Category Archives: Free Range Writers

That’s All She Wrote: a final post, a thanks and goodbye.

By Gregory Zeigler

Since June, 2019 BC (before covid), we three authors at Free Range Writers have created or shepherded for this blog one hundred and nineteen original posts. Now it is time to take down our shingle and shutter our space.

Stanley Park (above). Coal Harbour (note the spelling—below). Both in Vancouver, BC.

Without appearing overly sentimental, I just wish to say this has been one of the most harmonious and rewarding collaborations of my life, and as a former teacher and school head, I have enjoyed many.

My two environmental mystery coauthors, Pam Beason and Dave Butler, are first and foremost, smart people and excellent writers. Each brought unique qualities to the relationship.

We met at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Vancouver, BC in late March, 2019 and our first post went up in mid-June of that year. Since then we have made beautiful music together. Thanks, friends. And thanks to our guest authors and our regular readers and commenters. You kept us ranging.

My piece below, “The Four Seasons of Winter” reprinted by permission ofJHNordic.comwhere I also ply my trade, will have to be my, and by extension,ourlast hurrah.

Friends from where I grew up (near Pittsburgh), often ask how my wife, Dimmie and I stand the winters out west in the hinterlands. Answering that question is never easy because it is innocently based in ignorance. They simply don’t understand winter out here. And when I tell them a sunny fifteen-degree day in Jackson Hole can feel warm—I can see by the look on their faces that they don’t believe me.

That’s okay because frankly I have a stereotypical view of winter in Pennsylvania and the Northeast. That is of one long unremittent season of battleship gray. I admit, that can’t possibly be accurate. There must be sunny fifteen-degree winter days in Pennsylvania, but I confess I don’t remember them from my childhood.

Crust Cruising in April.

Then it hit me recently like a ton of bricks (I’ve never understood that expression, wouldn’t a single brick do the trick?) when I was saying TGIF—thank God it’s February—to a barista. There are really four seasons to our winter, each lasting approximately six weeks.

We first have Fall/Winter (Fanter?) encompassing November and early December. We get snow but it rarely lasts in the valley. Days are moderately cold but not frigid.

Then from mid-December through January we have Deep Winter. This year we enjoyed a fair amount of snow and yet temps often dipped below zero. Deep winter ended with a bang according to Jim Woodmency on January 31, 2023 when temperatures hit 33 degrees below zero, the coldest in Jackson in 33 years. Some Deep Winterdays never got above zero. Combined with the “short” days and “long” nights that stretch is really the only part of our winter that truly is tough and often bleak. It can even be hard on some folks to get out and ski or snowshoe. But we can still enjoy the odd sunny day.

A set Nordic track on a working ranch/state park (Harriman) in Last Chance, Idaho.

As Jim Woodmency astutely pointed out regarding Groundhog Day in his Jackson Hole News and Guide “Mountain Weather” article of 2/8/23, “…regardless of whether a large rodent saw his shadow that day, there is always going to be six more weeks of winter.”

Deep Winteris followed by six weeks of Moderate Winter taking us to mid-Marchduring which truesnow aficionados notice the composition of the snow changing. Because of the warmer temperatures, snow holds more moisture which provides Nordic skiers better grip or kick. During this period, we enjoy the odd day of skiing hatless and wearing fewer layers. There are occasional days of thawing and snow melt. Still, we are blessed with lots of snow (February and March can be our snowiest months.) and generally below freezing (32 F) temperatures. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, “While it can be too warm to snow, it cannot be too cold to snow. Snow can occur even at incredibly low temperatures, as long as there is some source of moisture and some way to lift or cool the air. It is true, however, that most heavy snowfalls occur when there is relatively warm air near the ground—typically -9°C (15°F) or warmer—since warmer air can hold more water vapor.”

Finally, from mid-March until early May we experience Spring/Winter. (Sprinter?)

Snow gets slushy by noon, jackets and often much other outer clothing is tossed off by skiers, the ski areas eventually close in April losing skiers long before they lose snow and grooming of Nordic tracks ends. In town daffodils and crocus are coming up and that is when Nordic skiers begin migrating North (sometimes on bycycles) in search of crust cruising conditions—generally recognized as the icing on the Nordic cake. On skate skis, on crust created by sunny warm days and cold nights, you can ski literally anywhere your legs can carry you. But don’t stay out too late in the day lest you experience a Cinderella moment when the sun-warmed crust no longer holds your weight.

