. Place names: Ortigalita Creek and Crows Landing. The cats’ paws of wind in green oat stems. As years passed and the spread of almond orchards swelled, February would fill the valley with vivid pink blossoms. Along the west verge of the highway, red-tailed hawks stood watch on rough fence posts, one hawk to the mile or more.

The suburbs have filled the valley. They strain against the freeway. They will soon break past it and run rampant through the Coast Ranges.

I saw not a single red-tailed hawk this weekend in more than 1,250 miles of driving.

There have been other losses since last I drove that way. A majestic old Joshua at roadside just east of Kramer Junction has gone missing. And so, it would seem, has this:

Outside North Edwards

Outside North Edwards

There are a hundred thousand blinking red lights outside Mojave now: the wind that stole at least three of my perfectly good hats has been broken to wheel, and turbine blades reflect the scarlet aircraft warning lights.

But it is the loss of those fencepost hawks that hurts today. In their stead, a thousand signs blame liberals for the drought.

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

A Sonnet For Dawkins

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Eve?
Thou art more churlish and intemperate.
Fine words don’t camouflage a nasty peeve,
and someone here is past their sell-by date.
Sometime puffed-up a head too far refined,
and charm supplanted by a deathly prim;
and civil words that cloak a heart unkind
by chance (and nature’s winnowing) too dimmed.
So thou, eternal bummer, can go fade
just like the reverence you think we ow’st;
as those you would have led now throw you shade
for every portion of manure you throwest
so long as lungs can breathe, or eyes can see,
and you post tweets in insipidity.

(Revised from an earlier draft.)

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

Despair

Here is a story of a beautiful, once numerous bird going slowly extinct so that California can sell milk.
Here is a story of an agency delaying action to protect a disappearing predator.

I wake up in the morning to find bad news.

A new species of western pond turtle discovered: it’s already in serious trouble.
The Feds have refused to protect a rare lizard for decades, so activists turn in desperation to the state of California to do the job.

I find the worst of the news and take it in, bring myself to understand how bad it is, then share it with the world.

I look for good news. I do.

Here is a story about suing at significant expense to keep eagles marginally safer from wind turbines.
Here is a story about a much-heralded move to remove a handful of deadly poisons from the retail market, while others remain available.
Here is a story on common-sense measures to save water and wildlife that are too smart and sensible to be enacted.

Sometimes the only good news I can find is that someone, somewhere, has decided to stand up against the mounting horror.

I live alone now. I talk to others rarely. I see no one else for a week at a time. I awake at sunrise to read bad news that has been carefully emailed to me. Before the desert air warms I have had enough to sear my soul. I drink some coffee, bury any hopes of ever being happy, then keep reading.

This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world won’t work.
This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world is actually making things worse.
This story is about some good news that even its proponents say is only temporary.
This story is about our last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change being met with half-measures and compromise.

The stories linked above are a tiny fraction of everything I’ve written in the last month. I have been doing this since 1989. Technological advances allow me to compile and distribute the bad news much more quickly now.

Here’s a industrial energy project going in near a national park.
Here’s wildlife science being discarded at another industrial energy project near a national park.
Here’s a third industrial energy project threatening a rustic town’s groundwater.
Here’s an orchid being collected and trampled to the point of near-extinction.

If I stop I don’t eat. If I stop I don’t make the rent. Through disaster and dislocation, through moving everything I own into a storage locker at the beginning of May and then moving it all out again at the end of May, through the grief and isolation in my new life, I cannot stop this soul-destroying work.

This is no life. How did I find myself here?

Straining at good news: a lone condor visits Pescadero, and biologists say maybe if more come they can eat elephant seals.
Straining at good news: the tiny group of gray wolves poised to confront the guns of California’s wildlife-loathing yahoos may gain formal legal protection.
Straining at good news: A few fish spawn in a few feet of river downstream from an impassable dam.
Straining at good news: California may make it illegal to shoot as many coyotes as you can for cash prizes.

People tell me nice things. “Keep writing,” they say. They call my work important. It is intended as a kindness, and I take it as such. Lately I think the true kindness would be for someone to take this burden away. Is there a crowdfunding platform that helps people like me stop working for six months? A writers’ retreat where writers can retreat from writing?

I have known burnout before. This is different. I have worked in less than functional institutions with inadequate support insufficiently funded. It was bad. Now my world is burning to the ground.

cropped-Coyote-Crossing-2010.png

Clarke’s Laws of Internet Commenting

  1. No matter how broad or blatant a satire, more commenters than you expect will take it literally without hesitation.
  2. If there is one comment on a post it will dispute something in the first sentence of the post.
  3. If an Internet commenter struggles to understand a bit of writing, he or she will label that writing as “stupid.”
  4. The first five commenters who attempt to rebut a post by logical argument will raise objections anticipated and thoroughly addressed in the post.
  5. For comment threads longer than one screen, the inanity of a comment is directly proportional to the number of other commenters who’ve already said the same thing up-thread.