Tag Archives: Writing

Help my new desert journalism project


As of Thursday 1/23 4:00 pm.

I’m working with the startup Beacon to launch a desert journalism campaign, and we need your help.

Executive summary? If at least 50 48  47 people chip in $5 a month by February 8, I get  to dig up more important, unreported stories about the North American deserts.

Beacon’s an interesting platform. It’s a subscription-funded journalism project. Subscribers choose a Beacon writer to fund, with subscriptions starting at $5 a month (with lower monthly prices if you buy more than a few months at once). The writer gets the bulk of that money: about 3/4s, after overhead. And when you fund a writer, you can read everything else on Beacon as part of your subscription.

Right now that means that if you back me, you can also read the work of 65 reporters writing on topics ranging from environmental health to Somalian piracy. (I’ll be in good company. Great journos already onboard include science writer Arikia Millikan, envirojourno Amy Westervelt from the SF Bay Area, and my old colleague Molly McCluskey.)

In exchange for your support, I’ll write a story a week on issues affecting the North American deserts, from Idaho to Sinaloa to Texas to my backyard here in the Mojave. There are some opportunities for interactivity I’m still learning about which may be fun. And Beacon has put together some tastefully designed t-shirts for people who subscribe at the highest support levels.

So read the pitch, watch the video, subscribe if you are inclined (and thank you), and please feel free to share this with people  you think may find it of interest. Thanks!

desert journalism

The desert journalist at work, theoretically

Update on Coyote Crossing


It’s been quieter here than I think it ever has been, with the possible exception of the summer of 2008 after I closed this blog and before I opened this blog. Oh, and November 2006 was pretty much dead around here, as I recall. But still, I posted one photo all last month here, and that’s close to a record of taciturnitude.

There’s been a reason for the quiet, and now there’s another one.

The reason is that I’ve been writing anywhere from 2 to 5 posts a day for KCET during the week, and that’s taken a lot of my writing energy.
The now there’s another reason is that I’ve just joined PZ as co-blogger at Pharyngula.

The third reason, now that I come to think of it, is that there’s been all kinds of stuff to look at in my yard, like:

2012-09-05 13.13.13

There is also the fact that I have determined to plow through the revisions to the existing Joshua tree book chapters I’ve written and finish the book. I got a huge amount of writing done in the year and a half I was in LA, and got much guidance from my wonderful writer’s group there, and subsequent events have made it clear to me that I got off down the wrong path a bit, so there are a few dozen hours in the next two or three months I’ll need to spend fixing things and getting the book ready to ship.

So I can’t honestly say there’s going to be a whole lot going on here any time soon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to read new stuff of mine almost every day if you want to. Check out the above links for KCET and Pharyngula, and don’t forget you can find me on Twitter and Facebook and sort of at Google Plus, though it’s spammy as fuck over there lately.

I’m not saying this place is closing down. It might be. Or I might find a hundred things I suddenly need to share here that don’t fit at KCET or Pharyngula. But for now the paid gigs take precedence. Come on over to either place and say hello.

About me

What is selfhood? I begin to realize, these days, that I cannot actually define myself. I begin to realize, these days, that I have so far done the opposite. I subtract everything from the universe that i know is not me, and declare the remainder myself. I am not defining myself so much as defining what is not me.

This approach is flawed.

We’d like to think the boundary between each self and everything else is razor-sharp. The notion that my skin transsects the universe is comforting. Me, or not-me: a simple dichotomous key. It is easy to keep track of.

A decade ago my dog and I found a little cove on a deserted Pacific beach. He was always a little afraid of surf, but on this particular day the roiling water intrigued him and he danced in the foam, a little. The sky was slate gray, a fog in the air, and the cherty cliff that backed up the cove bore a sheen of condensation. We sat in the sand and watched the waves. He is gone now and no one else was there. Is the memory wholly within me now? I am its sole keeper, after all; a “me” large enough to contain souls long dead, a planet-covering of ocean, cliffs of Miocene mud pressed into rock crumbling back into mud. Three decades ago a friend and I walked through Buffalo’s decaying streets to the harbor. Container ships rolled silent past us, close enough that we could see the fine tendrils on their barnacles. He has been dead a quarter century, and I am the sole proprietor of that walk. Do I contain it?

Ridiculous, I agree, and yet the half-digested bread I ate an hour ago, wholly contained within my skin for a time, is no more part of me than the cargo on those remembered container ships was part of the ships. Some few of the bread’s atoms will stay in my body for months or years. Is this body me? This hair, these nails? They grow and are cut away month after month, but I remain. A breath will pass out of this body in a second, the calcium in my bones in a few years. A candle flame a minute old contains none of the matter it did when it was lit. What is the flame? Not a thing. A specific process occurring in a specific region of the universe. It is easy enough to say where the flame is, or to describe its characteristics. But to define what that flame is, in a way that distinguishes it from all other flames?

Three and a half billion years ago in the thin fetorous scum that wet this planet chemistry folded in on itself and became biology. A cell split in two, then four, and then ten quadrillion living things emerged, diversifying in turn, bacteria absorbed into other cells to become mitochondria and nuclei and other organelles, those host cells teaming up to form living tissue, tissue joining with tissue to form organisms. A billion years ago some of those organisms began to perceive the universe, or at least that part of it that surrounded them. Biology folded in on itself to form the rudiments of sentience. Some time later came another fold: a handful of organisms began to perceive themselves perceiving the universe. The universe folded in on itself and formed selves.

