NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

Torrey House Press:

In which Mark and Kirsten wander the Colorado Plateau and love booksellers, conservationists, and all things Torrey House Press.

Originally posted on Torrey House Press:

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere…

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NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere but the land more than makes up for it in lifestyle and soul.  We met Scott and fellow author Chuck Greaves (at Carver Brewing Co.) for dinner the first night before Scott’s reading at Maria’s. Chuck is a guy from New England who practiced law in Los Angeles for 25 some odd years. But he has a homing beacon for the Four Corners area and has been a long time landowner first a second home retreat in the Disappointment Valley area and now permanently in southwest Colorado. Chuck told us an amazing personal tale of finding two human skulls on Cedar Mesa, probably those of local sheepherders, and of the man who murdered them. The murders happened at the same time Everett Reuss disappeared and in a place where there is ample evidence that Reuss visited. I could have listened all night. In fact, Chuck won the grand-prize Storyteller Award and Best Historical Novel in the South West Writers International Writing Contest writing as C. Joseph Greaves for his title Hard Twisted about some of the same.  I am eager to read the now signed copy we picked up at Maria’s.

Just like they did for Canyon SacrificeScott and the folks at Maria’s filled the store with fans again for the launch of our most recent title, Mountain Rampage.  Scott is a gracious, generous man and the town loves him. It doesn’t hurt that his mystery series is a killer read–pun intended.  As Scott read I was leaning against one of those very cool library ladders and looking up and around the store. Hanging from the walls and ceiling are vintage canoes, snowshoes, skis and soon a vintage Sears Roebuck Cruiser bike that Peter Schertz recently scored. Kirsten and I were in this store five years ago right before we started Torrey House and declared we would publish books that belong on such shelves. Now we are gratified to see dozens of our titles there. A big thank you to Maria’s for the support and embrace of Scott and our titles.

At breakfast the next day (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Scott and his wife Sue, Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the husband and wife team that owns Maria’s, we learned that Andrea is taking a sabbatical starting in about a week and backpacking 400 miles on the Colorado Trail which winds through the peaks from Durango to Denver. She told Kirsten that no, she is not taking any books and in fact as a true getaway her slogan is “no words.” Have a truly great trip Andrea.

Rose recently stayed with us in Salt Lake while attending the federal trial of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. Lyman was accused of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. The Commissioner was found guilty on both counts, the conspiring and the doing, a verdict that brought a sigh of relief to those of us who watched outlaw cowboy Cliven Bundy running around free while conservationist Tim DeChristopher spent two years in federal prison. Rose was involved early in protecting the ancient archaeological sites in Recapture Canyon via her work for The Broads and was gratified to see the wheels of justice turn in a way that actually brought justice. Rose, thanks for your work and thanks to you and Mark for your gracious hospitality while we were in Durango.

Our second night in Durango we joined Tim Peterson and his wife Anna for dinner (at Carver Brewing Co.). Tim is the Utah Wildlands Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust  and brought us up to speed on the progress of Greater Canyonlands and Cedar Mesa toward better federal protection. It sounds like Rob Bishop has bungled his public lands initiative allowing the Utah county commissioners too much leeway to ask outrageous demands or to simply not care and drop out. It always looked like the backwards fear of President Obama creating a Greater Canyonlands was the bargaining chip and motivator for the rural commissioners to come to the bargaining table. Now it appears the momentum might be shifting toward creating a National Conservation Area or National Monument if necessary called the Bears Ears Cultural Landscape on the Cedar Mesa. There is a growing coalition of support for the idea including unprecedented Tribal support and cooperation of 24 Native American Tribes and Pueblos. The Tribal support is amazing news and is easy to imagine will have tremendous national appeal and political support.  Tim has been working diligently and sincerely on the Bishop proposal but it looks like the Republicans sitting across from him are anything but honest and sincere. The Utah Senate recently declared that “the highest and best use” of the Cedar Mesa area is grazing and energy/mineral development. Cave man mentality. Keep fighting the good fight Tim, big monolithic obstacles do fall and in the end progress sweeps the political cavemen aside.

Before we left town on Thursday morning we had breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Dan Olsen, the Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a local and effective conservation membership. The Alliance had co-sponsored the reading at Maria’s with us and we were eager to meet Dan and hear what he was thinking about and working on. Dan is another one of these folks who moved to Durango because they wanted to live there and then found a way to put his talents to work to make a living while doing good for the world.  His forte by experience and education is about making organizational and social change happen. Dan says that while he is not confrontational by nature he knows that sometimes to make change happen for the good and to protect the environment the outcome cannot always be win-win. Sometimes the big extractors have to be forced to stop or to pay for the damage and pollution they cause. He frequently writes columns for The Durango Herald including a recent one titled “Change requires becoming unreasonable.”  I really like this guy and we will be keeping an eye on him.

