Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods is my first book, a non-fiction account of working on trail crews for the National Park Service, and living in wilderness in Montana and Alaska. Fiction and essays have appeared in The Sun, Glimmer Train Stories, Crazyhorse, Lumberyard, Broadsided Press, and other magazines, journals and anthologies. Please see READ for pieces that appear online. I also teach craft classes and work as a writer-in-residence, primarily in under-funded rural public schools.
I started my first trail crew job in Glacier National Park in 1996, right out of college. Thus began my love affair with hand tools, traildogs, and wilderness labor. I spent 6 seasons in Glacier's backcountry before moving to Alaska in 2002 to earn my MFA in creative writing at University of Alaska, Anchorage. In summers, I worked on Prince William Sound for the US Forest Service in the seaside town of Cordova, and then in Denali National Park, where I spent another 4 seasons leading trail crews. In 2008, my husband and I started our trail contracting business, Interior Trails. We do consulting, training, layout & design and construction for trails projects all across Alaska. I also give keynote addresses and lectures for trails conferences. 2017 was my 21st season in the field.
We live in a yurt off the grid on a few acres of tundra just north of Denali National Park, in the Wolf Townships; these lands, north of Healy, AK have been used for millennia by multiple groups of Dene people--Ahtna, Tanana, and Dena'ina. As for us, we spend a lot of times on the chores associated with rural life: hauling water, cutting and splitting firewood, building projects, snow removal. We have a small garden, and between field work stints, summer is spent harvesting, foraging, or preserving veggies, berries, fish and game. My neighborhood is full of good people who love open spaces, privacy, community, sled dogs, and the wild place we call home. Other neighbors include moose, porcupine, wolves, grizzlies, ptarmigan, caribou, lynx, snowshoe hares, Sandhill cranes, ravens and many more amazing creatures.
When I'm not working, writing, reading or doing chores, chances are high that I'm in the backcountry. I find solace, challenge and companionship with friends in wild places. Skiing is a big love--backcountry, Nordic, touring, telemark; perfect for the 6-8 months of winter, depending on the year. Clip a dog to your waist and skiing becomes skijoring, which I learned from my two retired sled dogs. (I never turn down a chance to mush with friends' dog teams, either.) When there's no snow, I either go find it in the mountains, or make the best of it by trail running, riding my bike, climbing peaks and ridges, the occasional sea kayaking trip, and wandering the tundra around my home.
Everything I love to do, I learned from someone: backcountry travel, trail work, writing, cooking, spiritual practice. My list of patron saints is too vast to name in full, but I want to acknowledge some of the writers who have helped me understand this world and my place in it. Classics: Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Nabakov, Anton Chekhov, Emily Dickinson. Contemporary Favorites: Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Grace Paley, Gary Snyder, William Kittredge, Anne Carson, Wallace Stegner, James Welch, Raymond Carver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tillie Olsen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rachel Carson, Peter Matthiesen, Phillip Roth, George Saunders, Alice Munro, Jim Harrison, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Annie Proulx, David James Duncan, Lauren Groff, Rick Bass, Marilynne Robinson, Sherman Alexie, Susanna Sonnenberg. Poets I love: Jane Hirshfield, Robert Hass, Linda McCarriston, Elizabeth Bradfield, Ross Gay, Adrienne Rich, Dogen, Basho, Rumi, Terrance Hayes, Mark Doty, Nick Flynn, Robert Wrigley, Eavan Boland, James Galvin, Danez Smith. Favorite Alaskan Writers: Margaret Murie, Sherry Simpson, Seth Kantner, Eva Saulitis, Ernestine Hayes.