By now back East, of course, trees are leafing out and backyard grills are being fired up. There is nothing I like more than telling an eastern friend on a warming May morning that I’m going skiing in Grand Teton National Park. Inevitably they well say something to the effect of, “I feel so sorry for you, you have such long winters.”

The mystery and mysticism of skate skiing.

Just Do It

Often, before I go hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, or scuba diving, I ask myself whether the activity will be worth the effort of preparing. The weather might be windy, snowing or raining. I might need to get started on my journey before dawn. I try to be careful and plan for the unexpected, taking a first aid kit, all the appropriate gear for the environment, food and water, a light. And duct tape, an essential for everyoutdoor expedition. Every year the preparation seems more difficult than the last. Despite all this, I always find that the effort expended is worth it.

Nature has an indescribable majesty and beauty. Even the same place can be experienced differently at different times: a hike might take me through a flower meadow one time and a frosty autumn scene the next, the creeks might be rushing streams or mere trickles. The snow might be mush that will soak my clothes or sparkling icy crystals that will scour my skin if I slide over it.

Watching the sun rise or set over water or mountain peaks, seeing a mountain goat or a weasel or an octopus in its natural habitat is always a deeply moving experience. Underwater, I often meet creatures I can only identify later from a reference book or website.

In the North Cascades, I’ve witnessed avalanches that I used in my most recent novel, Cascade. The slot canyons and natural bridges and rocky trails I explored in Utah became the setting for Endangered. At Mount Rainier, I nearly collided with a bear cub on an overgrown trail. That ended up in my novel, Bear Bait. The underwater antics of sea lions in the Galapagos were featured in several scenes in Undercurrents. Physical challenges and encountering unexpected difficulties, well, those are character development, for both myself and my characters. All good stories have conflict. Ultimately, nature brings us closer to ourselves in ways we sometimes don’t expect it to. So when I’m thinking it might be nice to just stay home and drink my coffee and pet my cats, I tell myself “Get a grip, Pam. Start packing, load that kayak, find all your scuba gear. You don’t know what might happen. Just do it; you’ll be glad you did.”

And so far, I always have been.

African lions—fearless and powerful.

By Chuck Schneebeck

During the last two holiday seasons, the amazing photography of Chuck Schneebeck has greatly enhanced our blog. The response from our readers has been both positive and enthusiastic.

Now Chuck has offered to share his work on lions. In his words, photographs, and embedded video, Schneebeck offers a striking look at, and discussion of, these magnificent predators.

Caution to the reader—although necessary and natural—a lion kill is always a bloody affair.

Please click on the link below.

Lions in Pages.1,pdf.pdf

Chuck Schneebeck lives in Jackson, Wyoming with his wife Carol. He was a biologist and educator in his first life. Chuck enjoys traveling to photograph wildlife in wild places. He has traveled in the Americas from the Beauford Sea in the north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to Antartica. Chuck has also photographed in eight African countries.


By Dave Butler

One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, War and Peace, The Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice.

What makes a great book title, a title that’s memorable and descriptive and might bring a wry smile or an inquisitive raised eyebrow to a potential reader reaching for it in a bookstore or library?

Early in my writing career, I heard that choosing the title of a book was as much art as science, as much human psychology as linear formula. My writing mentors (and editors and marketers at publishing companies) suggested that a title should be simple and short and not too esoteric, that it shouldn’t use controversial words or phrases, that it should be relevant to the genre in which it’s written, that it should weave a bit of mystery, and that deciding on the perfect title would take patience, time, and multiple iterations. That’s a tall order.

Book titles, they said, were for readers, not writers.

The title of my first book – Full Curl – comes from a phrase describing the horns of a mature bighorn sheep. A full curl bighorn ram is one where the horns complete a full circle from the top of the skull to the bridge of the nose. The title came to me almost immediately as I began the novel, and I realized as the story developed that it was also a fascinating and biologically relevant way to portray the arc of the plot. To a large degree, Jenny Willson started and finished at the same place. At the same time, like the ridges on a sheep’s horn that appear each year, she was in the end a very different person.

Choosing a title for the second in the series was not an easy process. In fact, I was part-way

through the book, with no obvious title in sight (and despite urgings from at least one publisher’s representative to use words with two l’s), when the main character finally gave me the title. Jenny Willson was describing to a colleague how a remote wild valley would change forever if a ski resort was built there, and she said: “this will be no place for wolverines.” I literally leaned back in my chair, smiled, thanked her, and returned to the blank cover page to type her gift to me.

