Bursts

by Jane Sheffer

The Clark Fork River is breaking records. In April, just before the release of the Rivers issue of Camas, the long winter finally broke, sending torrents of snowmelt rushing into the river that flows through the heart of Missoula. The Clark Fork made national news as it shattered a 100-year record in mid-May, flooded neighborhoods, and carried mobile homes and propane tanks bobbing downstream.

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Before moving to Missoula to attend graduate school last summer, a common question from my friends and family back home in California was whether or not I was prepared to endure winter. I am, I assured them, referencing the many Octobers I’d spent working on the trail crew in Yellowstone, or tracking wolves in the Lamar Valley. I have lots of cold-weather gear, I said. And I did. Sometimes it got as cold as 20 below there, I said. And it had. 

When my fiancé and I first arrived to Missoula, the smoke made our eyes burn. The valley inhaled the smoke from the surrounding wildfires and held its breath. Snow was the furthest thing from my mind. My professors apologized to my classes for the smoke-choked city – we were a fresh batch of newcomers, not a single native-Montanan among us, and I don’t think we realized what we were missing until the smoke cleared at the end of September. Mountains visible from the center of town. Snow still clinging to some of them. Cool drafts rising from the Clark Fork that smelled like algae and musk. And it’s true, what they say here, about the sky: it’s massive.

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As the fires dissipated, its colors were adopted by the larches and aspens and maples. The trees cut off circulation to the unnecessary parts of themselves and flickered with a final burst of color. Before going dormant, the hills hummed vibrant.

After almost a year in Missoula, I’ve come to expect these bursts. The flurry of snow as it arrives, swirling and uncertain at first, then as a downpour that pops dazzlingly white while hushing everything to a whisper. In spring, the explosion of balsamroot and larkspur, dotting the hills like technicolor constellations. The rivers, roaring as they are unleashed from the snowpack. The eruption of flames that will arrive again soon.

These bursts envelope us so completely yet are so completely temporary. Whether they evoke delight or dread, they will happen, and they will end. I found a certain comfort in this as I endured my first Missoula winter, feeling heavy beneath the months of uniform gray that were nothing like the shimmering Yellowstone snowscapes that I’d thought winter was. Turns out that a frigid stint of 20 below ain’t got nothin’ on another gray, snowy day in February…March…April. Like the dormant trees and the sluggish river, I endured it, awaiting a time when I could surge forward again.

Summer 2018, It's Here!

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For the past week, I’ve been flipping through our newest issue of Camas rereading the stories, essays, and poems and admiring the photos within. This issue is the capstone to my time as Camas editor and grad school career. It’s the product of countless unpaid hours, the cause of sleep deprivation, and something I am tremendously proud of.

This issue, for the first time in Camas’ 25 years, has more women’s voices and art than men’s. Diane Raptosh, former Boise poet laureate, questions our idea of culture and language in her “Call It, Once More, A River.” Member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, Heather Cahoon, graces our pages with her “Horsefly Dress” using her native language to dissect the power of a name. Daqi Chen, a junior in high school, has her first ever published photo in these pages: “One of Kind.” And the natural deconstruction in Daniella Sforza’s “Fluvial Sands” still awes me with how well it fits the poem its paired with. The men have some pretty amazing pieces of work in the issue too. 

In this issue, like the last, we tried to combine those images and works of traditional nature writing (the beautiful plants, rivers, and natural features around us) and the more common nature that surrounds us today (culverts diverting waterflow, cabins that allow us to escape into wilderness comfortably, and dried-up river beds that are becoming more and more frequent with a warming climate). 

We forgot to put our theme on the cover before printing, but the image there by photographer Michael Anthony displays it perfectly. The snaking green surrounded by arid land is the story of rivers in the West. And the ability to take an aerial shot of it is a part of our new story.

 

Prairie Songs

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By Rachel Dickson

Four years ago, in the Spring of 2014, I was anxiously awaiting the first Prairie Songs. It was my second semester as an undergraduate student at the University of Montana, and I was in my first of the two internships I would eventually hold with Camas Magazine. I’d enjoyed my work as an editor with Big Sky High School’s literary magazine Aerie, where I’d helped coordinate and host some reading-oriented fundraising events in the Missoula community. When I started at Camas, I was eager to work on similar projects, and also to collaborate with the coeditors at the time, Caroline Stephens and Melissa Wardlow. 

As soon as I started, we began brainstorming ideas to create a new Camas event that spring. I watercolor painted a Camas flower and made a poster for the event while Caroline and Melissa reached out to local authors to read. We sat down together and thought of what we should call our event, finally settling on "Prairie Songs: an evening of Montana reading, music, and celebration." After a semester of brainstorming and coordination, we secured the Top Hat as our venue and confirmed the line-up of eight incredible local authors including David James Duncan, Annick Smith, and Richard Manning.

Our goal was to create an event that would continue into the future and widen the community surrounding and supporting Camas. When I first starting working with the magazine, the community felt relatively small. Not many people in Missoula seemed to know about Camas, and our Spring reading series, Wild Mercy, always seemed to draw in the same crowd of Environmental Studies students and their friends. I really wanted to change that. Creating an annual community event where people would come together to support the wonderful work of Camas and the extraordinary writing community we are lucky to be surrounded with in Missoula seemed like a great way to do it. 

