Whoa, Waylon, did you seriously just write a bitter and misguided, 13-point critique of my story? Normally I would ignore your strange rant, but since you’ve accused me of lying and directly attacked my credibility as a writer, I must respond.
I appreciate that you’re passionate about wilderness—and the concepts that wild places aren’t inherently scary and that humans belong in them as much as any other animals—but you’ve overcorrected. You’re so caught up in defending wilderness and portraying it as a benign place that you’ve lost your objectivity.
Yes, wild places are beautiful, peaceful, and soul-fortifying. But they’re also violent, harsh, and uncaring. Welcome to nature. It doesn’t care about your feelings. And if you’ve never felt fear in wilderness—especially when you’re alone, after dark—then you’ve probably never been alone after dark in the wilderness. I have. Lots. And hope to be a lot more.
Many of your points are stylistic critiques, and you’re certainly entitled to your opinions, but I’m unclear who appointed you the Wilderness Writing Police. Your uncreative standards would make for leaden storytelling. I tell the truth, make no mistake, but if you want literalism I suggest you read scientific journals or newspaper reportage.
Addressing a few of your 13 points…
1. It was easy to tell the tracks were from a carnivore, Waylon. A lion or a wolf to be specific. Though they were well covered, they’d been made during the storm and the entire foot of snow was not on top of them. More importantly, you could tell from the size of the entry holes that it was a larger animal. The individual tracks led away almost in a straight line—the telltale sign of a carnivore—so I knew it wasn’t an ungulate, which have more offset, widely-spaced tracks (from side to side, that is). There are other ways to tell the difference from their track pattern, entry holes, etc. If you knew about tracking you would know this. If you didn’t know about tracking, why would you attack someone over something you clearly don’t understand?
As for “oversized,” calm down man. It’s called storytelling.
3. So you’ve shot pepper spray in below-freezing temperatures? That’s useful information. That’s the kind of comment I would welcome for this story, especially if it were presented in a constructive, helpful manner. It’s the manufacturer, by the way, that suggests it doesn’t work below freezing.
5. That quote about fear being an essential part of the wilderness experience came from an excellent article in Wild Earth magazine (RIP), published by the Wildlands Project, a wilderness- and habitat-restoration advocacy group started by Dave Foreman, among other luminaries. Wild Earth, to which I long subscribed, was the preeminent journal of wilderness thinking and “re-wilding” for many years. The article was about grizzly bears and how their presence in wild areas teaches us humility and reverence. It was written by a highly respected wilderness writer. I’d be happy to send you a copy. I’m easy to track down online.
And if you think I’m calling the woods an “evil place” then I have no idea what story you’re reading.
6. Look at the quote you cited, Waylon. I said I’d be off the human grid “for this hike.” Meaning the hike I took on that day, until I reached Ben (who, yes, had a radio at the cabin). Seriously man, why are you foaming at the mouth over this? I’m not trying hide anything.
As for you assertion that “this ranger station is hardly a thirty-minute walk from the North Fork Road,” that would only be true if you forded the North Fork of the Flathead River, and then only if you sprinted. The actual trail is four-plus miles with two creek crossings. If you can do that in thirty minutes, good for you. It takes most people a lot longer.
7. I have many maps of the Park. Some show the Kishenehn trails and cabin, some don’t. The ones they give out to every visitor at the entry stations don’t. That’s what I was referencing.
8. Your asking me to tell you what wilderness means to me? Did you not read my article? Also, your confusing capital “W” Wilderness, as in federally designated Wilderness, with wilderness, as in wild places. You will find very few people who don’t think the Kishenehn area is wilderness.
11. Yes, the wolf whose tracks we saw near the meadow could have smelled us, rather than seeing or hearing us. It’s also possible it had been there an hour before us. But the tracks were quite recent and we surmised it had sensed us in one way or another. Could we have been wrong? Sure. Have writers like Abbey, Lopez, and Dillard taken much greater liberties in their own works? Count on it.
12. You really think I don’t know that bears are omnivores Waylon? I’ve explored some of the wildest areas on five continents, worked on wildlife studies in Glacier and nearby wildlands, observed bears in the wild countless times, and have more natural history field guides and wilderness books than Barnes and Noble, but thanks for the remedial lesson on bears. Also, there are wolves, lions, lynx, wolverines, and plenty of other carnivores here, all of which I’ve tracked many times over the years.
