Sunday, February 19, 2017

The End of the Wild

I am enamored with the work of John Muir, in both the way he lived and the way he wrote so lovingly and persuasively about securing the health of the environment for its own sake, outside of the wants and needs of humans. He was smart enough to know, though, that he had to use his writing to charm the American public into falling in love with mountains, streams, Redwoods, insects, canyons, antelope, seals, and storms in order to save the environment from irrevocable destruction by miners, loggers, manufacturers, ranchers, farmers, and drillers. He appealed to the American public's heart, its sense of decency and stewardship, to help lead them toward a logical conclusion that may have felt counterintuitive to their bank accounts: set aside vast swaths of land and let them be wild. He was able to convince Teddy Roosevelt. Together, the two of them are largely responsible for the existence of the national park system, as well as the environmental movements that grew out of them. Another beautiful result of reading John Muir is that you can't escape the musicality of his prose. Nothing puts me in a writing mode more than reading poetry or prose that comes close. So, it was with him in mind, that I started The End of the Wild, which comes out in April (and has two starred reviews so far!). I had other inspirations, of course, including a short story by Mark Richard titled "Strays," but in my mind, Muir was the guiding light. (Richard was the mosquito buzzing around the light. More of him later.)

This following excerpt is from The Mountains of California (1894) and is the beginning of a chapter that describes how Muir rode out a storm at the top of a Douglas Fir tree. I think you can hear the influence of his religious upbringing, his deep knowledge of the lyricism and metaphor of biblical language.

"THE mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result."

Starred Review * KIRKUS REVIEW

A struggling family in rural Michigan finds that fracking for natural gas can be positive andnegative.
In this moving story, ably told through the eyes of an 11-year-old “born naturalist,” Helget weaves themes of poverty, parenting, appreciation for the natural world, and forgiveness through a balanced presentation of the complicated contemporary issue of energy supplies. Life has not been easy for Fern, a white girl who is sore-pressed to keep her family—stepfather Toivo and two younger brother­s—together. Her mother and a third brother were killed in an auto accident two years earlier. Wounded physically and emotionally by his service in Iraq, Toivo loves his children deeply but has had trouble finding and keeping work in a diminishing economy. Fern forages and Toivo hunts in the old-growth forest behind their home, the forest where Kloche’s Hydraulic Fracturing wants to put a wastewater pond. Worse, Fern’s grandfather supports the fracking; his company will sell Kloche’s lots of piping. He’s also demanding custody of the children. Fern’s first-person voice is completely convincing. Her vocabulary and phrasing is rural Midwestern, and her imagery comes from the natural world she loves. The sense of place is palpable. The author demonstrates the poverty of Fern’s family and friends (including a Muslim family from Somalia) with telling detail, and the tension and action arise naturally. Though occasional small details may pull readers out of the narrative, this nuanced take on a pressing issue is an important one.
Middle-grade readers will find much to think about in this beautifully written story. 


Fern, a sixth grader in the fictional town of Colter, Mich., understands the “constant itch of being poor, how it’s always a bug biting your back in a place you can’t reach.” Since the death of Fern’s mother and youngest brother in a car accident, her ex-military stepfather, who self-medicates to manage his PTSD, has struggled to hold a job, leaving Fern to juggle school, caring for her brothers, and foraging for meals in a nearby forest. As Fern’s grandfather attempts to gain custody of the children, a hydraulic fracturing operation brings additional changes; fracking offers steady, much-needed income for her family and others but will also result in the demolition of Fern’s forest. Inspired by her mother’s recipe book, filled with ingredients found in the forest, Fern aims to win an annual science fair by spreading awareness about the resources that may soon be destroyed. Helget (Wonder at the End of the World) confronts substantial subjects like poverty, environmentalism, and mental illness, injecting humor and hope to provide balance. Without lecturing, she encourages readers to be thoughtful and curious, like Fern. Ages 8–12. Agent: Faye Bender, the Book Group. (Apr.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January, 2016


Archie and Gordie.

Broke Down. Theme Song.

Pony, Snow Dog.

Phillip and cat.


Mitchell drew this with sharpies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


photo by Caitlin Abrams from Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine
photo by Caitlin Abrams from Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Pony in her sanctuary.
Isabella's graduation: Isabella, Gordon, Phillip, Archibald, Violette, Mitchell.
My sister, Nola's, baby shower.
sisters: Nevada, Nancy, Neah.
sister, Natalie.
This is our mean cat, Grandma Helget, who disappeared for a while, and we thought the coyotes got her. She's back. Pregnant.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Archie and Gordie.
Violette and my nieces.
Gordie and Erik.

Monday, April 27, 2015

end of April

Archie and Pony.
Violette. No, I don't worry.
Violette again. she always wears her christmas pajamas.
Gordon, rinsing off soap.
Isabella and Violette, at prom, smiling for someone else's camera.
great reading.
Max and Phillip at Isabella's prom.

Mitchell with two of sisters.
Isabella with a couple of Trampled by Turtles/Dead Man Winter gents.
the cat, Grandma.
i needed a photo for an article asap, so Gordie very expertly shot this of me.
he can also climb door frames.
Erik with Dead Man Winter at the brewery. 
the ramps are up.
Violette and Archie, sometime friends and sometime enemies.
we're blurry. Rachael Hanel and me at the Minnesota Book Awards. i didn't win. ha.