After I’d been to Namibia twice to write the third in the Jenny Willson series, I knew I needed ‘rhino’ in the title, and that I wanted to pay homage to the amazing conservation work being done by Namibia-based Save the Rhino Trust. In Rhino We Trust literally popped into my head on the plane back to Canada.

For my next two yet-to-be-published books, the process is certainly challenging and far from complete.

The working title for my first stand-alone novel is, for now, “Run, River, Run.” It’s been described by an early reviewer as The Da Vinci Code meets A River Runs Through It, and is a political eco-thriller about a cross-border water war. So, use of the word ‘run’ not only references a furious race by the protagonists to expose a shadowy plot to redirect major rivers, but hints at one of the primary plot points in the story – the ability of those rivers to run free to the sea. I’ll leave it there – no spoilers.

In the first in my new series featuring Ros du Raan, my working title is “View to a Kill.” It’s the

story of an undercover agent sent to a bear viewing lodge in Alaska. I recognize the danger that readers might confuse it with a 1985 James Bond spy flick with a similar name (or the movie’s theme song by Duran Duran … or the 1960 Ian Fleming short story on which the movie is based…) For now, it works. However, the book’s title when it finally appears on bookstore shelves might be very different. Time will tell.

As examples of great book titles, I offer those by my colleagues here at Free Range Writers.

Pam’s single word titles in the Sam Westin series – such as Endangered, Undercurrents,

Borderland –are punchy and descriptive. In her Neema mystery series, The Only Witness, The Only Clue, The Only One Leftfollow a memorable theme that makes it easy for readers to know they’re in for another fascinating read from this talented writer.

On the other hand, Greg’s novels Rare as Earth, Some Say Fire, The Straw that Brokeoffer titles that paint a hint of mystery and intrigue for potential readers. And yet, they link directly to the strong environmental plots that he weaves with so much skill.

The next time you pick up a book from a store or library, perhaps pause to ponder the process that led to the title.

Art? Science? Or the grey area in between?

Season’s Greetings from your “Mother.”

Courtesy Chuck Schneebeck Photography. (

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” Theodore Roethke

“There is a waterfall in every dream. Cool and crystal clear, it falls gently on the sleeper, cleansing the mind and soothing the soul.” Virginia Alison

“Colors are the smiles of nature.” Leigh Hunt

“Tenderness is the infancy of love.” Antoine Rivarol

“If you let hydrogen gas alone for 13 billion years it will become giraffes, rose bushes and humans.” Brian Swimme

“Watch the clouds. They will teach you about the world of form.” Eckhart Tolle

“Through simplicity comes great beauty.” Anonymous

Be like the elephant my friend – with a strong character and a gentle soul.” Abhijit Naskar

Happy Holidays from the ever-ranging crew at Free Range Writers.

Fencing In, Fencing Out

A recent study, “Fenced In: How the Global Rise of Border Walls Is Stifling Wildlife” concluded that more than 60% of mammals and 71% of birds have ranges that cross international borders. Current statistics also show that seventy-four border walls currently exist across the globe, six times the number at the end of the Cold War.

In the coming years, climate change will force many species to move to new habitats. Another study, “Global Inequities and political borders challenge nature conservation under climate change,” concluded that by 2070, 35% of mammals and 29% of birds are projected to need over half of their ranges in countries they do not currently inhabit. In other words, these species need to move if they are going to survive. And not only are humans contributing to climate change, we are now putting up barriers so wildlife cannot adapt. Is it any wonder that wildlife everywhere is in decline?

The study named three borders that have the highest numbers of species at risk: the border between China and Russia, the border between India and Myanmar, and the border between the United States and Mexico.

Conservationists have known for decades that the U.S.-Mexico border wall is threatening wildlife. And the situation is only getting worse. They’ve taken camera footage of deer, mountain lions, and black bears pacing along the wall, desperately trying to get to water, food, and mates on the other side.

According to the study, the barriers along parts of the US-Mexico border have already been found to have decreased the number of mountain lions and coati, and the planned extensions of the border wall are likely to prevent re-establishment of endangered species, such as the Mexican gray wolf and Sonoran pronghorn.

Anyone who has visited the wall can easily see the destruction of habitat caused by building the wall. Vegetation and geological formations in national parks and forests and sacred sites on native lands have been blasted away to create a smoother path for the wall. As if that weren’t depressing enough, there are the issues of maintenance and surveillance, because what good is a wall if it isn’t regularly patrolled? So there needs to be a road, at least on the American side, along the wall. And to conveniently get to that border road requires thousands of access roads at regular intervals for all those border patrol agents and maintenance personnel to use.