Finally, on the way back to Torrey we sat down for coffee and ice cream with Kathryn (Kat) Wilder in Dolores (and not at Carver Brewing Co.). Kat and her friend TJ Holmes both graciously traveled to Scott’s reading and both are passionate activists for the wild Mustang herds in the area. TJ is a wonderful wildlife photographer and blogs almost daily about the Mustangs. Wild horses are an issue that Torrey House is very interested in and it was great to get a little education from someone with her boots on the ground.  We look forward to more of such spirited conversations soon with Kat.

We drove home the rest of the way to Torrey wowed, tired and inspired. This delicate, exquisite landscape is our to revere or ours to wreck. Right now with Republicans on the rampage public lands are once again under assault. The land is being managed by the people the land needs protection from and is in grave danger of being sold to the highest bidder. Maybe we can do something to help protect what we have while we still have it via the power of pen and story.

And for those of you not counting that was four times at Carver Brewing Co. in two days. Just the way I like it. Kirsten, you can lower that eyebrow now.

-Mark Bailey, May 22, 2015, Durango.

Posted in Conservation, Environment, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Public land management | 2 Comments

Pill in the hamburger

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit maurieandeve.com)

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit maurieandeve.com)

Last October, while Kirsten and I were on the road peddling our Torrey House wares, we were walking down the streets of Taos, straight into the setting sun, looking for a place to have dinner. A stranger was walking toward us, backlit by the sun, and starting to wave us down. Oh brother, I thought, here comes something awkward. To the complete contrary, it was our friend and the son of my previous business partner, Soren Jespersen. Soren was out doing his work for The Wilderness Society and it was not the first time we had crossed paths with him while out in the West. He works hard too.

We talked Soren into giving up his solitude for the evening and joining us for dinner. In catching him up with Torrey House I mentioned, as an example of something we would like to publish, Kevin Fedarko’s The Emerald Mile (at Indiebound here). The subtitle of the book is “The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.”  Not only was this a story about the fastest ride in the highest water but it was about one done in a wooden dory similar to the boats John Wesley Powell used when he was the first to run the river through the canyon in the summer of 1869. It is an enticing promise of adventure and Fedarko delivers the goods. But in the meanwhile, you learn the natural history of the river, the hard fought battles to keep from damming the Grand Canyon, and the realization too late by David Brower of the Sierra Club and others of what was going to be drowned and lost under water in Glen Canyon. Today, you realize, the Colorado River does not even make it to the sea and the now arid delta at the Sea of Cortez.

“Right,” Soren said, “I get it. It is the pill in the hamburger.” Not being a dog guy it took me a second, but yes, it is the pill in the hamburger. The question is how to get folks to become aware enough of our precious natural lands that they are willing to do something, at least vote accordingly, about protecting what we have left. Let’s give them a fat hamburger and sneak in a pill.

At Torrey House we try to do that with all of our titles. Some quick examples are the Nevada pipeline water wars that serve as a back drop in Jana Richman’s The Ordinary Truth, about how the fragile Mojave Desert and the sacred lands of the Chemehuevi Indians are ironically threatened by big corporate wind farms in Mary Sojourner’s 29, and the struggle between ranching and the New West in Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road.

We are constantly on the lookout for good ideas with a story and that support Love of the Land.  Let us know what yours are.

Mark

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, THP Blog, topical nonfiction, West | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bad Romance?

Torrey House Press:

THP is leaning toward creating some works on wild horses. Here Kirsten takes a first look.

Originally posted on Committed to the Quest:

Cliven Bundy rides his horse waving the American flag. He’s a Fox News hero who refused to pay fees and fines for illegally grazing his cows on federal lands for 20 years and then participated in an armed standoff with law enforcement, a frightening and fraught encounter for which he’s never been charged.  He’s a cowboy hero, an icon of the rugged individualist, a living piece of the American Dream. Though he fell off his pedestal by blathering racism in the media’s glare, he still commands a lot of sympathy either consciously with right-wing rurals or, worse, unconsciously in the minds of everybody who wants to be, or at least preserve, the American cowboy.

And who doesn’t love the dashing vision of a cowboy, tall in the saddle on his handsome horse, splashes through a sunlit stream as he herds those little dogies along? Methinks, perhaps, the 80 percent of…

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Truth and false balance

THP editor Kirsten Johanna Allen and author Susan Imhoff Bird

THP editor Kirsten Johanna Allen and author Susan Imhoff Bird in Yellowstone.