I am an example of an emergent property of organisms with a sufficiently complex central nervous system. And this is still no definition, but merely a capsule history. Not even a flame: merely a spark in a long, slow conflagration, a literal banked fire, the whole clade of aerobic lifeforms of which I am an insignificant member.

It is not a coincidence that as I ponder what exactly it is I am these last weeks I have not been sleeping much, though in which direction the causality runs I am not entirely sure. In the creosote and Joshua trees the questions seem less pressing. I may not know what I am but I know whatever I am is thirsty and has sore feet, and then the coyotes distract my attention even from that much. I cease to think about myself and become a lizard, a trilobite, a central nervous system attuned to light and temperature and sound and not given overmuch to whinging metaphysics. In the city that dissolution is denied me. I ruminate. I run past events over in my mind. I exercise myself over insults yet to come. Someone once loved who pretends I do not exist, or an anticipated difficulty made more difficult by anticipation, and I lay alert and skinless as the helicopters wheel over the hills.

When dreams come they predictably take me — home, I was going to say, but it is no more. I dream of the Bay Area where I lived for longer than some of my friends have been alive, and yet there are aspects of other places mixed in, Niagara Falls and tidal basins and mountains that never rose out of any plain on earth. This is another tack people choose to define themselves: the where and what, the occupation and residence, the relationships and loves and possessions, to define “me” by listing what is “mine.” An object lesson, my own “me”: everything that was “mine” four years ago, in whatever sense of the word you choose, is “mine” no longer. A troublesome pronoun, that, ambiguous and prone to misinterpretation, used to denote relationship (my spouse), custodianship (my dog), ownership (my garden), responsibility (my job), membership (my community), and some odd hybrid of ownership and identity (my heart). The question “who are you?” is answered as often as not with a bullet-pointed list of “mines,” and yet I remain more or less who I was despite losing almost everything on that list in the last two years.

It is a question more easily avoided than answered, and were I in the desert right now — asleep, more than likely — I would. The boundary between me and not-me resists resolution, one state fading into the other an atom at a time, as the thin universal matrix fades slowly into Planet Earth, bit by exospheric bit. Hard vacuum outside, and then imperceptibly the temperature of your ablative shield begins to rise. Where does the atmosphere end and interplanetary space begin? Where does the candle flame verge into what is merely heated air? You may as well choose an arbitrary line. Each of us a fold into which the self-awareness of the universe is inexorably drawn. All of us events without event horizons. Soon enough the fabric of the universe will anneal itself of the aperture that is me, entropy fulfilled and order restored, and the question of what I am will lose what little meaning it has.



Citrus flower hangs heavy in rain-washed air.
Restless parrots argue over palmfruit,
their brilliant green tails flashes against the lapis sky.
Coyolxauhqui’s round white face
watches over all from above the temple.

Xolotl’s blood drips on the parched soil.
He watches each drop fall, his bright star in the west
following the sun toward the ocean.

His vessel heavy, his blade worn,
Xolotl regards the traffic on Alvarado Street.
This blood, this sacrifice
that in Mictlan could raise the dead from their dry bones
here falls lifeless to the pavement
splatters the low and whitewashed wall of cinderblock
between the parking lot and the 99 cent store.

He carries the dead to their eternal home
he guards the sun in its transit of hell each night
and longing for Xochiquetzal ruler of artistry and joy,
the precious pleasure-flower goddess, her headband of green feathers
brilliant in his home’s remembered sunlight,
Xolotl again takes his long blade,
scrapes wash-water from the laundromat window.

A reading

I’m putting together a collection of poetry to make available for sale — I will of course let all of you know when it’s finished so that you can rush to buy several copies for each of your friends — and I found one I wrote some time ago, entitled “Everything Ending in My Sin.” Liked the sound of it read aloud. Thought I’d share.



This pebble in my boot, when it was one
still with its mother rock, cooled over tens
of centuries: a batholith. Bright grew
the flakes of muscovite, bright grew the pale
discolored quartz, each grain an infinite
fine tetrahedral tesselation, it
rose out of the depth of earth buoyant,
a yearning isostasy, then was stripped
of its crust-cover by dull-rasped storm.
At length outcropped, massive and without fault,
the rock began at once to decompose.
Frost-riven, wind-and water-worn, in turn
summer sun-scalded and ground down by ice,
mother rock failed. A craze, not half as wide
as spider strands, but still a root-purchase.
The mosses’ fierce and ravening grasp, the clench
of desert aster’s roots ratcheted, prised
apart by microscopic increment
rock from the monolith. Melt and refreeze:
ice put its Archimedean back against
the wall, strained quietly for centuries.
A thousand years, ten thousand, and the break:
Rockfall. A stony flinch, echoing gasp
as earth released its hold on earth, falling,
fracturing, a scattering of shards
and shrapnel. Storms to file the edges smooth,
an eon’s iterations, boulders rent
to cobbles, cobbles to stones,
shard-sanded scraps of stone a pediment
gravel apron mantling the mountain,
until the whole assemblage, self-entombed,
fuses itself, forms a conglomerate
core of some unborn range. This pebble in
my boot a scion of lands lost, a seed
of landscapes not yet made. This reddened heel
a blistered point of contact where my life
meets the much longer life of pulsing rock
falling, rising, its crests a mile above
and frequency unfathomably long.