I had the pleasure last week to interview one of my writing heroes, David Quammen. It may not be a big deal to some, but last May’s issue of National Geographic that focused on Yellowstone National Park was written single-handedly by Quammen. That, when it comes to magazine writing, is a pinnacle achievement. He will be in Missoula Friday for an event, and my interview — a much-abbreviated version of our full conversation — is in this week’s issue of the Independent. I hope you can check it out, because the guy is loquacious and fascinating. Here’s an excerpt:
When you realized you were actually writing an entire issue of National Geographic, did you have any particular “Holy shit!” moments?
David Quammen: It was a “holy shit” moment for me. And there were a few times after I accepted this project that I had a few of those “holy shit” moments at 4 a.m., thinking, “How in the world am I gonna do this?” What I was thinking was, everyone has already read books about Yellowstone, at least in this region and the world that we live in. And across America people think that they know Yellowstone and what it’s about. The first challenge was how to make it new, how to make it fresh, how to make it interesting. So I worked very hard on trying to do that, to make it serious and probing and unexpected.
I’m looking forward to the event Friday. If you are near Missoula, you should check it out.
This is why I hate people, summertime, and nice weather.
The last two evenings I’ve been down to the river with my dog, the main beach has been overrun by loud, sunburned meatheads and their hangers-on. Not the same groups, just two different versions of the same basic mouth breather. I skirt the beach when that happens, just to avoid whatever is going on. Today I ventured out in the morning before the place gets overrun just to have some peace, which is the reason I go there in the first place. This is what I found there.
Illegal fire built using logs and branches torn from the surrounding area. Charred beer cans in and around the scorched patch. Cigarette butts. Various assorted other bits and pieces of trash. I wish these people would just set themselves on fire instead.
It’s why I love cold and clouds and shitty weather. It keeps people like this inside watching television and ruining their own shit. As if I wasn’t enough of a seething cauldron of rage as it is, for crissakes. I think I am going to retire socially until the weather matches my demeanor.
I think we all saw it coming soon, but it’s still a shock when it happens. I posted this yesterday morning to Facebook when I first learned the news:
I got up this morning and made some coffee. While it brewed, I watched the birds outside at the feeder. Mostly red-winged blackbirds, though a northern flicker joined them. A few sparrows. Then the neighborhood chickens arrived, followed by some mourning doves. I lingered a little with my wife, who typically works Sundays. Three cheers to Jesus for getting her the time off today. Finally, I sat at the counter and drank some coffee and finished reading a novella called “The Man Who Gave Up His Name.” It’s about a man who leaves corporate work, gives away his money, and becomes a cook. I could relate to him, of course. It is a story written by my favorite writer, Jim Harrison, and is the middle novella in the collection of three that comprises his breakout book Legends of the Fall. I set the book aside, moved to my computer and opened up Twitter. The first post I saw was from Benjamin Percy, offering up an RIP to Harrison, who died yesterday, and I find, despite having never met the man (though one time I did sit outside the driveway of his Arizona home where he died), that I miss him already.
I’m sad. I’m grateful I was able to review his most recent collection of poetry for the Indy. I’m also grateful I still have so much of his work to read for the first time. That doesn’t make it any easier.
It is good to see so many folks offering their thoughts about Harrison. His importance to me as a writer cannot be overstated, especially as a man with fewer years left in life than what I’ve already used up. There are many of his excellent quotes floating around, and I’ve collected my share. However, I am going to close with the following, from “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” which represents the final paragraph I read while still thinking Jim Harrison was alive.
At midnight Nordstrom was sitting in the dark in his hotel bedroom looking at the moon and thinking about lily pads. Sonia had insisted he go to the Museum of Modern Art to see the huge paintings of lily pads by Monet and he had gone after lunch, staring at them utterly blankminded for an hour. Now in the moonlight all of the lily pads on the lakes of northern Wisconsin revolved before him. Sometimes they had small buttery-yellow flowers and sometimes they had large white flowers, strong with an eerie perfume he could smell twenty-five years later in a hotel room. He didn’t know if in the morning he would leave on his trip or go to Wisconsin for a few weeks. Bass hid under the lily pads and he used to swim under them and look upward so that the pads looked like small green islands in the air refracting the light. He had given the cocaine to the Sephard over dinner. The Sephard had been relieved but puzzled when Nordstrom insisted that Slats and Sarah were “nice people.” The was a neurotic English girl with a perfect fanny with the Sephard. She wanted to call a friend for Nordstrom but he said no. He was really quite tired. Just breathing on the bed in the moonlight seemed quite enough for the moment. First you breathed in, then out, and so on. It was easy if you tried to keep calm.
Kalin Andrews is a huge inspiration. We’ve actually squared up next to each other in the hot room at yoga a few times, but it wasn’t until Instagram that we actually “met.” The homemade videos she shares to her feed are something to behold. She runs a delicious pizza joint. She’s bold and fun in front of the camera. She works hard at what she does. And I’m pretty stoked how this little collaboration turned out, especially given how experimental it kind of was.
If you follow my thread on Instagram at all, you know I started this self-imposed portrait project on the 1st of October. The idea was that I would shoot a portrait every day, and post it. I’ve stuck pretty well to that, though I have learned that despite my better intentions it is difficult for a recluse/hermit/anti-social/introvert/misanthrope like me to engage with someone in such fashion every day, especially since to make it work I need to hit up the occasional stranger. So I’ve pulled in a shot prior to October here and there as ringers, and I’ll certainly continue to do that. For those who aren’t in the loop on this thing, here are the first batch of photos now that we find ourselves (already!) at the mid-point of October. A couple of them I really like.
Dancers Jen and Nikki, shot in my studio
Adelaide, shot at Betty’s Divine at her art opening
Karen, an acquaintance I encounter at the river
Frank and Angeline, world-traveling Bikram instructors
Emily, the newest addition to my roster of yoga teachers
Jaime, friend of friends, now my friend
Jimmy and Steve. 2/3 of The North American Blood Falcon
Aimee McQuilken, aka the Divine Betty
Seth Kantner, author, at Fact & Fiction
Brianna, outtake from studio session for Rocky Horror headshot
Jessica, my friend, shot last January on Waterworks Hill
Oliver Meister, innkeeper of the North Fork Hostel
Lilah at the Uptown, serving me feasts since forever