In the future, I suggest you do a little better job being a rational, reasonable person and getting your facts straight before typing biblical-length screeds attacking someone’s integrity. Step back from the desensitizing glare of the internet and think about how we best communicate with each other in a civilized society. Until then, I’ll see you in the wilds.
I never knew that bamboo rods could "tremble." How appropriate then, that Sweetgrass and the Boo Boys donated a $2,400 custom-made walking stick/fly rod combo to the Spokane Tremble Clefs, a therapeutic support group that helps folks with Parkinson's (PD) improve the quality of their voices through vocal exercises and singing.
April was Parkinson's Awareness month and the Tremble Clefs raffled that beautifully crafted masterpiece and raised about $4,600 to help the group continue to improve the quality of life of those affected with PD.
A great big THANK YOU to Sweetgrass and the Boo Boys--you guys are great!
Where was this picture taken!!!?? It's soooo incedible
Thanks for the thoughts... I can relate. Climbed with my best friend for 10 years... through marriages, divorces, children, businesses, homes, disasters, and more. Moved to Montana almost 4 years ago and still haven't recovered. Climbing here is amazing - finding a climbing partner that connects in the way I had become accustomed has been difficult to say the least.
Whoops. Here's that link to my site: http://greenecasey.blogspot.com/
Any dog that can turn powder turns into dollar signs has my vote!
Below is a criticism of Aaron Teasdale's Finding Kishenehn article that appeared in Montana Headwall in September 1, 2012. I feel it is important to ask these questions and point out the literary conundrums and blatant lies of this piece. If non-fiction is to remain non-fiction, and wilderness writing to remain wild, I recommend that your editors do a little better job on critiquing the writing and researching the facts.
1. "A foot of fresh snow obscured the tracks of an oversized carnivore…" If a foot of fresh snow fell on a set of tracks, how do you know it was a carnivore; and how do you know it was oversized? Very good tracking skills you posses. As far as I know a foot of fresh snow could cover up just about anything; and tracks, forget it. What is an oversized carnivore? If you knew it was a carnivore, what kind? Unfortunately, evolution did not select carnivores to be oversized, because if they were, they would not make a living, and would cease to exist. As far as I know, the only oversized animals on the planet are humans and their domesticated fauna. Obesity or oversized animals do not exist in the wild. Natural selection would not have it. There is nothing in science to support a wild, free roaming oversized carnivore.
2. "It seemed inevitable it would suddenly be filled by some variety of toothy creature." What is a toothy creature? Is this written for suspense? Should I be scared as a reader that these woods possess teeth and creatures, and even a blend of the two? Why paint the woods in such scary, curdling terms? Why should the woods be frightening and full of danger? They are not the south side of Chicago, or East St. Louis, or a war zone in the Middle East. This is just blabber, and is not good 'wilderness' writing.
3. "…I remembered the propellant in pepper spray doesn't work in temperatures below freezing. It was 20 degrees." This is not true, and I beg the author to go out and try to fire bear spray when it is 20 degrees. Sure, the propellant will not perform at its peak, but it will still function adequately at 20 degrees. It takes very cold temperatures to cause the propellant not to work, and for the can to even explode. This usually happens in single digits or below zero temperatures. This is physics and twenty degrees is not that cold or that far below freezing to relinquish all capability of the propellant.
4. "…the deepening snow made route-finding a challenge." However, it was not a challenge to discern the tracks of an oversized carnivore. What gives?
5. "I was reminded of the writer who said fear is an essential part of the wilderness experience." Who wrote that? This is not a good quote to have in a 'wilderness' article. To paraphrase John Luther Standing Bear, only the white man thinks that the wilderness is a big, awful, intimidating, fearful place; to Native Americans it was home, refuge, security, happiness and provided everything we needed to live. Once again, poor 'wilderness' writing in which the woods are dark, heartless, horrified, evil places. Fear is an essential part of the war or slavery experience, not the woods.