All those agents and construction crews and maintenance personnel require vast areas for equipment storage and places to sleep, eat, and work. Add in more habitat destruction for all those buildings and parking lots. I’ve been on the US-Arizona border, twice. The scale of the system is mind-boggling.

Not to mention the money. Salaries, equipment, services, uniforms, vehicles, surveillance and communication systems. As a former private investigator, I’ve always thought about who stands to benefit from any project. It wasn’t until I viewed all the infrastructure that I understood how so many people were making a fortune from the border wall.

In 2019, I published Borderland, a mystery that takes place in the area along the US-Arizona border, and involves a rare jaguar and a missing Latina wildlife photographer.

I wrote Borderland to highlight all the problems at the border. Which are so many that it’s hard to hold all of them in your imagination: desperate immigrants, drug runners, human traffickers, officials who cannot always distinguish who is American and who is not, angry landowners whose property has been confiscated or divided by the construction of the wall, indigenous tribes whose traditional lands have been desecrated, self-appointed “militia” types patrolling their self-assigned areas, armed with assault rifles. Baking summer heat, frigid desert nights, flash floods in violent rainstorms, migratory wildlife that can no longer travel.

The wall is a crazy patchwork of materials for which we have paid billions, and which migrants regularly climb over, tunnel under, or simply cut through. The latest insanity is the governor of Arizona’s brilliant idea to fill in the gaps by stacking shipping containers and topping them with razor wire. Who is selling the containers? And who is making money delivering them and stacking them? Of course, given enough time, people will find a way over or through them, too. Wildlife can’t.

Three years after I wrote Borderland, I’m sorry to see that the insanity continues, and Americans are paying for it. Is it any wonder that nobody asks what can be done differently? Every American should take a drive along the border wall to see what our tax dollars have paid for. And if you happen to glimpse a pronghorn or a coati, take a photograph so you can show others what used to live here.

UPDATE: The US Department of Justice is now suing the state of Arizona for illegal placement of these shipping containers on federal land. But the citizens of Arizona, or perhaps all American taxpayers, will now have to pay for their removal.

Travel is Medicine.

By Gregory Zeigler

Mount Rainer from Longbranch, WA on the Key Peninsula.

“I have learned this for certain: if discontent is your disease, travel is medicine. It resensitizes. It opens you up to see outside the patterns you follow. Because new places require new learning. It forces your childlike self back into action … travel has a way of shaking the brain awake. When I’m in a new place, I don’t know what’s next even if I’ve read all the guidebooks and followed the instructions of my friends. I can’t know a smell until I’ve smelled it. I don’t know the feeling of a New York street until I’ve walked it. I can’t feel the hot exhaust of the bus by reading about it. The observation is wide. Healing is mixed in.”

To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins which chronicles Jenkins’s 14,000 mile bike trip from Oregon to Patagonia.

Serenity on the lake.

For several months during my recovery from a fall last April resulting in a severe injury—as well as an infection that rendered my other leg pretty useless—I experienced what my wife, Dimmie and I began referring to as, “rehab on wheels.”

In late July after getting the green light to switch my physical therapy to tele-health, we hauled “Winnie,” our Airstream trailer named for my mother who loved to camp, to Boulder, Colorado. We visited family briefly then dropped the trailer (which we had been living in since late May) and drove to Wilmington, Vermont, via Canada with a short stay at an inn on Lake Michigan.

Our favorite cafe in St. Albans, VT.

Following our time in the verdant Southern Vermont mountains, we spent a week in upstate New York by the broad implacable Hudson River and then headed back to Colorado to pick up our trailer.

From there we camped our way through the mountains and past the lakes of Montana and Idaho to Western Washington for a family reunion on the Key Peninsula near Gig Harbor. My brother, and his wife, stuffed us with clams and oysters harvested fifty feet from their backdoor where they keep their pontoon boat on Adams Bay, the tidal cove on the south end of Filucy Bay.

Our next leg in late September took us and the “Winnie” back across Washington—including waking up in Prosser in the middle of a balloon festival—and down Eastern Oregon, and Central Utah to Sedona, Arizona where we spent the month of October camped near Oak Creek.

Waking up to a pleasant surprise in Prosser, Washington.