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The first Prairie Songs was, in my somewhat biased view, a raging success. The Top Hat was packed full of people, and audience members laughed and cried in the same night - always a sure sign of a good event. To this day, my mom and I still often bring up Bryce Andrews's Weiner Dog Tale, which left the audience laughing so hard they cried, myself included. I remember looking around while he told his story and realizing what a powerful event we’d created. I realized that not just Camas, but the Missoula community needed this event to continue into the future. 

I’m happy to say that Prairie Songs was not only a success in 2014, but has been an annual success ever since. It’s been wonderful to return to this reading every year and see how the community surrounding Camas continues to expand and widen. Events like Prairie Songs are important in their capacity to connect our community. When we can appreciate a story together under the same roof or around the same table, we can begin to appreciate each other and the environment and community we are a part of. 

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This year, Prairie Songs will be held at Western Cider and we will once again get to hear the stories of David James Duncan and Richard Manning. Prepare yourselves for tears and laughter and a night to remember. Really, what could be better than drinking cider, eating local food (a $10 donation at the door will get you some local soup, bread, and the latest issue of Camas) and hearing two of Montana’s best loved writers read you stories? I hope to see you on May 3rd at 6:30 for the fifth year of Prairie Songs. It’s an event you don’t want to miss. 

River People

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by Kitty Galloway

I spent years in my twenties posing as a river person. I was a writer and an artist with a strong pull to mountains, but I had graduated college with a degree in environmental education, and my path led me to Missoula, Montana. Missoula, as it turns out, is a town that has a thing for rivers.

In Missoula, I soon started dating a rafter, and it all fell into place from there. Within months, I landed a job as an environmental educator working for a nonprofit that taught about water. Though I knew a lot about teaching, I knew less about water, so I attended water conferences, read studies, and learned from people who did know. There are over a dozen organizations in Missoula that focus specifically on rivers. Fly fishers, rafters, hydrologists, kayakers, paddle boarders, scientists, biologists and photographers all do their best to make their voices heard when it comes to rivers in this town. There is also the Missoula Water Quality District, the Missoula Water Quality Advisory Council, Montana Watershed Coordination Council and more. The list is extensive. People in this town care about rivers. There were a lot of people to learn from.

It would be quite possible to write an essay much longer than our magazine would even consider about all of the river stories and people stories and water stories at play in this small valley in Montana. There are many books worth of material just waiting to be written on the subject, and many that have already been written. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Mclean, for example. I will not try to even do it justice here. We are sitting below the site of the one the earliest and most substantial environmental and social justice battles in the country, that led to the creation of a Superfund site as well as a massive dam removal in 2008, the Milltown Dam. Clark Fork River, the river that indeed does run right through town, now flows free, until Thompson Falls that is. Most recently, we became a city that after much hard work and debate, now owns our own water supply. In Missoula, there is much to say about rivers.

I would argue that all of those years that I worked on and in and around rivers, I never felt quite in place. I’ve always been more comfortable with a backpack on and a trail under my feet than on a raft, or standing thigh deep in a rushing stream. But those years taught me that as it turns out, we are all river people. Our rivers connect us, as the water cycle connects us. Whether you drink water from a private well, from a city well, or from a reservoir, that water is somewhere along the way connected to a river, and that river is connected to your water.

We are all, it turns out, river people, because we all depend on water, which is something I forget sometimes. I used to tell students, as we talked about pollution and runoff and groundwater and rivers, that we are all down watershed from someone. Our water connects us.

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and in tribute to that, our Camas theme this season is Rivers. Last week submissions closed, and our editorial boards are now hard at work, deep in the process of reading all of the fine work sent our way.  

We just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your poems, stories and words about rivers. We are excited for the magazine that is taking shape. Stay tuned. 

 

Introducing Richard Manning

by Mason Voehl

 

On behalf of Camas Magazine and the University of Montana, I have the privilege to acknowledge and introduce this spring’s Distinguished Kittredge Visiting Writer and Camas Magazine’s featured writer, Richard Manning.

William Kittredge has said about him: “Richard Manning is the most significant social critic in the northern Rockies and short-grass plains. [...] We’re fortunate to have Dick Manning as he continues his demands for fairness while casting light on our future.”

Richard Manning graduated from the University of Montana with an undergraduate degree in political science. He has since written ten books, including One Round River, which was named a significant book of the year by The New York Times. He also works as a freelance magazine writer, and his essays and articles can be found in Harper’sProceedings of the American Philosophical SocietyWiredMen’s JournalOnEarthThe Los Angeles Times, American ScholarThe New York TimesAudubonOutsideHigh Country News, and Northern Lights, among others.

There is so much more to say about the awards and achievements Manning has merited throughout his career as an author and a journalist: winner of the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center’s Lud Browman award for science writing, Richard Margolis award for environmental writing, Montana Audubon Society award for environmental reporting, Montana Wilderness Association award for writing, three-time winner of C.B. Blethen Award for investigative journalism.

The list goes on. But I’d like to instead drop the veil for a few moments and speak from my experience of Richard Manning as a student in his current writing workshop.

