Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of 12 books; his most recent is Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness, published by the University of Alaska Press.
Coastal Trail Deserves the Best Repaving that’s Possible - 6/10/2013 4:39 pm
On Memorial Day, Memories of My Father - 5/27/2013 12:09 pm
Musings on Bear Attacks and Notions of Evil - 5/7/2013 12:34 pm
Alaska Politics: More Reasons to Be Discouraged - 4/18/2013 4:01 pm
Our Changing Climate and the Citizens Climate Lobby - 3/19/2013 11:27 am
A Dam in the Wilderness, an Out-of-Control Legislature, and Rep. Lindsey Holmes - 2/18/2013 8:01 pm
Anchorage Assembly Needs to Back Up and Do the Right Thing with Title 21 - 1/16/2013 5:10 pm
Posted: August 20, 2009 - 9:29 pm
This is one of the big reasons that I prefer to walk rather than jog or bike or rollerblade on local pathways: yesterday I spotted a pod of beluga whales while walking my collie mix, Coya, along the Coastal Trail. It’s also why I often choose to walk alone and with my binoculars. Though I greatly enjoy my walks with friends, we inevitably engage in conversation and I pay more attention to our dialogue rather than the surroundings. (This, I’ve been told by various partners across the years, is how it should be; my problem has been that I am sometimes too easily distracted from my human company by sounds and movements going on around me.) Walking alone, I am more engaged with the landscape and its other inhabitants: birds, squirrels, moose, even the occasional bear or lynx or whale. I notice spiders crawling across snow or curious assemblages of wildflowers where I never expected them or blueberry patches rich with ripened fruit. I’m the sort who needs both kinds of walks: in the company of humans; and in solitude.
Posted: August 12, 2009 - 11:10 am
Heaven knows there is plenty going on locally, statewide, and nationally to work up a good rant, but on this August day I’m choosing reflection over agitation. Here then, some food for thought.
Since first coming north in 1974, I have spent well over a thousand days in Alaska's wilderness, from the Southeast Panhandle to the North Slope, and among all the places I've been, the Central Brooks Range – which I explored that first summer – remains my favorite place of wildness. It’s a landscape I love deeply, one that is always with me, not only in memory but also in spirit. When I think about my relationship with the Brooks Range, I’m often reminded of a poem by Nancy Wood that’s become a personal favorite:
Posted: August 4, 2009 - 6:49 pm
A couple of days ago, a friend forwarded me a commentary by Tim Lindell, who writes opinion pieces on the Conservatives 4 Palin blogsite. Among his many grievances, Lindell was unhappy that the Alaska media has largely ignored the recently introduced PAW (Protect America’s Wildlife) Act, which he argues “will make hunting in Alaska extinct.” Like Lindell, I’ve been surprised that the PAW Act hasn’t received more local media coverage, because it is aimed at a controversial predator-control program begun under Gov. Frank Murkowski and dramatically escalated by our recently resigned ex-governor Sarah Palin. I can’t recall seeing even a small mention of this newly introduced legislation in Anchorage’s “good-morning paper.” But the Daily News publishes less and less of what’s newsworthy and of interest to Alaskans, at least in its print edition. Unlike Lindell, however, I believe the PAW Act is a good thing. And long overdue.
Posted: July 28, 2009 - 5:23 pm
Sure, we may be more than halfway through Alaska’s “season of light” (and warmth), but better late than never for some “summer reading” ideas. I’ve pulled the dozen books below from my all-time favorites list, as a sampling of books that I believe combine great writing with wonderfully provocative stories and/or ideas.
I invite others to comment – and share their own favorites.
So here they are, in no particular order, from my ever-evolving favorite books list (which, I should mention, includes several other equally deserving and personally influential books that I'll share another time, perhaps for some good autumn or winter reads).
Posted: July 23, 2009 - 7:08 pm
Three times this summer, people – other writers – I respect have publicly fired broadsides at nature writers, either directly or in a roundabout way. Their comments have gotten me thinking about the place of nature writers, and their work, in our culture. And that thinking has led (for better or worse) to this blog post.
The first zinger was fired in Homer, at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, during a panel discussion titled “Our Words: More Thoughts on the Role of Writing and Today’s Global Challenges.” Yeah, that’s a mouthful. And a BIG topic. I wish now that I’d taken notes, but I didn’t. In my recollection, various panel members discussed (among other things) the ways they weave politics or larger social and cultural issues into their stories or poems and how it is best to do that. Or whether it should be done at all in what’s considered creative writing, the stuff of literature.
Posted: July 19, 2009 - 1:58 pm
The hypocrisy of our soon-to-be ex-governor shows no bounds. Even as Sarah Palin tweets happily about “mama bears” at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, her appointees at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game oversee the most awfully audacious bear-kill program since at least statehood and possibly in Alaska’s history.