Kirsten and I started Torrey House Press in 2010 as we started to gain appreciation and concern for a lack of public awareness of public land management and environmental issues, particularly here on all our public land in the West.  We saw first hand how many of the land management agencies who are entrusted with the care of our western public lands are “captured” by the special interests they are supposed to regulate and end up serving only these interest’s needs at the expense of the rest of us. We realized that as long as there was general public apathy about any given issue there would never be the political will to improve things and without political will land managers were free to bend and break rules. In the West, such rule breaking remains the norm.  We believe that the power of pen and story might shed needed light on such practices and help develop a land ethic that results in more grass on the mountains and water in the streams.

One of those mismanaged issues are wolves. This month’s issue of Outside Magazine has a piece on wolves in the West by Elliott Woods titled Wolflandia that puts the power of pen to work, but with a slant that illustrates what I mean by false balance. It is all too common for the press to present opposing viewpoints as if they are equally valid. When it comes to climate change, for instance, the BBC finally grew fed up with the practice. Because 95 to 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing the planet to warm it doesn’t make sense to give equal time to the tiny minority of scientists, if that is what they are, who deny it.  To actually balance the truth, the BBC is now taking an approach that severely limits the amount of air time climate deniers are given. Nice, go BBC. And while Elliott Woods does a good job of printing the facts about the wolf issue, the amount a ink he gave to wolf opponents, and his final sentences, present an unfortunate false balance.

I am going to try and get in touch with Woods and ask him if the balance is something he did as an effort at appearing fair minded or if it just made for an effective way to snag readers. Or maybe it is political pressure, of which there is plenty, for him or the magazine editors to worry about.  Woods points out that the National Agricultural Statistics Survey blames wolves for only 0.2 percent of annual cattle losses and, a statistic that IS meaningful Elliott, only 4 percent of that total are confirmed. The number of ranchers who graze on public lands is minuscule, and yet their cows are on nearly all of our lands.  The number of us who love these public lands for the beauty and want them protected is immense. On one side of the teeter-totter is a million pounds of wolf love, on the other side an ounce of hamburger.  There is no balance when it comes to the public environmental welfare on this one. Why make it look as if there is?

So it is a shame that ranchers and outfitters got so much space about their perceived woes with wolves, woes that Woods points out are not supported by the facts but woes he give plenty of air time to none-the-less. And what is particularly sad, grievous really, is Woods ending quote that even though Native Americans and bison (he called them buffalo), were virtually wiped out by us, “there is no going back.” Holy smokes! Of course we CAN make reparations and of course we should. Let’s get on it.

It is a good case for the mission of Torrey House Press. We will keep publishing high quality work that promotes “Love of the Land.”  In fact, regarding the wolf issue, we are very enthused to have an upcoming title with author Susan Imhoff Bird called, Howl: of Woman and Wolf.

Posted in Howl, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, Publishing, susan imhoff bird, West, Wolves | 6 Comments

Today’s Transcendentalists

The Story of My Heart cover revHave you ever been overcome by a sense of awe and wonder? Perhaps outside watching the sun set over a roiling ocean or watching the Milky Way spin overhead on a moonless night? Perhaps you had a sense that you were small yet connected, insignificant and humble yet in touch with something much bigger than yourself, something huge. It is a transcendent feeling, one that Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams are intimately familiar with, and one they recognized right away when they picked up an antique copy of THE STORY OF MY HEART by nineteenth century naturalist and mystic, Richard Jefferies. There, in a charming New England independent bookstore, kindred spirits connected over the generations.

At Torrey House Press we think the nineteenth century transcendentalists including Richard Jefferies, and today Brooke and Terry, are on to something. It is a big something that is at the cutting edge of realizing meaning and significance. In THE STORY OF MY HEART, Richard Jefferies speaks of the soul being “the mind of my mind.” Jefferies was tuned into the fast-breaking science of his day. He knew about atomic spectral analysis which was discovered very near the time he wrote THE STORY OF MY HEART. He knew about Darwin’s ideas of evolution (and did not accept them). But whenever Jefferies spent time in natural environments he was thrilled and overwhelmed by the experience of being connected to something greater than religion, or science, or anything that common comprehension allowed. Jefferies had what religious scholar Marcus Borg would call a “thin rind.” He was more sensitive and more aware than most. Like the great mystics before him, Jefferies was easily connected to something real and big out there and it nearly drove him nuts trying to express what he found and experienced.

Today in science, the source and reason for human consciousness remains a mystery. To a pure and reasoned scientist, our sense of self and awareness and free will is necessarily but an elegant illusion, an epiphenomenon that springs from the electro-chemical mechanics in our brains. To most scientists that is, perhaps not to all. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics invokes consciousness as the source of a probability wave collapse that brings into existence a material particle where before there was only probability. It is an interpretation that has withstood the rigorous inquiries of science for nearly one hundred years. And it is at the quantum uncertainty level that there comes the possibility of choice, the possible source of the free will and sense of self that we all have. Adventurous thinkers today are considering the brain as a quantum amplifier that can convert the realm of the quantum into that of the material world. There is a notion that a universal consciousness is required to make this new hypothesis work. In that hypothesis, it works out that the material world springs from consciousness, not the other way around. Following this line of logic, there are legitimate questions of whether consciousness might be an element of the universe, just like space and time. And since we humans are creatures that evolved in the wild, it is back home in the wild that we can be most connected to this universal element, and it is through us that the universe becomes aware and continues to evolve.