Manning has an electricity about him that is both frightening and irresistible. He seems to know something about absolutely everything, and more often than not has written about the subject at hand to boot. Manning has an intellect of rare incisiveness: he can see into, through, and around a story all at once somehow. He can tell what you as an aspiring writer are trying to say, what you really want to be saying, and how what you’re actually saying isn’t doing either job as well as it could be. He has a reverence for the practice of writing that in turn demands a high level of passion and precision from both himself and from his students. We at Camas Magazine are grateful for this opportunity to engage with and learn from Richard Manning during his time on campus this semester.

The following is a link to the recording of last night’s Wild Mercy event at which Manning performed a live reading of some of his wonderful work: https://www.facebook.com/camasmagazine/videos/10155415019353549/

 Richard Manning lives in Missoula with his wife Tracy Stone-Manning where, when he’s not remodeling his house, he is a musician and mountain trail runner.

Richard Manning lives in Missoula with his wife Tracy Stone-Manning where, when he’s not remodeling his house, he is a musician and mountain trail runner.

Wild Mercy Is In Our Hands

by Marko Capoferri

Winter stretches itself to the breaking point in the north country. Inch into February, and signs of breakage appear here and there, including the blessed lengthening of days. Another of the signs, easy to miss, is in a little wood-sided building off a dirt alley in Missoula’s University District. 

Pick a Thursday evening in February. You could stand at a distance like a biologist, hear the rumbled hiss of an electric kettle, observe the accumulation of bodies into this warm, lighted space, filling up the neat rows of folding chairs, and quieting down to listen as one to a well-wrought story. To be transformed, or transported, or transfixed, by someone’s story. All of this for an hour or so of environmental writing. Wild Mercy comes every year like the seasons, and some of us look to the arrival of the reading series like we do the return of sunlight to our evenings.

Consider for a second, if you will, the concept of “environmental writing.” What images might those two words command in your mind? Probably something to do with mountains, perhaps a river flowing through it all, scattered clumps of wildflowers, maybe - in some very rare cases - an arid prairie.

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If these shopworn images were all that were at stake, you could bet those seats wouldn’t be half as full as they tend to be come 6:30 PM on a given Thursday. That’s because there’s a lot more on the line than just aesthetics and yuppie insight; writers are putting their very souls on the block. This is what brings the people, week after week.

Is that a little hyperbolic? Sure it is. Sometimes hyperbole is close to truth, however. There’s a mutuality, a sharing of humanity, that takes place in a room where someone lays out their individual version of truth, with their own color, observations, trials and triumphs, to punctuate it. Throw in a corresponding sea of eyes and ears attuned to that individual frequency; it becomes less individual, more universal. Space and time tend to both collapse and expand, where everything that matters is immediate, as if the whole world is contained in that tiny space of the reading room.

So far in 2018, we’ve gone pretty far afield through the voices of our writers, and contained in that small, cozy room, we’ve gone there together. Emma Pfieffer brought us to the Statue of Liberty; Matt Hart, to the other edge of the Western world, Alaska. In between those poles, Rachel Dickson and Danielle Latuga kept us at home in Montana, and Mason Parker planted us in Oklahoma, right in the center of this ambiguous mass of land we call a country. We’ve learned that “a built environment is also an environment,” that “without access [to wilderness] there is no support,” and, in the words of Danielle Latuga, we’ve entered into spaces “where inner and outer landscapes meet and diverge.” A lot can happen in an hour. You ought to come and see for yourself; you won’t be disappointed. 

Wild mercy is in our hands

These words by the inimitable Terry Tempest Williams are invoked at the start of each reading, an incantation or a call to bear witness, like the sound of a tolling bell. It sets a tone.

I think of another idea espoused by Williams, that of “radical empathy,” the power of stories to collapse divisions and open pathways to interpersonal recognition. To file into a converted garage and sit on metal chairs shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers, in order to be swayed and enchanted by stories: all of us who do this regularly surely must have faith in that power, and a willingness to be changed, for the better, by someone else’s story. Show up to Wild Mercy often enough and the people you sit next to won’t remain strangers for long.

All this talk about stories, I’m reminded of another quote. Spend any appreciable time around the literary set, and Joan Didion's words will inevitably arise: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It seems funny to include here, because it’s not in short supply anywhere, but there’s a good reason for that. It sits with you like a line of the best poetry, like a stone you keep in your pocket and turn over and over to feel all of its details. Kind of like the best stories, come to think of it.

We do indeed tell ourselves (and each other) stories, in order to live. Some parrot the claim that we are now in a “post-truth” era. I’m here to say that truth is alive and well, and you can find it wherever a genuine and heartfelt story is being told. 

Another Pair of Hands

by Kitty Galloway

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I was halfway across the intersection when it happened. The thin makeshift cords holding the precariously placed fruit boxed snapped, and in one slow motion moment, the entire 20 pound cardboard box of newly acquired loot went sliding off the back of my bike and into the street.

Peaches, precious, great ripe orbs, rolled everywhere. At some point, while the box was sliding, I’d felt the sudden backward momentum and stopped. I stood there, bike cockeyed, brain processing, peaches rolling away from me, into the middle of the road. Cars lined up at the light in three directions. Peaches rolled. The light turned green.

It is easy in our world right now to feel that things, quite simply, are going to hell. Is that too harsh a lens on it? I was in a graduate level environmental studies class recently, with a panel of professors in attendance to discuss a reading. The conversation changed directions quickly, when a student early in the class raised her hand and asked, “Are you ever scared?”