For those few who don’t know about McNeil, this state-managed sanctuary on the west side of Cook Inlet protects Alaska’s – and likely the world’s – largest gathering of brown bears. Each year, dozens of bears congregate here to feed on salmon, while watched by a small gathering of people (go to the state’s McNeil web page or simply do an Internet search for McNeil River). It is an amazing place that has been known to transform people’s attitudes toward bears. I doubt, however, it will do anything to change our governor, who has, in her shortened term, taken Alaska’s war on wolves and bears to unprecedented depths. At first merely shocked, I quickly became appalled while reading in Saturday’s paper about Palin’s McNeil “tweet” about a female bear with cubs: “Protect & provide for her young; She sees danger? She brazenly rises up on strong hind legs, growls Don’t Touch My Cuba & the species survives.”
Posted: July 16, 2009 - 12:24 pm
A few days had passed since I’d last checked the Alaska Voices blogsite, so Wednesday night I scrolled down the most recent entries, curious to see what new opinions had surfaced. I didn’t get far before Rudy Wittshirk’s headline, “Afghanistan and other leftover wars (see end for blog comments)” got my attention. I’ve never met Rudy, but over the years I’ve enjoyed his Compass pieces in the Daily News, many of which have dealt with wildlife management issues, also a great interest of mine. I especially appreciate the perspective he presents as one who lives in a more rural area (Willow), clearly gets out into the wilds a lot, and perceives many problems with the way wildlife is managed in Alaska. As one of the Daily News’s Alaska Voices, Rudy (much like me) has “spread his wings” to comment on a much wider array of topics. Though to be honest, last night I was more curious about his “blog comments” than his thoughts about leftover wars. Thus began my search for Joann Grimes.
Posted: July 8, 2009 - 8:21 pm
Last evening, not long before midnight, I left my slowly darkening house and took a seat on the front porch. The day had been a busy one, as summer days tend to be in Alaska. My mind had grown busy, too, after absorbing the most recent news reports and reading several online commentaries about our soon-to-be-ex-governor. I’d even begun my own new blog entry, a response to what some other, way more conservative, “Alaska Voices” had written about Sarah Palin and one of Palin’s chief nemeses, liberal blogger Shannyn Moore. I grew weary working on the commentary, so I left it for morning. At last my day’s writing, errands, and household chores were done. I’d already turned off the TV and said a long-distance “good night” to Helene in Oregon, so after shutting down the computer I breathed in the quiet of the house, then stepped outside and into the cooling late-night air. As much time as I spend outdoors, I don’t often sit quietly outside late at night, even in summer. I’m not sure why, because it almost always calms me. I could hear the rush of traffic on Northern Lights Boulevard and the occasional whine and roar of jets at the airport, but my own neighborhood was silent and still and that deep stillness is what I took in, along with the dimming shapes of birch and spruce trees and the dark zigzagging form of a dragonfly on the hunt. As I sat there, my body relaxed and my mind gradually emptied out in the best sort of way. Happily I felt no need to look for insights or wisdom or answers, but was content to simply be with the yard, the neighborhood, and the midsummer night, with its still bright, nearly midnight sky, such an amazing spectacle when I take a moment to notice it.
Posted: July 4, 2009 - 11:39 am
After several wondrous hours in the Chugach foothills with my mixed collie, Coya, I arrived home Friday evening to a message from my sweetheart, Helene, for now living in Oregon. “Hey,” she said, “I just heard that Sarah resigned. What’s going on up there?”
Good question. This is the second time that Helene has been the first to share a Sarah bombshell with me. The first was when John McCain named Palin as his running mate. That time, Helene shrieked into the phone. This time her message was subdued, in a quizzical sort of way. That’s what Sarah Palin has become to many of us, I think: a quirky curiosity who is hard to take seriously. Last summer, Helene was deeply worried that Palin’s charisma might fool the public into thinking she’d be a strong VP. It did, for a while. But her weaknesses – and, I would argue, her superficiality and hate mongering – eventually did her in, along with any chances John McCain (admittedly already a long shot) had of winning the presidency.
Posted: June 18, 2009 - 12:26 pm
So, I’m back from four days in Homer, where I attended the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference and was –to my great surprise and delight – enthralled by poetry and especially the words and work and powerful presence of Li-Young Lee. I’ve already written about that for the blogspot 49 Writers, so rather than repeat myself I’ll send you there. Soon I’ll be headed out of town again, bound for Sitka and the 25th and final Sitka Symposium. It's astounding that so many Alaskans have remained unaware of, or disinterested in, the symposium, which brings together all sorts of people -- writers and other artists, activists, philosophers, theologians, scientists, the list goes on and on -- to explore the complex and often fascinating inter-relationships of culture, nature, and story. To learn more about what you’ve been missing -- or perhaps be inspired to arrange a last-minute trip to Sitka -- you can visit the Island Institute website. I’m not yet ready to dive back into other political or social commentary of any sort so for now I’ll happily continue my brief vacation from such matters.
