Regular readers will remember Greenough Park, the very lovely but seemingly very small and tame park that I visited back in 2010.

Well, last week this happened: Rattlesnake Creek ice, water roar toward Greenough Park

A valuable reminder that nature is still nature, and even something that doesn’t look much like wilderness can be a bit wild given the right circumstances.

I hope that the Dippers came through ok, but they are adapted to such conditions. If John Muir is right, they were probably singing the entire time.

I don’t know how this keeps happening, but I’ve written and sold another story about birds. This one, “And Neither Have I Wings to Fly”, will appear in Bewere the Night, edited by Ekaterina Sedia. It’s coming out in the spring, but it’s available for pre-order now.

Here’s a little-known fact about Montana: it is the only state in the USA with a constitution that guarantees state citizens the right to a “clean and healthful” environment.

In 1972, when Montana’s current constitution was written, the state was (for that matter, still is) recovering from ongoing plutocratic rule. In particular, the captains of the mining industry had run wild, poisoning entire communities, using extra-legal violence to break unions, and leaving little wealth behind but what they put in the pockets of their bought-and-paid-for officials. The clean and healthful environment provision was one those put into the constitution to prevent this from ever happening again.

Unfortunately, right now poisoned communities, violent thugs, and an oligarchy of the rich seem to be politically popular in certain circles. And Montana has a call for a new constitutional convention on the ballot, with backers who explicitly wish to see the state made more ‘business-friendly’, even friendly to those businesses who wish to physically harm the citizens of the state.

That’s why I’m going to vote on Tuesday. No matter what state you’re in, there’s probably at least one issue out that that should prompt you to do the same.

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It’s with great pleasure that I announce that Corey, Charlie, and Mike over at 10,000 Birds, being gentlemen of obvious sagacity and exemplary taste, have asked me to be one of their new beat writers. I’ll be covering the Interior West on a biweekly basis.

My hope is that this will create a synergy that will prompt me to update over here more often as well. Even if not, rest assured that I don’t intend to let Great Auk- or Greatest Auk become extinct. But for my deep thoughts on issues pertaining to my new home, as well as updates from some of the other finest bird bloggers out there, definitely check out 10000birds.com.

I am not a desert person. I love water above all things — be it on a pelagic, or along a river, or tromping through the much in a brackish swamp. That said, I have always been aware of, and fascinated by, the vast desert regions of the American Southwest. Almost certainly it was book that tipped me off, or a show in PBS perhaps. At any rate, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that the desert was a rich and fascinating place.

Most people, it seems, don’t know that. The use desert as a synonym for empty or impoverished: “food desert”, “desertification”. This is not at all dissimilar to the way that the word wilderness itself was used by early European invaders on this continent – the phrase ‘howling wilderness’, now rarely heard, denoted the same sort of space that could only be improved by the most drastic interference. Since then, we have learned better when it comes to wilderness. Not so much when it comes to desert.

Via Chris Clarke, I have been following with some trepidation the controversy over solar energy in the Mojave desert. In this place, the word desert has been overlaid on reality and used to make a bad decision: namely, the wrecking of pristine, rather than degraded, habitat for development. That the development in question is the construction of solar panels rather than malls and condos is but small consolation for the species to be displaced.

It is easy to forget what energy is. It is never free. It is always accompanied by the destruction of matter, or by the loss of energy transition from one form to another. Solar is a vast improvement over what we have now, but is not a panacea, because there is no panacea. At the very least, we surely have a responsibility to know what we are compromising, what we are choosing. Defining our words poorly does not help with that.

ETA: As I write this, I see another example of solar development with the potential to destroy habitat that birders may well be interested in.

In all the excitement of the move and classes, I almost forgot to tell everyone:

Haunted Legends is now available!

This book, edited by an unprecedented team-up of eminent, award-winning anthologist Ellen Datlow and notorious, also-award-winning outlaw sf-er Nick Mamatas, features my latest short story “Face Like a Monkey” (which, despite the title, is actually about a stork. Or is it….)

It’s available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook! Buy it today! Hand it out to trick-or-treaters!