In early November, Dimmie and I and two good friends hauling their own Airstream headed to Borrego Springs, California. Borrego Springs is about an hour south of Palm Springs and sits at the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park, the largest state park in the contiguous United States. After a few days enjoying the desert we stored our trailer in Borrego Springs and drove home to Jackson, Wyoming with a short stop in Salt Lake City to visit friends.

While in motion, I checked in with my physical therapist weekly. I graduated from walker to crutch, to cane, to trekking poles. I went from knee brace on 24-7, to brace on occasionally, to no brace. My walking improved from barely being able to hobble to the bathroom to hiking 1.5 miles. The wound from the infection on my left foot progressed from pretty damn awful to totally healed.

And all this detail (which is waaay too much about ME) is simply to say, I’m certain that our travel, and the beautiful places we visited, although being impaired I often had to enjoy them in new and different ways, helped me to heal. Movement is medicine.

Quartzite, Arizona—caravan stopover during trip to Borrego Springs.

In fact, I did a little tour around the internet under the search subject of “medicinal benefits of travel” and found five scientifically proven health outcomes: decreased risk of heart disease, stress relief, increased physical activity, increased creativity and greater happiness. And I can add anecdotally, based on a survey of one, improved healing.

Katie Ives writing in the previous Free Range Writers post urged us all to slow down. After reading “Go Slow, Avoid Lakes and Learn to Hide” something clicked. I’ve roamed the wilds most of my adult life even doing a stint as a mountaineering instructor. In October, when we were camping in Sedona a friend led us to his favorite spot up Oak Creek Canyon. I tottered on my trekking poles roughly fifty yards from the car down a rock strewn decline slightly wider than a trail. At the bottom was a small beach. We were alone and sat in silence by the noisy stream on blue/grey boulders bathed in slanting autumnal sun.

As I reflect back on that minimalist wild moment, it was as important to me as anything I have ever done in nature. Katie’s piece helped me understand that is because the “hitch-in-my get-along” forced me to go short and go slow. And for movement in nature to heal us, we occasionally have to stop, look and listen.

Dimmie in a slow moment on Oak Creek, Sedona, AZ.

As heart disease began to take its toll near the end of John Steinbeck’s life and friends suggested he slow down and do less, he chose instead to drive, mostly solo, eleven thousand miles around the United States. He justified his decision in a letter written to his wife, Elaine, on October 10, 1960, from Mauston, Wisconsin, “I’m still a man damn it. This may seem silly but to me it isn’t.”

Travels With Max: In Search of Steinbeck’s America Fifty Years Later. Gregory Zeigler.

Sailing on Filucy Bay near Longbranch, WA with Mount Rainier in the background. Photo courtesy, David Zeigler.

Go Slow, Avoid Lakes and Learn to Hide: Harvey Manning and the Arts of Guidebook Writing

Editor’s Note: we at Free Range Writers are pleased and honoured that Katie Ives has agreed to post for us this week. Katie is the former Editor-in-Chief of Alpinist Magazine, and is the author of Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams (Mountaineers Books, 2021), which includes stories of Harvey Manning’s invented peaks. The book received a Special Jury Mention at the 2022 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Congratulations, and thank you, Katie!

I. Go Slow

Grey rivers of Seattle roads and highways still roared through my mind as I stumbled out of the car and along the path into Esmeralda Basin, on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Soon, I felt lulled by the wind in the brittle whitebark pines and the rhythm of footsteps on dry August earth. Again and again, I paused, mesmerized by the purple and red hues of petals beneath the rusting grass: I was trying to see this place through the vivid prose of the guidebook writer I was reading.

In 100 Classic Hikes in Washington,coauthored with Ira Spring, local conservationist Harvey Manning described his regrets about hiking through the area too quickly, completing a fifteen-mile loop in a day. “More than 150 species of flowers were in bloom,” he wrote, “and in my hyperkinetic rush I could do no more than nod in passing.” So Manning redid the itinerary in a week, adding on more coiling paths of detours, more opportunities for “loitering” and marveling. “Could have used 2-3 more days,” he noted, still dissatisfied with his speed. “To make your world larger, go slow.”