 The conversation swung like an arc. Forget David Brower. This one is real. Are you ever scared. Each professor took their time, danced around it, looked through it. The question hung heavy. Yes.

In the end, each professor said, “Yes.

Yes. And then they each gave us their version of how they found hope, anyway. They were older than us. They had an eye for the bigger picture. They believed in movements, in the quiet, slow strength and resilience that births change. They had faith. They believed people were becoming more aware, more socially conscious, albeit slowly. They believed that this world moves in actions and reactions, and we are in a time when people are reacting. It is a pendulum they said. They believed that people would come up with solutions.

“But I am scared for my grandchildren” they said. “I am afraid sometimes for your generation. And the next.”

 Are you ever scared? Yes. It’s hard to listen to the news. It’s hard to maintain hope sometimes. It’s hard to understand how people can be so terrible to other people, frequently, intentionally, and we are supposed to process it, and go on with our days.

I stood in the intersection and watched as my peaches rolled away from me. People on all sides of the intersections sat and watched, as my peaches rolled away from me. It was the height of the summer in Missoula, Montana, and I’d really splurged this time: spent more of my small seasonal salary than advisable but still, I know the farmers. And peaches only come around once a year. As I was biking home my brain was already setting up the canning pot, blanching and halving the sweet rounds, boiling light syrup with just a little honey, slicing vanilla beans. A bright glass jar of sweet vanilla peaches can go a long way to raising spirits in the middle of a grey, frozen February in Montana.

As the light switched to green, I panicked. All those cars waiting. Twenty pounds of valuable fruit, moving rapidly away from me. I dropped my bike and began scrambling. I felt all those eyes, felt the green light pulsing, felt the weight of forcing impatient strangers to wait.

Harried, hurried, it was a minute before I realized there was another pair of hands, reaching for a peach. And another, a pair of feet, chasing one down the yellow line of the intersection. Three boys, no older than high school, and a woman who may have been their mother had hopped out of their car, there in the road, to help me.

With five of us chasing down the rounds, the task was accomplished in a minute, maybe two. Every peach accounted for, sagging cardboard box and abandoned bicycle laid neatly on the sidewalk.

There was barely enough time for me thank them: that woman, setting an example. Those three earnest boys who chased down my fruit under the watchful eyes of three lanes of traffic.

This then, is what gives me hope. The people who stand up. The people who get out of their cars to help, even when everyone else is just sitting there watching, even after the light has turned green. 

Introducing Jane Sheffer, New Camas Co-Editor

by Marko Capoferri

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The late civil rights activist Vincent Harding once said, in regard to fulfilling our ideas of who we are as a nation, that America is still a developing country. Ideas evolve as culture and places and people evolve. The subtitle of Camas Magazine is ‘the Nature of the West.’ Both ‘nature’ and ‘the West’ are terms full of ambiguity. They are ideas that are in a constant state of evolution, ideas that are worth continuous appraisal and reinterpretation from a multitude of voices and perspectives.

Our new Camas Co-Editor Jane Sheffer has spent a considerable amount of time exploring the nature of the West, first as a trail worker, and later as a field biologist, splitting her time between her native California and the Northern Rockies. She landed here in Missoula to put all of that experience into perspective and onto paper. She is a first-year student in the Environmental Studies graduate program, with a focus on Environmental Writing.

MC: When people say ‘the West,’ what does that evoke in you?

JS: My personal migration has been east, from California to Montana, which has shaped a lot of how I think of ‘the West’. It was interesting to arrive in Montana and hear people from further east talk about coming to the West. They would describe the time when they had first seen the Rocky Mountains and they knew that they just needed to stay ‘out West.’ I have come to associate that term with this area, Montana, because it’s not really something that you hear in California on the coast. I came to associate it with a way of life that is more integrated with the natural landscape and that has this certain aesthetic of openness.

MC: How about the word ‘nature’? I know it’s a loaded word, but what resonance does that term have for you?                           

JS: My immediate reaction is thinking of not-human elements. But, as I think as anyone in the environmental studies field will tell you, that perception really comes to morph and change the longer that you study humans’ interactions with the environment. At the deepest level we’re just as much ‘nature’ as anything else; I definitely believe that. By that definition, human-made things can be considered natural. It’s something that I am trying to grapple with in my own writing, which deals with the ethics of conservation and restoration, and the manipulation that’s inherent in us trying to revert things to a ‘natural’ state. I think on its surface, ‘nature’ tends to be a seemingly benign and simple word that, upon further investigation, is so broad and also kind of muddy. There are just so many ways to look at it. Camas’s definition of ‘the Nature of the West’ has a lot more to do with simply the way that things are. Maybe that’s all it really can be defined as: just a state of being that’s neither man-made nor not man-made, that just is.

MC: Gary Snyder defines ‘nature’ as ‘the entire phenomenal world.’

JS: I really like that. Because it’s sort of a silly endeavor to try to tease apart humans from nature; I think that is completely contrived.

MC: Could you talk a little bit about your writing and the work you hope to do in the Environmental Studies graduate program?

JS: My thesis will end up being a collection of essays that examine the relationships between humans and the environment, using my experiences as a field biologist with wildlife as a lens through which to examine that relationship.

MC: How might this writing you are working on align with the aims of Camas Magazine?

