‘We’re not interested in the welfare of individual animals here’
Also: the colors of home; the Great Salt Lake; the polar plunge; and more.
This month I went home for the first time since late April/early May 2019. Home is an old patchwork farmhouse in Kansas, on a dusty dirt road. I don’t live there anymore, obviously, although my books still line a walk-in closet on the second floor, and I keep a box of old clothes there so I have something to change into when I inevitably dump the contents of my suitcase directly into the washing machine. But I grew up there and have visited at least once a year since I went to boarding school in 2003. Until 2020, of course.
What struck me more than anything this time, after being away for so long, were the colors and light. I think the home and the Kansas of my imagination is much drabber and grayer than it is in reality, like a tintype photograph from the Great Depression. It really can look that way from a moving car, going 80 miles an hour down the highway, especially in winter.
But on our almost-daily runs, whether in the early evening after work, right around magic hour, or in the midday sun on the weekend and Thanksgiving, the scenery passed by at a much more sedate pace. Fields of burnt-rust, of dirty-gold, little glimpses of shockingly spring-like new neon green peeking through dry yellow wisps. These pops of color were all the more brilliant in contrast to the deep, dull brown of the tilled fields, white empty husks of broken soybean detritus littered about like little bones, or to the cream-colored gravel road underfoot.
I haven’t even mentioned the sky. One evening, as we walked the dogs so my parents could keep working in the studio, we watched as the sky in the west darkened to a vibrant purple-pink worthy of an 80s aerobics studio. And one night, we woke in the early hours of the morning to pull on layers and boots to go stand on the porch and look up at the lunar eclipse at its zenith (almost but not quite total). Before we turned in, a shooting star streaked low across the inky sky.
The other thing I savored was the quiet and the emptiness on our runs. No headphones, just the crunch of shoes against little rock fragments, of my regular/irregular breathing, and the distant hum of the turnpike.
One afternoon we drove out to the rail-trail 15 miles north for a longer run on even ground, without worrying about cars and trucks sneaking up on us and kicking up a cloud of dust. I only saw one cyclist, and several miles later a birder equipped with binoculars and a camera with a big lens. I apologized for scaring away all the animals with my heavy footfalls.
When I flew out to Salt Lake City earlier this year to go to a wedding, I naively thought we could use our extra day in Utah before taking a red-eye back to the city to visit the Great Salt Lake, but without a car, that turned out to be too tricky. So I was thrilled to see this long, lovely article on the neglected, endangered natural feature, which brought the salty, smelly lake to me. [Bill Gifford for Outside]
‘We’re not interested in the welfare of individual animals here’: A lovely interview with the writer Emma Marris about conservation and feelings, “wilderness” and wildness. [Kat Tancock for Rewilding]
An important reminder that we can all be more conscientious travelers, now that travel is—for some—picking up again, although it did strike me that some of the “better,” “less impactful” options given—like “seek out nearby hot springs instead of spewing emissions all the way to Iceland” might be, in some parts of the country, another activity that should be undertaken thoughtfully. (It could only take a dozen visitors at once to seriously overstress a small, backcountry hot spring.) [Sara Clemence for The New York Times]
What’s the name for journalism that responds directly to readers?Anyway, a super interesting example here, answering the popular reader question, “Why aren’t empty parking lots and office buildings in L.A. converted into parks?” [Rachel Schnalzer for Los Angeles Times]
In one of my first articles at my new job, I wrote about a first-of-its-exact-type report by the intelligence community on the threat climate change poses to national security, specifically geopolitics; however, the most surprising thing I learned while interviewing a former intelligence official about a similar report completed in 2008 was that that report was kept classified to keep poor countries likely to be hit hard by climate change from calling up the United States and asking for money before they would do so otherwise. I just didn’t know that’s something you went around admitting. [Jessica McKenzie for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]
Finally, the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge is back in 2022, baby, and signing up instantly released a potent cocktail of nervous-excited energy. [Jessica Parks for Brooklyn Paper]
Readers, if you ever have a question for me about something related to nature, backpacking, gardening, hiking, environment, or climate, send it my way and I’ll try to answer here. In Pinch of Dirt I mean, not this footnote.