For decades, Manning had published books on hiking trails and environmental issues throughout Washington State. It was now 2019, nearly thirteen years after his death. I was writing my own book about the imaginary peaks he’d passed off as real in Summitmagazine, but I found I had much to learn about his character from his factual accounts of actual ranges. In an age of digital navigation devices, crowd-sourced Internet beta, iPhone apps, GPS coordinates and other quantified data, some hikers and climbersmight be tempted to proclaim that physical guidebooks are becoming obsolete. But for many of us, they remain irreplaceable. Their batteries don’t die; their signals don’t get lost. Well used, with underlined pages and folded corners, with notes scrawled in margins and paper crinkled from sudden rain, they serve as tangible scrapbooks of our adventures.

Each guidebook is also an anthology of its author’s journeys. Pieced together, Manning’s numerous route descriptions turn into a poignant literary memoir. Always quirky, at times curmudgeonly, veering between sharp mockery (of self or others) and unabashed lyricism, his entries record stages of a lifelong quest to experience the natural world as intimately and respectfully as possible. To follow some of Manning’s directions, word by word, is to amble at the pace of countless acts of attentiveness. To learn to call each plant and stone by name and to appreciate each juxtaposition of fragrances, textures, or colors. To observe the dark scars of tire tracks slicing across lush grass or to shudder before a realm of rose-gold granodiorite and green-hued lakes, marred by the presence of 125 fire rings. Through slow hiking, he hoped, people might absorb, through all five senses, the value of fighting for wildness. And they might also experience a feeling of re-expanded time and place, so easily lost in the frenetic acceleration and shrinking open spaces of the modern world.

High ridges rim Esmeralda Basin, and there was dark sheen to the serpentine rock that afternoon, like the light on the backs of leaves before a storm.

At the top of Fortune Creek Pass, I rested amid the polished silver trunks of dead pines, and I imagined Manning lingering here. I thought about his classic book The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, in which he’d urged climbers to appreciate rain- and fog-bound days as opportunities to remain in one spot and “examine rocks crystal by crystal rather than cliff by cliff…[to] trace…the contortions of grain in a bleached log…and thus, in the words of William Blake, ‘see the world in a grain of sand, all heaven in a wild flower.’” In those moments when we become utterly stilled with wonder, Manning knew, time itself seems to stall and existence appears almost infinite. Beneath me, now, the grains of wood in bleached logs twisted in patterns that would take an eternity to draw.

(Photo — Fortune Creek Pass, Esmeralda Basin, near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, lands of Coast Salish, P’Squosa and other Indigenous groups, August 2019)

2. Avoid Lakes and Learn to Hide

In August 2021, I was headed, once more, toward the borders of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness—this time with two climbing partners, Trevor and Catherine, on our way to the South Face of The Tooth, one of Manning’s first alpine rock excursions. The approach starts on the Snow Lake Trail which he’d described in 100 Classic Hikes in Washington,as attracting “some 15,000 pairs of boots a year.” He’d added with his typically mordant humor, “If it’s the sound of silence you’re seeking, wear ear plugs.” A classic route close to Seattle, the South Face is likewise often traffic-jammed with climbers, and we’d left before dawn, hoping to get ahead of the inevitable line.

During Manning’s later decades, as outdoor recreation became increasingly popular, he’d agonized over the conflict between his desire to keep recruiting hikers and climbers as conservation advocates and his fear of what guidebook-toting crowds could do to fragile ecosystems. In his own writing, he’d tried to channel most visitors to what he called the “edges,” areas on the thresholds of the wild—and to preserve the “deeps” as pathless refuges for skittish wildlife, delicate plants, and rare solitary wanderers. He’d stopped writing about his favorite places. “Most are not on trails and lie beyond jungles of slide alder and roarings of crazed rivers,” he noted. Nonetheless, he left clues, here and there, for the most dedicated ramblers to find certain spots once they’d gained enough experience to perceive them.

The problem with lakes, Manning explained in 100 Classic Hikes, resembled that of summits, “a lake is a ‘destination.’ A lake is where you take your picture and catch your fish and pat yourself on the back…. For me the beauty of a lake is enhanced by distance.” From faraway, he asserted, you could escape the shoreline crowds and enjoy the “sun-sparkles rippling the waters” in “solitude and quiet.” But there was also an inherent allure, he knew, about something that shimmered just beyond reach—or even beyond sight—about mysteries that could never be captured or claimed. He noted other, less-frequented bodies of water past Snow Lake, and farther yet, hidden places of beauty, for which he shared no details or directions. “For peace and quiet, avoidlakes,” he merely hinted. “Get off the trail. Snoop around for private nooks. Learn to hide. Take a vow of silence.”