JS: I really like this particular articulation of the magazine’s mission: Camas cultivates a community of writers and artists dedicated to promoting ecological and cultural diversity and resilience in the American West. I love the idea of sharing experiences that serve to strengthen the core of this mission, to promote health among people and land and animals. I hope my writing can play a part in that, and serve that same purpose. 

Submissions Now Open for Rivers Issue

This morning I read an article in Mountain West News about “The Disappearing West” study. It begins: “Every 2.5 minutes, the American West loses a football field worth of natural area to human development. And nearly half of all rivers in the West have been altered by human activities.” The in-depth study, commissioned by the Center for American Progress, lays out some shocking statistics about the waterways supporting life in the West: “Once known for their dynamic character, 21 percent of rivers in the West no longer flow freely and a total of 140,000 river miles, or a distance long enough to circle the Earth nearly six times, have been altered by human uses.” It’s an impressive thought. 

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This piece of legislation was created so select rivers that “possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” It is now responsible for protecting 12,734 miles of river in 40 states, less than ¼ of 1% of United States’ rivers. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

As a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and as a call for the work left to do, we’ve decided to dedicate this issue to Rivers. Submissions are now open, and we’re looking for the best of your work celebrating, mourning, studying, inhabiting, and protecting the rivers and watersheds in the West. As always, we’re looking for work (fiction, nonfiction, art, and photography) that illuminates the many faces of the West: nature, culture, art, and history. We look forward to reading and viewing your work.

 

A link to “The Disappearing West” study: https://disappearingwest.org

View the Disappearing Rivers map: https://disappearingwest.org/rivers/map/index.html

Learn more about the West’s in American Rivers podcast series: https://www.americanrivers.org/podcast/

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25th Anniversary Issue

The newest issue of Camas, Winter 2017, was delivered to our doorstep yesterday. I'm in awe of how beautiful, inspiring, thought provoking, and interesting it is. Thank you to all who submitted, edited, and offered support along the way.

This issue is also the 25th anniversary of Camas. I've spent a lot of time looking through the archives, reading past work, and thinking about the future of this fantastic publication. We've published some big names: Rick Bass, Rebecca Solnit, Wendell Berry, David James Duncan, Sharman Apt Russell, and Bill Kittredge among others, including this issue's featured authors Robert Michael Pyle and Debra Marquart. Their words add a timelessness to this publication, and I'm honored to take the editor helm of a magazine with such a rich history.

This anniversary issue I made a concerted effort to spotlight more of the people, places, and yes, problems of the West within Camas' pages. Our tagline is the nature of the West, and most of the time, we've interpreted this as traditional nature writing, focusing on the wild places we escape to and the elements -- birds, trees, landscapes -- that live mostly there. But if those of us that live in the West stop to look around us, what we see is vastly different than what we've been publishing. Nature is very much a peopled place. 

Ben Swimm's "Georgic II," a poem about our newest Secretary of the Interior, lies above Sally Henkel's photo of a buffalo on the plains with a mountain backdrop (p. 24), an iconic image of the West. And on the next page, tucked next to Tom Sentner's essay on using veneno (poison or chemicals) to restore native prairie, photographer Guido provides a snapshot of a road crew digging trenches (p. 27). Which have you seen more often in the West: the buffalo or the road crew?

I hope you enjoy. I know I am. Have a happy holidays, and we'll see you in January with news about the next issue of Camas.

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Purchase the Winter 2017 issue here.

Reintroducing Winter 2017 Featured Author: Robert Michael Pyle

It is with immense pleasure that we announce the featured author for our Winter 2017, 25th Anniversary issue: Robert Michael Pyle.

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Robert Michael Pyle is the author of 17 books, including Chasing Monarchs, Where Bigfoot Walks, and Wintergreen, which won the John Burroughs Medal. A Yale-trained ecologist and a Guggenheim fellow, he is a full-time writer living in SW Washington.

His words first appeared in Camas in the Fall 2002 issue in the poem “Lingua Rediviva.” And in Spring 2005, we were lucky enough to not only feature three of his poems — “Horseback at Dawn: Monument Valley,” “In the City of Rocks,” and “Moonlight Redux: or, Gone for Good” — but also an interview, “On Rage and Writing,” with Monica Wright. 

In the interview, he discusses his relationship with nature and how he translates that onto the page. At one point, he admonishes the kind of civilians of the greater natural world we’ve become: “Today we are deeply environmentally illiterate. There was a time when you had to be a good naturalist or you died. We’ve traded our mammalian vigilance for comfort and security, and we can’t get that back. But we don’t have to be so ignorant.” His quote and writing are what Camas continually strives to do with the work we print: to provide a home for those writers that tie us to the particular places and environments we call home in the West. 

We very much look forward to including Mr. Pyle’s words within our pages once again and are positive you’ll all be excited as we are for the follow up interview to accompany his writing.

Welcome back, Mr. Pyle.

Fall Submissions Now Open!

Hello friends and welcome to another season of Camas,

This issue we’re more excited than usual because it’s our 25th anniversary! Our first issue, printed in Winter 1992-93, was an inspired 24-page black and white, photocopied and stapled publication. The editorial team chose the moniker Camas after the camas lily, which was harvested by the Salish during a time of celebration. It’s been published every year since and is always a celebratory event.