Posted: June 9, 2009 - 12:04 pm
It’s an intimidating and scary thing for me, to tiptoe into the politics of religion and sexuality. Especially the latter. I feel infinitely more comfortable writing about wildlife politics and, more generally, eco-politics. But I’ve been lying in bed this morning, my stomach roiling, and I realize this is something I must do. I have been given the chance to be an Alaska Voice, after all, and I should honor that opportunity by expressing my thoughts and opinions about things that matter, even if they don’t have anything to do with bears and wilderness and the other stuff I love and usually write about. (Besides, I have gradually come to believe that everything is connected, so why not expand my writing horizons to reflect that belief? Increasing numbers of people are recognizing the links between the environmental and social justice movements.) As some of the world's wiser people have reminded us, too many awful things have happened across human history while good, decent people stayed silent. So, you see, I like to think of myself as a good and decent person. Most of the time I am, I think.
Posted: June 6, 2009 - 11:59 am
I expect I’ll write at least a few blog entries about bear-human relationships in Anchorage this summer, so what better time to start than now, before the news is filled with stories of “problem bears” and bear-human conflicts. Besides, a few people have already beaten me to the punch, including some letter writers, fellow “Alaska Voice” Rudy Wittshirk (“Bears Generally Don’t Murder People, June 3) and Craig Medred, who devoted his June 2 outdoors column to Anchorage bears and their relationships with people and salmon. Not surprisingly, I often disagree with Craig’s take on wildlife matters. (But who doesn’t? Read enough of his columns across the years, and you’ll discover Craig sometimes disagrees with himself.) But I’m interested in his perspective, because he pays attention to many of the issues that I care about. And when Craig isn’t simply trying to stir things up, he can offer thoughtful insights and analysis.
Posted: May 30, 2009 - 1:52 pm
My reading of Saturday’s newspaper took a sharp turn for the worse this morning when I got to the editorial pages and noticed Sarah Palin’s “Talking Back to the Daily News" commentary.
Against my better judgment I began to read, in our governor’s own words, why she “vetoed $28.6 million of federal stimulus funds tied to adoption of universal building codes.” In essence, Gov. Palin repeated what she’s apparently been saying all along. Except here I got her reasoning first hand and in great detail. My blood had already begun to boil by the time I reached her argument (only three paragraphs in) that “Alaskans have a strong history of independence and opposition to Washington, D.C. meddling in local issues. Our constitution ensures ‘maximum local self-government.’ . . . Blah, blah, blah.” (I swear I rarely, if ever, use blah, blah, blah, but in this instance it fits.)
Posted: May 27, 2009 - 8:03 pm
I’m back at my computer after returning from a soggy hike in Chugach State Park, where both the sky and ground were oozing water this afternoon. While trail conditions along the Middle Fork Loop aren’t as bad as they were in early May, they’re still pretty darn awful. And that’s a continuing shame.
As someone who’s been a Chugach regular for more than a quarter century and also served on the park’s citizens advisory board, I’ve grown increasingly dismayed and frustrated by the poor – and deteriorating – condition of Chugach trails, particularly in the Hillside area. I’ve commented on this numerous times before; just last year I wrote a “rant” for the Anchorage Press (headlined “Muddied”) that decried the poor condition of the Middle Fork Loop and, more generally, a Chugach State Park trail system that is in desperate need of restorative help. The trails I know best are those accessible from the Prospect Heights and Glen Alps trailheads, and several of them are hurting. Besides the Middle Fork Loop (which ultimately leads to Williwaw Lakes), portions of trails to Near Point and Wolverine Peak, Hidden Lake, and O’Malley and Little O’Malley Peaks are in terrible shape.
Posted: May 23, 2009 - 6:57 pm
Saturday morning, still early in the Memorial Day weekend. First thing, I get Coya, my sweet and beautiful pound mutt (a collie mix) her breakfast and turn on the radio, shifting the dial from KSKA to KNBA and the final few minutes of Richard Nelson’s “Encounters.” Then a quick stop in the bathroom. By the time I’m done, Coya is waiting to be let outdoors, into the front yard. Next I go to my 87-year-old mother’s bedroom and help lift her from bed to walker. We head to the bathroom and I help her onto the toilet. When she’s done I help with clean up and get her back onto the walker. We go to the kitchen, and together pull on Mom’s bathrobe. Then I transfer her from walker to a seat at the table. I then spend a few minutes gently coaxing and eventually pleading with Mom to take her morning allotment of pills. I get frustrated by my mother’s reluctance, but who can blame her? She takes eight pills with breakfast and another seven at dinner, plus a few others scattered throughout the day, day after day, week after week, year after year.
Posted: May 17, 2009 - 12:19 pm
To begin, some reflections and a lament. Until now, I never imagined myself a blogger. But up until age 40 I never imagined writing a book and now here I am, the author of 11 books (soon to be a dozen). To be honest, I don’t regularly read blogs, the one exception to that rule being the Alaska literary blog 49writers. From personal experience I know that the word “literary” scares off a lot of people; one of my books about Denali included the subtitle “A Literary Anthology” and I’m convinced that was the kiss of death to reasonable sales, even by small-press standards, and never again will I allow the word literary on a book cover of mine. But if you haven’t visited the 49 Writers blogsite, I highly recommend it, especially if you want to learn more about our state’s talented bunch of authors and the good – and sometimes great – work they’re doing.