Brooke and TerryIt well could be that Jefferies was better than most at linking in with universal consciousness. His tool was to get outside and pay attention. With his resulting experience he rejected the idea that he was a simple creation of ancient religious myths or that he was just an elegant machine of science. Brooke and I have discussed how these notions exist somewhere between the disciplines of science and philosophy. Thus it takes free and bold thinkers like Brooke and Terry, smart and objective but not confined to a narrow academic silo, to engage with their own life experiences and more deeply explore this source of meaning, of significance. In that sense they are the new Transcendentalists. Working with them on this adventure of thought has been an honor and privilege for us at Torrey House. A truly transcendent experience.

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing, Transformative Power of Natural Places | 1 Comment

Green Shorts, Charles Manson, and Literature and Conservation in the West

This piece originally appeared in The Wildlife News.

Charles Manson Cover rgbTen years ago I read Michael Chrichton’s novel State of Fear. While far from his best work, it was his usual roller coaster of a techno-thriller. And, rather strangely, it was blatantly Ayn Rand-like in its political speeches that attempted to convince the reader that the government and the environmental movement conspired to keep you in a state of fear in order that you could be controlled. His was one of the first loud voices of the climate change deniers to use pseudo-science claims, his propelled by compelling, cliff hanging scenes. I thought, well hell, two can play that game. In 2010 I started Torrey House Press (THP) along with Kirsten Allen to promote love of the land through literature and the power of the pen.

The stories we tell convey the values we hold. Literature matters because it is a vehicle for sharing our values and shaping our culture. As America’s nineteenth-century cities grew more industrial, writers, artists, and musicians looked west for inspiration, and in the process changed American identity by incorporating the heroes and hardships of mountain men, miners, and pioneers. The West was the last frontier, the last place settled by Europeans—and for good reason. With annual precipitation sometimes a quarter of that typically received east of the Mississippi River and strewn with unnavigable rivers and canyons, the West didn’t offer much promise of successful settlement. The literature shaped by the West shows an evolution of identity and values. Mark Twain explored the ruggedness of the Western landscape and the people who settled and developed it despite its crushing difficulties. John Muir suggested that the wild places being conquered held other benefits, some more spiritual than material. Edward Abbey went further, arguing not only that wild places are a spiritual resource but also that our land management practices are destroying them.

Today, writers such as Timothy Egan, Erica Olsen, Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams, and Stephen Trimble contemplate both the desolation of destruction and the still point of hope that can lead us to new ways of living with the land. In Utah, for instance, there are concrete examples of conservation created by literature. Much of the popularity and protection of Arches National Park and other Utah red rock wonders are the result of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. A couple of years ago Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manager Bob Barrett told Kirsten and me that he thought the refuge owed its very existence to Terry Tempest Williams’ beautiful memoir, Refuge.

Indeed, living with the land is the crux of our culture here in the West. And celebrating our place-based culture adds richness to our lives. To further the tradition, Torrey House Press is launching an e-book only series called Torrey House Press Green Shorts, and Wildlife News’ own Ralph Maughan is our first author contributor. For Green Shorts material, THP is reaching out to conservation activists, scholars, and managers, folks like wildlife and range biologists who have stories to tell and experiences that are worth reading about.  These are often unsung heroes out working on the front lines of conservation who have a passion for what they do. Ralph is a perfect example.

Ralph Maughan chose to live in the Intermountain West because of the beauty of the surrounding natural landscape. But in the fall of 1979, millions of some of the most beautiful acres in the world were under eminent threat of uncontrolled logging, mining, road building, and development. The political heat surrounding the issue prompted then-Senator Frank Church to wear a bullet proof vest to public hearings. Hearings where loggers compared conservationists to Charles Manson. Ralph wrote us an entertaining and enlightening story of the creation of the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area. Titled Charles Manson was an Environmentalist, Ralph’s piece can be found at your favorite e-book retailer for $1.99.

Twenty-five percent of the proceeds will go to Western Watersheds Project, a conservation organization whose board of directors includes Ralph Maughan. Buy a copy, be entertained, learn something useful, and in so doing, make a worthy contribution.

-Mark Bailey and Kirsten Allen are Co-Publishers at Torrey House Press.

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Kirsten, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, West, Western Lit | Leave a comment