In 25 years, a lot has changed and yet there are oh-so-many moments that feel very much the same. Twenty-five years ago, Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida. This year, Irma has already made landfall, and forecasters are predicting the most active hurricane season since 2010. Twenty-five years ago, a nation divided watched rioters set fire to Los Angeles in response to acquittal of the officers who assaulted Rodney King. This year has seen a president use stronger rhetoric to condemn those who kneel during the national anthem than those who rallied around racist and antisemitic ideologies in Charlottesville. Twenty-five years ago, Mae Jemison made history by becoming the first African American woman to enter space when the Space Shuttle Endeavor launched. This year, the world’s largest march, the Women’s March, was held around the world on January 21 to advocate for women’s rights in response to the inauguration of Pres. Donald Trump. We’ve come a long way, but in so many ways, it feels like we have a long way to go.

We’ve left this issue of Camas themeless so those who want to submit can write/reflect/create/act on any subject that strikes a cord. We want a moment for us to celebrate where we’ve been and also where we might be headed. As always, Camas aims to cultivate a community of writers and artists dedicated to land health and cultural resilience in the American West. We mean for this philosophy to be broadly interpreted though, so please surprise us with your submissions.

Thanks, as always, for your readership, and to submit:

 
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And, as an added thanks, here’s a link to our first ever Camas: https://issuu.com/camasmagazine/docs/camas_1992

 

What Really Matters

By Theresa Duncan

 Montana's Roaring Lion Fire burned more than 8,500 acres in July and August of 2016. (InciWeb photo)

Montana's Roaring Lion Fire burned more than 8,500 acres in July and August of 2016. (InciWeb photo)

A collective holding of breath was the order of each day. For weeks, county and state officials had been urging caution due to the dry conditions in the forest. Open burning was closed. Perhaps the Bitterroot Valley would escape the summer of 2016 without any major fires.  

On Sunday, July 21, 2016, at 2:15 p.m., a peaceful, sunny afternoon was shattered as the Roaring Lion Fire erupted to life. That day and time is seared into the hearts, minds and nightmares of many of my dear friends. The monster leapt from zero to 2,000 acres in six short, tragic hours. Sixteen homes and the solace of a deep connection to place lay reduced to ashes behind the veil of thick smoke.

Officials had to close Highway 93 because so many trucks and trailers lined the shoulder, waiting to be allowed into the area to help people evacuate. Most of them knew people that lived up Roaring Lion Creek, but not all. Some just came to help. Brad Mohn, the local fire chief, appeared on the news to thank area residents for donations and support, but ask for a halt to their generosity. They had more than they could possibly use.

There were at least three unofficial shelters in town, offering extra assistance beyond what the Red Cross and Salvation Army could provide. People opened their homes to evacuees, opened pasture gates for displaced livestock. Our community came together in an unprecedented fashion, according to one Forest Service official; he had never seen anything like it in his many years of firefighting.

By mid-September, the Roaring Lion Fire burned more than 8,500 acres when a few inches of snow fell, smothering the most active remnants of the fiend. Most homes in the area still stand, surrounded by a ghost forest. Some reek of smoke and fear; others remain whole against a backdrop of grief and loss.

A dear friend who lost her home and nearly all her possessions put it in perspective. “I am learning how attached we can become to things, to order, to familiarity.” She paused. “I am learning what really matters.”

Theresa Duncan holds an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana and is currently teaching an undergraduate course called "The Environmental Vision." She lives in the mountains west of Hamilton, Mont., with her husband, John, and golden retriever, Brinkley. Among the pines, she gardens, hikes, bikes, reads, writes and enjoys frequent wildlife visitors. Her writing focuses on the interactions of people and the elements of place.

 

Notes from the Country: MSO-->SEA

By Matt Hart

Indian summer in Missoula, sky eggshell blue and sun warm. Up and west, I am following the Clark Fork from a window seat, watching the shimmer of late September on the wandering silver ribbon below. And the northern Bitterroots seemingly endless in stacked ridges of such quantity as to seem uniform, until I look closer and there are the logging roads snaking round their flanks like ropes on a scarred surviving body.

The mountains are not endless. The Clark Fork opens into the ear lobe puddle of Lake Ponderay and then the land becomes subtler, foothills and bumps and soon the stubble and swales of Eastern Washington. A patchwork of grain. I want to sit in a coulee in the heat of this sun, far away from anyone who knows me. I want to wear these boots into a tavern in one of those little specks of a town and hear the low rumbles of ranchers and farmers who fit on their barstools better than anywhere. I won’t speak much there.

And then suddenly the Columbia, racing south, deeply cut, and the last agriculture, and then starkly immediately unequivocally: new mountains rising fast, more spruce and fir and logging roads, and soon huge billows of cloud obscuring much. The coastal forest, yawning in deep green. The peaks impose a new jaggedness of form, taller and snaggletoothed, igneous knife-edges rising toward us in our puny white plane. And they are still rising.

And we are still moving, 500 miles per hour. Finally, as the spires fade to foothills and the first neighborhoods, it is there, to the south, rising above a Mordor of pointed peaks and cloud. Rainier, snow and rock pouring down the hulked sides, little flat gray clouds hanging on the summit like flies dogging the ears of an elephant. The mass of the thing is unbelievable. If I were born in the shadow and knew no other country, how could I understand this mountain as anything but the source of the divine?

