Thursday, April 6, 2023

The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman (Yes, you should probably read it.)

While up in the Cabinet Mountains, I thought to read my overdue library book, The Cold Vanish, by Jon Billman. Probably not the most suitable read for an isolated, mountain-surrounded vacation, but exactly like something I would decide to do. If anything, reading this made me more aware of my surroundings and less inclined to go further than I’d told my family I would. 

The book covers multiple cases of people who have gone missing in the wilderness, from hikers to runners to children. Mostly due to getting turned around and not having the necessary gear to prevent hypothermia (often because the person wasn’t on a journey to begin with)—though survivalists and amateurs alike disappear. 

Woven throughout the book is the main case and narrative of lost biker Jacob Gray whose gear turns up in the Olympic National Park but he does not. The author follows Gray’s father off and on over a year of searching. Gray’s father dives the rivers, hikes hundreds of miles, and crosses into Canada trying to follow any possibility of where his son might be. The author does well showing the intimate side of a father’s hope, grief, and drive as well as acknowledging the boundless energy and financial freedoms that make such a thorough search possible. Randy Gray, Jacob’s father, is the life-force of the book and the ideal person you’d want looking for you.

Over the course of Jacob’s search and the many anecdotal cases of lost (and sometimes found) people, we learn about the bureaucratic red tape that constrains searches due to territory, boundaries, regulations, or money. Who is control of this land but not the land abutting it. Who believes there are enough clues to justify a longer or more intense search. There are volunteer search-and-rescue teams and volunteer dog searchers, but none can help without permission (under threat of permanent ban). Of course, the wealthier the person who disappears and the more funded and popular the land where that happens both influence the amount of public and private funds for the search and the intensity of interest in helping (through GoFundMe or volunteers). In this way, the author touches on the murdered and missing indigenous women and the additional systemic issues in such searches.

Overall, I learned a great deal from this book—from the disconnected system and lack of real numbers of those missing to the unique stories of lost people to the training of cadaver dogs—and am glad I read it. It moves at a good pace and weaves the stories of missing people in the wilderness, and the subsequent searches, in a way that both make sense and help illuminate parts of Jacob’s search (and vice versa). Once you reach chapter four or five, the structure settles in and makes sense and you can surf the momentum for the rest of the book. 

In sum, yes, you should probably read it. 


View of Cabinet Mountains on my walk
photo by me

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (3/26/23)

 Today, it's one poem and I haven't any coffee. I hope you do.

Poem: The Lost Land by Eavan Boland

🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (March 5, 2023)

Here's this week's session of good poems by other people. Welcome to March!

Poems read: 

🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (February 26, 2023)

We have reached the last Sunday of February, and while that makes calendar sense, the snow coming down outside my window makes less mental sense when the longing for Spring has taken to blooming in the hope muscle.

Here are this week's poems:


Poems read:

  • Flight by Linda L. Beeman (from her book Wallace, Idaho)
  • The Poet at Seven by Donald Justice (from his book The Summer Anniversaries)
  • All the Dead Dears by Sylvia Plath (from The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, edited by Ted Hughes)
  • The Blue Flannel Suit by Ted Hughes (from his book Birthday Letters)

🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (February 19, 2023)

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee is a Sunday reading series in which I read good poems by other people. Thanks for joining! 

Poems read:

  • Sabbath Poem VII. In time a man disappears by Wendell Berry (from his book Leavings)
  • Landscape with Little Figures by Donald Justice (from his book The Summer Anniversaries)
  • On the Death of Friends in Childhood by Donald Justice (from his book The Summer Anniversaries)
  • Stranger by Night by Edward Hirsch (from The Best American Poetry 2019, eds. Major Jackson and David Lehman)
🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Monday, February 13, 2023

How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis (Read it if the title speaks to you)

How to Keep House while Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing
by KC Davis

Evidently, I’m in book-finishing mode. This evening I reached the end of How to Keep House while Drowning by KC Davis. I’ve been listening to it while running, and it’s easy to follow in that way, although I prefer listening to it when driving or doing something more low-key. (Tonight I listened while cutting vegetables.) Mainly, several times I needed to rewind because my focus swayed from her advice but I wanted her advice and so listened again. 

The book is not like a diet book that suggests new organizing solutions or 25 ways to clean grout. The book is a guide to redirecting the mental blocks that many people have to cleaning--from lacking motivation to the overwhelming effects that mess can have (or do have) on us to the extent that we find the whole task unsurmountable, if not debilitating. In sum, the book doesn't "up your game" but explains the game in order to play it, as well as providing some explanation as to why the cleaning game needs to be played, despite one's reticence.

The writer is the reader of the book, and she’s both personable and easy to listen to. She has good timing for the comedic, which helps to keep the book feel light, possible, and moving--despite the seriousness and attention she gives to the subject. 

The book is very aware of its readership and all the backgrounds readers could come from, and as such, makes a point to provide an abridged version, suggest how our relationship to cleaning and tidying could be affected by childhood, class, race, disability, and gender. She promotes a care-centered approach to the person who is cleaning/tidying/organizing, which seemed odd at the beginning (because caring for the cleaner is rarely a focus)—but by the end, I was completely onboard and feel relieved to now think of cleaning in these terms. It has made cleaning feel more manageable and possible.