On all my Cascades hikes, I’d had a “destination”—usually a climbing route—in mind. And when we began our approach to the South Face, I was still mostly fixated on getting up and down the peak before the onrush of other people. But after we left the Snow Lake Trail, the tangle of talus and woods below the Tooth proved to be vaster and denser than it initially seemed.

We soon realized just how easy it was to go astray. I’ve wondered, ever since our climb, what it would have been like to err deliberately, to seek, instead of the most direct way to and from our objective, everything that was not a way—all those off-route groves and clearings that, these days, for the most part, only lost people find. And I’ve remembered looking back as the night air began to blue, at the glint of a distant lake, reflecting a sun we couldn’t yet see.

(Photo — View of Takobed (Rainier) from below the South Face of The Tooth, August 2021)

“Learn to hide,” Manning had counselled. Perhaps, to encounter hidden places, we must first rediscover how to become hidden ourselves—not only from well-trodden paths, but from overly trammeled regions in our minds. To slip into the spaces between the contour lines and the marked trails and fade into the wildwoods of our imaginations. To realize that the unwritten sometimes matters more than the written. That not every adventure needs to be recorded. And that beyond the not-yet vanishing arts of guidebook writing is the art of learning to vanish.

For more information on “Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams,”please go to:

And see our glowing review of “Imaginary Peaks” in our May 29, 2022 post here at FRW.

Dangerous Errors in Outdoor Adventures and in Publishing

A few years back, I attended a seminar on the most common errors people make in attempting outdoor adventures, aka “How Fools Get into Trouble in the Wilderness.” The lecture was enlightening and memorable, and over time, I’ve discovered that the same basic observations apply to the world of publishing (and probably to life in general). Here are the top three errors:

Error #1: Not Understanding the Goal

The outdoor adventure – Okay, so your hike leader tells you the destination. But do you know where you’re headed? Do you know how far it is, how tough the trek will be, and how long the journey is likely to take? Every participant should have a basic knowledge of what they have signed up for.

The publishing life – Do you know what your goal is? A traditional contract, self-publication by the end of the year, a printed memoire just for your family, or selling 10,000 copies in the first month of publication? Do you know what you have to do to reach that goal? Do you have a reasonable expectation of the timeline? So many writers think all they have to do is write, and their finished work will be an instant bestseller. Like the hikers lost in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere, those writers are likely to find themselves floundering long before the goal is even in sight.

Error #2: Not Adapting to Changing Conditions

The outdoor adventure – Your goal is a day hike to a high mountain lake. But when you are halfway up, you notice threatening clouds rolling in. Or you’re out snowshoeing and observe a few cornices break away from the mountain crests. Do you continue on your way to your goal, or do you wait for a better day? This is the point at which many would-be adventurers are so determined to achieve their goal that they end up in lightning storms and avalanches. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be willing to change your plans as conditions change.

The publishing life – Amazon and other online booksellers have opened up the publishing business to the world, but aspects of that business change frequently. Maybe the old format you previously used for an ebook is no longer accepted, or sales outlets have moved in totally different directions, or marketing schemes are no longer reaching their intended audiences. Unfortunately, you can’t just publish a book and then assume it will thrive without further attention. If you want to survive in the book business, you (and your publisher) need to continually adapt.

Error #3: Placing Too Much Faith in a Leader

The outdoor adventure –What if your adventure leader is a thrill seeker willing to risk his life scaling a dangerous cliff or fording a rushing river? Do you know what sort of leader this person is? Do you know about his/her past experience and current knowledge? Don’t ever trust only one source for advice. Don’t submit to peer pressure just because you’re in a group. Be realistic about what you are willing to risk to achieve a goal.

The publishing life – There are many publishing “experts” on the internet offering and selling advice, and some have great information to impart. But it’s never wise to place your faith in following only one. You need to explore to find out if multiple experts agree on the same advice, and, even more important, if the expert is being honest about her/his knowledge. For example, there are many authors out there who would tell you that their marketing advice applies to all genres, but when you study their sales figures, you may discover they are making all their money from selling their seminars and how-to books on marketing, not from selling books in any other genre.

I’ve gone awry many times in my publishing career. I placed too much faith in a traditional publisher who purchased my first 3 mysteries. I simply assumed they would market the books although they had never promised that. I have believed that experts knew how to market mysteries, when all they really knew how to market was themselves. I’ve just published my 14th suspense novel, Cascade, which deals with avalanches and wolverines, and these days I like to think I’m both a smarter outdoor adventurer and a reasonably savvy author.