The spell is broken by ocean. Puget Sound shimmers and sparkles and curls and absorbs. The curtain of the Olympics hazy in distant relief against cloud and reddening sky. Between the spiraling arteries of cul-de-sacs and ballfields and schools, the towering Doug firs, the lighter hardwoods. From above, it is so easy to picture it all barely inhabited by us, a rolling blanket of damp dark forest spanning mountain and sea. The forms of concrete, brick and steel pressure-washed from the land. Wood and water and cloud enduring. As they will. I step off the plane and the coastal air is cool, the asphalt hard beneath my feet.

Matt Hart is a senior co-editor of Camas.

Announcing our Winter 2016 Theme: Country

 Photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Charles Gurche // Aruna Project // Charles Gurche // Eric Martinez

Photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Charles Gurche // Aruna Project // Charles Gurche // Eric Martinez

Country music. Countryside. Home country. Wild country. Whether you’re thinking politically or geographically, civically or culturally, the word “country” holds a varied resonance for the people and places of the American West. We are excited to present it as the theme guiding our Winter 2016 issue of Camas. We want to hear your thoughts on the country, from the country, beyond the country. In words and images, prose and poems, we will delve into what troubles, what sustains, and what makes up this place—this wide and lovely country.

Submissions are now open via our Submittable page, with the deadline of 11:59pm on October 15, 2016. We welcome all submissions, as our theme is meant to be interpreted broadly.

In his song "Country Is," Tom T. Hall concludes, “Country is what you make it.”

We’re excited to see what you make it in our next issue of Camas.

Sincerely,
Peter Gurche and Matt Hart, Senior Editors

Seeing Salvelinus

By Tom Sentner

 Quartz Lake, Glacier National Park // photo by Tom Sentner

Quartz Lake, Glacier National Park // photo by Tom Sentner

The deep, emerald green lakes on the west slopes of Glacier National Park are mysterious to me. It amazes me that lakes so high in elevation could be so deep, and that lakes so cold could be full of fish and insects. The unique color of the water leads me to peer again and again into the depths of lakes like Bowman and Quartz.

There is a genus of fish here, Salvelinus, which to my mind is swimming in mystery. Fish of the genus Salvelinus are char, the coldest of the cold-water fishes. Brook trout, lake trout, and bull trout are all technically char, not trout.

The advance and retreat of glaciers has left pockets of char in cold waters across the Lower 48 states. Brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, are native to the small rocky streams (or brooks) of the Appalachians. They can be found in pools so small they barely keep the fish wet, pools they share with giant hellbender salamanders in the misty, humid forests all the way down to the western Carolinas, ice-age remnants of the South’s cooler past.

Lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush, once supported commercial fisheries in the Great Lakes before overharvest. They are native to the Hudson Bay drainage of Glacier National Park, but were introduced into Flathead Lake, and from there have become invasive in the Columbia River drainage of the park. While in the Hudson drainage they co-exist with our native char, the bull trout, in the Columbia drainage they displace them.

Bull trout, the Salmon-Trout, so important for the cultures of the Crown of the Continent, are being displaced by a fish that was in turn displaced from its place in the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Bull trout are the char of great western rivers and mountains. I spent the past summer in Glacier National Park learning about how the Anthropocene, the topsy-turvy and perhaps short-lived age of humans, has fish mixed up and bull trout on the brink. But what affected me most was actually seeing Salvelinus, a genus with DNA shaped by ice ages, in a land shaped by glaciers.

Tomheadshot.jpg

Tom Sentner is an aspiring nature writer and a second-year graduate student in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana. Years of odd jobs doing manual labor and environmental work have landed him in some strange situations in wide-ranging parts of the U.S., and he is now attempting to write about those experiences in the greater environmental context of our times. He is originally from Florida, but has also lived and worked in Illinois, Texas, and Washington State, and is greatly enjoying residing in Montana.

And We're Off! A Letter from Your New Editors

Dear Camas readers:

Welcome to a new and exciting year for the magazine. It promises to be a pivotal year in the West. Coal clashes and wildfires have communities buzzing about climate change. Presidential candidates with widely differing views on resources and energy fill the airwaves. A complex debate over protection of the magnificent grizzly bear will have long-lasting impacts on how we relate to our neighboring species. Through it all, the rooted and resonant visions of Westerners will emerge and bring new meaning to our understanding of the region. We are thrilled for the opportunity to showcase those interpretations in Camas.

As co-editors, we are committed to continuing the magazine’s traditions of illuminating your writing, breathtaking art and photography, and a lively dialogue between the familiar and the new, between emerging and established voices. We are also committed to expanding Camasreadership and the scope of its content, as well as its online presence. That’s where we need your help. Since moving to Missoula, we have each been impressed and inspired by the diversity and clarity of the voices that percolate through our community. Having also lived in our fair share of other nooks and crannies around the West, we know that this phenomenon is not singular to Western Montana. Big landscapes and big ideas: the West is full of both. When you witness one, whether it originates within yourself or from the people and places around you, we want to hear about it. Your attentiveness and your inspired work will keep Camas growing as a space for exploring the West in all its colors.