Many times throughout the book, she gave advice or ways of shifting perspective that led me to thinking, Oh, yes! *That* will help. Good.

For example, she spends some time reminding readers how it's unfair for anyone in the house to leave all of the cleaning to one person, and she discusses splitting household tasks and child-rearing in terms of leisure time rather than by who in the couple has the "harder" day-job. This has made me more aware of the tasks I assume my partner will do, and start questioning why I leave it to her instead of assisting or doing it myself. 

Thanks to the author, I've begun rethinking our living space in terms of its functionality. Rather than feeling despair when I see the kitchen counter covered in dishes, spare change, lunch bags, unwrapped dog bones, and random pens and pieces of paper--now, I think, This counter is no longer functional. 

One of the most important take-aways is her reminding us what is “morally neutral” so that we might let go of any shame/guilt/blame that we attach to cleaning or completing (or not completing) care tasks—such that the emotional relationship to chores can fall away so that we can start considering why we clean the way we clean (or avoid cleaning as a way of cleaning). 

Seeing the task as morally-neutral makes dealing with the kitchen counter feel easier. I want a functional counter. What has been impeding cleaning is my guilt at not cleaning it and/or my shame of letting it get messy in the first place. Turns out, my emotional relationship to cleaning is getting in the way of cleaning.

I've also felt and noticed improvement in how I clean. And it suddenly feels unforced and possible.

Laundry baskets in every room? Why not!

Sorting as a necessary first step to tidying? Of course!

Not letting boxes accumulate, regardless of their intended transport to thrift store or summer yard sale? Thanks for giving me permission to stop this.

Stop folding clothes that don't need folded? Yes, you miracle thinker, you! Yes!

I appreciated the book and her time in writing it, her steady clarity and effort to be clear, and her awareness of many kinds of readers. I’ll be listening to it again and have already shared chapters with my partner, which led to useful discussions that we would not have otherwise thought to have.

In sum, How to Keep House While Drowning is a very helpful guide to cleaning for those of us who dread/avoid/curse the inevitable such that, by the book's end, we can see how to manage the manageable.


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (February 12, 2023)

 Coffee. Good poems by other people. Welcome.

Poems read: 

  • Just Once by Anne Sexton (from her book Love Poems)
  • VII. by Wendell Berry (a 2006 Sabbath poem from his book Leavings)
  • Shaping by Mahmud Al-Braikan, trans. by Haider Al-Kabi (from Atlanta Review, Iraq, Spring/Summer 2007)

🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

We the Animals by Justin Torres (Yes, you should read it.)

We the Animals by Justin Torres.

Yesterday, I found this book in my house while pausing in the threshold between kitchen and dining room. Up high on a bookshelf. I’m not sure when or how I came about having it, or for how long I’ve been moving it from one shelf to another. It was published in 2011. So for that long? 

But I started reading it and could tell immediately why I’d bought it (or why someone may have leant it, though its pages turned like a first read). And now a day later, I’ve finished.

It’s a smashing fist of a book. Sharp language, smart movement, perfectly considered images. Dark but light. Very short stories that flash from one moment to the next to create the life of three brothers’ childhoods. Exactly the sort of book I want to read.

And so I have.

Thanks to the writer for writing it.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (February 5, 2023)



By Emily Dickinson:

  • A Thought went up my mind today 
  • If I can stop one Heart from breaking

(both poems in Final Harvest, edited by Thomas H. Johnson)

By Wendell Berry:

  • Questionnaire (from his book Leavings)
  • XV. (Sabbath Poem from 2005, collected in his book Leavings)


🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Voices from Chernobyl, edited by Svetlana Alexievich (Yes, you should read it.)


I ran across this at the library last month, read it quickly and will likely check it out and read it again. The book is a collage of testimonies from those who experienced the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, arranged in time from the first fires to years after. The stories come from wives of firemen who were first called to the scene and died horrible deaths a few weeks later. There are the voices of scientists begging people to evacuate (and the people dismissing the advice as ludicrous); the government's myth-making about the low level of concern people should have; the people summoned to the site to evacuate people or to fight the fires or to bury the earth, machines, houses--all while imbibing quarts of vodka due to the myth that the vodka functioned as a bodily barrier to the nuclear radiation. The stories range from long to short anecdotes to singing snippets that altogether accumulate to create the vivid, complicated, and awful event and its effect on the immediate environment, animals, and people--as well as the effects over time to those who returned to live in the zone, those mourning, and those later born (or born dead).  

The reading experience is like that of Hiroshima by John Hersey, and it's impossible not to draw connections between the two, not only because both deal with the sudden effects of nuclear disaster but also in the way brightly strange reality that ensues (fir example, in Chernobyl, abandoned pets being shot by soldiers so that they don't wander outside of the zone; in Hiroshima, the electric blue flowers that start growing over the bomb site)

It is a well-built book that stunned me.

I'd suggest adding it to the top of your stack of necessary reading.