Like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, when you’re someplace new and strange, it’s the “little differences” that get you. Although Missoula does not have the Royale with Cheese (it does have a surprisingly credible assortment of pizzas, but that’s another story) it does have plenty of stuff to throw a Brooklyn gal into culture shock.

Sticking strictly to the birds:

Of the primary-color feeder bird trifecta, there are no Northern Cardinals or Blue Jays here. The cardinals don’t seem to have a close local equivalent; the jay family is represented by Gray and Steller’s, but in town their niche seems to be occupied more by the boisterous and snappy Black-billed Magpie. The Goldfinches are abundant, but their calls are slightly, subtly different. I can hear their accents more clearly than the accents of the people. (Some people would say that I have always had this problem.)

The chickadees also sound different. The nuthatches sound much the same, but in addition to White and Red-breasted, I have to keep an ear (and eye) out for the aptly-named, adorable Pygmy Nuthatch. The waxwings are all Cedar now, but the mountain ash is fruiting abundantly and people speak of Bohemians as though they’re expected, not a rare treat. And speaking of not-rare treats, I go out my back door and see Pine Siskins routinely, instead of braving the cold and mud for them in vain.

And the woodpeckers. Ah, the woodpeckers. If anything sums up the way the avifauna here is just familiar enough to make the differences jarring, it’s the Picidae. It’s flicker time here too, and ostensibly the same flicker, although they look very different indeed from their east-coast conspecifics. Especially compared to something like the Red-naped Sapsucker, which looks an awful lot like a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but is no such thing. We have Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, although more of the latter than I’m used to. We have Black-backed Woodpeckers, which look like you expect woodpeckers to look like, and Lewis’s Woodpeckers, which look like nothing so much as Betsey Johnson’s idea of a woodpecker makeover — although happily without frills.

We have Western Phoebes and Screech Owls, which look virtually identical to their Eastern counterparts but aren’t, perhaps to make up for the damn flickers.

The Osprey is just an Osprey, as it is all over the world. They fly along the river, and the young cry plaintively from their nesting platforms, not eager to fledge, just as they do at Jamaica Bay. It’s nice for some things to stay the same.

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We interrupt the road trip for an update from The Future (dun dun dun….) which is to say, the present.

Classes have started at the University of Montana, among them my first nonfiction workshop! Among my tasks for the semester is to select, read, and comment from a writer’s perspective on four nonfiction books that have something to teach me about the craft.

I’ve decided to pick four books on birds and birding (or on nature with a strong bird component), but with different forms and themes. Unfortunately, books I’ve already read are discouraged, which rules out some strong contenders like Of a Feather and Season at the Point. Some of the possibilities I’m looking at include:

Wild America by James Fisher and Roger Tory Peterson (maybe paired with Weidensaul’s Return to Wild America if I get hardcore ambitious)
Life List by Olivia Gentile
Birding Babylon by Jonathan Trouern-Trend
Flight Maps by Jennifer Price
The Birds of Heaven by Peter Mattheissen
Mama Poc by Anne LaBastille

Please throw out suggestions in the comments, if you have any! I’m looking to cast a wide net, so the bird-ness of the book need not be the central focus. All selections do, however, have to be nonfiction.

And please, don’t suggest Jonathon Rosen’s The Life of the Skies. I already know that one can be a beautiful writer and wrong as hell*. And you’ll hear more about Rosen’s wrong as hellness in this very blog, in The Future (dun dun dunnnn…..)

*I learned from Annie Dillard, actually.

You’re going to have to, I’m afraid, because I’m STILL trying to get moving-in details sorted.

But in the meanwhile, you have until this coming Tuesday to get your submissions to the next I and the Bird to me, at labenc AT gmail.com. Send ’em in!

While I am out of blogging commission traveling the country, Jonathan Franzen has nobly agreed to take up my slack!

Well, not really. But he does have an article in the current New Yorker about bird poaching in Cyprus, Malta, and Italy.

Artistic differences note: If I were him, I wouldn’t have eaten the ambelopoulia.

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