We’re excited to kick off the year with a blog series called Field NotesFriends of the magazine will share impressions from their summer experiences as we begin the countdown to announcing our next issue’s theme and opening submissions. Whether farming in the Rattlesnake Valley or documenting the National Parks’ centennial from the slopes of Glacier, members of the Camas community were busy this summer, and their fresh perspectives promise to begin the year with gusto. We also hope to ramp up the magazine’s social media presence, sharing voices and ideas we encounter that will keep the discourse surrounding Camas broad and ongoing. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and join the conversation!

We’d like to conclude with a brief thought from farmer, writer and thinker Wendell Berry, whom a member of the Camas community was recently fortunate to meet. Mr. Berry had this to say when asked about environmental writing: “If I tell my wife I’m going out into the environment, she won’t know where I am. But if I tell her I’m going up the crick a spell, she’ll know exactly where I am.” To us, that means specificity above all. We envision a magazine that moves beyond abstract notions about “the environment” and digs down into the raw detail of place, of experience. In the poem or essay or photograph that reaches out and touches the truth that’s right in front of us, we may find our way forward.

That’s the news from Lake Missoula for now. Be sure to check back next week for the first installment of Field Notes and stay tuned to the conversation on social media. Deep thanks for your support of Camas and warmest late summer wishes. Off we go!

Sincerely,

Peter Gurche and Matt Hart

 Low clouds and a late-summer sunset over Missoula. Photo by Peter Gurche.

Low clouds and a late-summer sunset over Missoula. Photo by Peter Gurche.

Past the Edge of Snow

Peter's piece can also be found on our Winter 2015 Featured Content page, alongside Eva Saulitis' "Ever-Moving World." This piece is dedicated to Eva. 

By Peter Gurche

This winter, I spent two grey weeks in coastal Alaska, skirting the borders of loss. Seven hours after Christmas dinner with my own family, after the pork loin and ginger sauce and carols and gifts, I was on a northbound plane moving through the dim winter dawn toward a house heavy with grief. Elli, my girlfriend, was losing her stepmom, Eva, to metastatic breast cancer. After years of chemo, the cancer wouldn’t be held back: the fluid built up in her chest and abdomen, the tumor grew.

When I landed in Homer, a change in the weather had lifted the snow line to a few hundred feet above sea level. Most of town was drab and damp, but looking up you could see a white world that floated there like another universe, intertwining with ours on the hillside in dense thickets of alder and birch, pale and beckoning. I stood staring at the divide, until Elli picked me up at the airport and took me home. Inside, Eva sat next to the woodstove, sipping tea, while her oxygen unit purred quietly.

“Hi, Peter,” she said softly, but with a smile. “Merry Christmas.” She wore a headscarf, and underneath it her eyes glowed warmer and brighter than the fire she sat next to. I went over and wrapped my arms gently around her, feeling the bones in her shoulders, the bones in her back.

“Hi, Eva,” I whispered into her scarf. “It’s good to see you.”

 

*                      *                      *

 

It’s hard to know what to say when someone is dying. I had known Eva for seven years—known her as a runner, as a gardener, as a cutthroat Scrabble player. And for most of that time, I’d known her also as a cancer patient. But that last qualifier hardly seemed real, always buried beneath Eva’s vitality and spunk. Now it sprang out from her bird-thin wrists, the steady doses of morphine, the constant exhaustion. It hung behind our words, and in the spaces between them, a stranger in the house.

Perhaps the strangest thing was the way that it was possible, in certain moments, to ignore the cancer, to lay aside the utter uncertainty that we went to bed with every night. Strange, and also miraculous: we still laughed, still did dishes, still listened to music and went for runs. Eva wouldn’t settle for anything less than life just as plain or wondrous or desperate as it came—no moping, no sugarcoating.

The last meal Eva cooked was my birthday dinner. She made meatballs—“Jeff’s Balls” she called them, for a friend who supplied the recipe. It took her four hours. She brought an onion and cutting board over to the couch and worked slowly with the knife, taking time with each slice. She stopped when she was tired and let the allium fumes fill her nose and water her eyes. She formed the meatballs patiently, fried them in oil, covered them in rich red sauce. When we sat down to eat, I smiled through watery eyes at my plate and its two perfect globes atop the pasta. I brought a fork to my mouth: garlic, gratitude, stewed tomatoes, and the loveliest of gifts, freely given.

In those weeks, I stood outside of the pool of deep loss that Elli and her family swam through. I moved on the quiet edges of grief, inhabiting the outer orbits, circling. But I was in turn bound by my own small moon, my own piercing and weighty sadness. I straddled the space. I wasn’t an interloper—I knew and loved Eva, and had my own relationship with her—yet I didn’t face the same anguished rending of the heart. So I tended the fire, the raging grief of Elli and her family, while another burned in me, smaller, but still painful to the touch.

 

*                      *                      *

 

Eva died a week after I left. In the gulf of her absence, an urge to search sprang up in Elli and her family and me. We saw signs of Eva’s passage in birds, and wind, and old corners of memory; but it was hard to find a trace of Eva herself. When I think back to the day I landed in Homer and the line across the hill, I think I know where she went. She went to that winter world, that place of fey light and thicket, of ice flake and feather and raven calls. The world that hangs above this one and is twisted up in it, and sometimes, if the weather is right, descends when we’re sleeping and wakes us to a dream that is soft and white and encompassing. And on those days we can go out walking in it, and take its air into our lungs, and sing soft songs in the gathering dusk.