6. "…how I would be completely off the human grid on this hike--no phone, no people, no contact with the modern world…" Really? I thought the author was hiking in to meet a friend? What about the picture showing the National Park Service radio on the table? This ranger station is hardly a thirty-minute walk from the North Fork Road. How can one be off the human grid staying in a ranger station with a woodstove, cook stove, fuel, radio, carpet, beds, pillows, barns, outhouses, tools, machine maintained trails, etc.?
7. "Current park maps show no trails or ranger stations here…" This is false. Current park maps do show the ranger station and the trails surrounding. I have a current map (2009) in front of me that says different. The map reads, "Kishenehn Patrol Cabin", "Kishenehn Trail", and "Kintla Trail", all in the vicinity of the area the author visited. Check the facts.
8. The author designated wilderness to Glacier National Park, and specifically to the area around the Kishenehn Ranger Station. Will the author please define what wilderness is, or what it means to him, and what it should mean to the reader? As far as I know, Glacier National Park is not designated wilderness and its management thereof is highly questionable and erodible. What is wilderness? To paraphrase Jim Harrison, real wilderness doesn't exist with our permission and stewardship.
9. "But the modern-day threat of poachers lives on…" Really? How many poaching incidents have occurred up there in the past ten years? How about the whole park? I can think of only three or so in the last decade. What is this modern poacher threat? How many poachers has your friend reported and or caught in the northwestern corner of Glacier National Park? Seems to me this threat is blown out of proportion, perhaps for more suspense to keep the reader interested.
10. "…bicycle-horn symphonies." Can we get a less anthropocentric, mechanical, and engineered description of wild geese calling? Nature writing at its poorest, much like a Pam Houston story.
11. "Later we saw the tracks of a wolf that had come to the meadow's edge, seen or heard us, and turned away." How do you know? How are you able to judge the timeline of tracks so acutely? What if the wolf smelled you or had been there an hour before you and your friend even arrived? What if the wolf didn't see or hear you and just turned away? Are these possibilities? The tracking power grows with the story, along with the suspense.
12. "…the big carnivores won't cavalcade…" Please understand that grizzly bears are not carnivores. They are omnivores, and most of the bear's diet in this country is herbivorous. You want a more carnivorous bear visit the coastal brown bears in Alaska and British Columbia who live primarily on fish; or polar bears in the Arctic, the only true carnivorous bear in the world.
13. "…a murderous grizzly…" This is terrible outdoor writing. Grizzly bears do not murder. Humans murder. Is this more suspense literature? Is this what readers need to appreciate and understand nature? Is this is what is required of authors who pen about wilderness these days? This message of the big scary woods is absurd and precocious. Save this stuff for the Tea Party politicians in Idaho or Stephen King. The best nature writers of this country never wrote such absurd words.
Great piece...I love the way he calls you 'son', the way, in a sense, he calls us all 'son'...
by Lumen Lake in northern Wisconsin the waters only sound is the whale song of booming ice, making more ice... so this was like a log on the fire. Thanks
wait a second, is that a Hurricane in the top photo? if so, I think this post begs a follow-up on how you get a sleeping bag and five days worth of stuff into the stern of that thing. long live the 'Cane!
Fantastic story! Love her adventurous spirit and positive outlook!
nice article from I presume a no-kiting author...got the facts straight and the lingo down!
Nice vid! Thanks Joe.
Wow John and Jen! What an experience, our thoughts have been with you regularly. I hope the new landscaping works out well for you (and all of us) with more, and more open, skiing!
Highlining is still an emerging sport, not everyone out there can spot it and/or understand it for what it is. David Hobbs is at the front line of Montana slacklining. Thanks Montana Headwall for helping Hobbs to spread awareness of Slacklining, his Mill Creek Highline, and the unfortunate event in which a highline anchor was inappropriately dismantled.
Chad did an excellent job taking shots during the fast paced action. Chad was a pleasure having on the hunt and Nicki D was a pretty good hand with a scatter gun. Thanks to my Brother, bearing the brunt of my beloved Steelers' loss.
This tale fills me with so much joy!!
RAD. You are living the life!
Food, water, hammer gel, food food food, water, water, legs in the air drain out the bad blood, fooooood!
Wow, what a day! Way to make the most of Missoula's extraordinary backyard wilderness. I can't even imagine 100 miles of mtn biking in a day...
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