5 + 5 =Tension: a discussion of genre formulas.

by Gregory Zeigler

This dramatic photo taken in Yellowstone National Park by Paul Sihler is not only stunning but captures the sense something is about to happen, i.e. the photo exudes tension.

No one would argue that a mystery or thriller could successfully be pulled off without tension. Tension can be created by something as simple as a child agonizing over eating a treat he has been told is off limits—to a gun pressed against a favorite character’s temple. Done correctly, the two scenarios can be equally as riveting to the reader. Done poorly the result is a scene that is at least, ho hum, and at worst, results in the reader putting down the book for good.

My point? Certain aspects of genre formulas make sense. For instance, a mystery/thriller must have tension, interesting (often flawed) protagonists, threatening (severely flawed) antagonists, intriguing settings and compelling action. A romance novel—an example of another genre—or ‘bodice ripper’ must needs rip a few bodices and include several steamy scenes. The challenge to the author is to find new and refreshing ways to carry off what the genre formula demands, and thus what the reader expects.

As I mentioned in my recent newsletter, the film, “You Were Never Really Here,” written and directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix has some brilliant original writing. Here is just a taste of Ramsay’s craftsmanship (spoiler alert). If you are hooked on mystery/thrillers and/or crime drama like me you have probably seen a thousand actors feign death. Have you ever seen one “die” while singing a song with, and holding the hand of the stranger who just intentionally shot him? Good(ish) guy kills bad(ish) guy. Definitely thriller formula. But to write it in that unique way—amazing!

The oldest formula in the book for story telling involves conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution. As I used to admonish my 7th grade acting students when they were up on stage pacing back and forth trying to improvise, “Something has to happen. There has to be a conflict.” The simplest cartoon will demonstrate the story elements I listed above. The challenge for contemporary storytellers, as no doubt it was for cave dwelling hunters regaling the gatherers gathered around the fire, is to keep the listener/reader’s interest by using those elements in refreshing, engaging and intriguing ways.

It is safe to say no creative breakthroughs in the arts or sciences have resulted from blindly following established formulas.

There is nothing worst than a story that is formulaic and entirely predicatable. Often good things happen when the well established path (formula) is ignored.

Let’s talk about ignoring certain aspects of the formula for the mystery/thriller genre and focus on Paul Doiron’s The Poacher’s Sonas a prime example.

Thanks to my friend and mentor, Tom Jackson who got me hooked on mysteries almost forty years ago by introducing me to the work of Tony Hillerman, I read and watch dozens of mysteries every year. I even occasionally write one. And in fact, it was Tom who introduced me to Doiron’s novels. There is nothing that causes me to lose interest as fast as knowing early on which character is the murderer and/or which “suspects” represent red herrings. Conversely, nothing pleases me like being surprised.

Doiron does several surprising things in his debut thriller that I like and admire. For starters he features a (very troubled) white male as his protagonist. I love strong female characters. I have created several strong female characters, but isn’t it time the pendulum swing back in fiction and we be reminded there are lots of male characters who are equally as interesting? Mike Bowditch, Game Warden for the state of Maine is one such character. Bowditch is completely real. He is often wrong, even about something as important as who the murderer is. Mike Bowditch makes mistakes, both personally and professionally, and beats himself up about them. And if he is chasing a dirtbag on an ATV suspected of poaching and vandalism, Bowditch is as likely to wreck his ATV and injure himself as he is to apprehend the suspect. Mike Bowditch is thoroughly believable. He had me at the first roadkill.

Second (and this shouldn’t be a spoiler) I’ll buy a square meal at the Square Deal Diner (Bowditch’s favorite) for anybody who can correctly guess who the murderer is halfway through The Poacher’s Son.Doiron even has a little tongue-in-cheek fun with the cozy mystery genre (personally not a fan) by having Bowditch muse about the possibility that everybody in the town might be involved, as in Agatha Christie.

Third, thrillers so often end in the formulaic and entirely predictable principal good guy and major bad guy going mano a mano with—well do I need to tell you who wins? Suffice it to say, in The Poacher’s Son (I’m really doing my best to not spoil this for you) that does not happen.

What the reader ends up with is an engrossing read with thoroughly engaging characters in entirely plausible situations with believable outcomes. As a reader, I want more of what Doiron is serving up, and that should be possible with a dozen or so more in the Mike Bowditch series.

Doiron’s The Poacher’s Son. As realistic as roadkill.