Facebook is a mess. I know this first hand.

I am an author and lecturer. A few months ago, I attempted to promote an event on Facebook — a talk about the creation of the Appalachian Trail.

As is custom, I awaited Facebook’s approval of the ad. I was told it was rejected because the subject “violated their community standards.” When I asked for clarification, they replied that the subject matter was “too controversial” and that I had no recourse.

While this annoyed me considerably, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

This morning, I tried to update the “Shop…

It’s amazing what we can stumble upon when doing research. When I was recently working on a documentary film about the father of the modern day Wideness Act (Howard Zahniser), I discovered an article Eleanor Roosevelt had written in the early 1950s outlining her opposition to a proposed dam that would have been constructed within Dinosaur National Monument. While that was an interesting find in the context of my film project, Roosevelt’s article held an even greater surprise.

You see, her article was part of a series entitled “My Day”, which ran 6 days a week for an astounding 26…

Non-native plants and the potential for Silent Spring II

In the late 1950s, biologist and already bestselling author Rachel Carson began writing a book about how the use of the pesticide DDT was decimating bird populations in the United States. In 1962, her book, Silent Spring (so named because of the real prospect that we would awaken to discover a world with no birds in it at all) became a clarion call for us to hold our industries and ourselves responsible for the care of our planet. It is rare that a single book has the impact of Silent Spring…

How the discovery of a vintage matchbook changed the trajectory of my novel and its success

The process of writing my latest book (a historical novel entitled Hermit: The Mysterious Life of Jim Whyte) required quite a bit of research. I knew that it would, because the story was set in the period between 1852 and 1934.

Fortunately, I was able to find the bare bones of the story by doing standard research — reading through records kept by historical societies, town halls, the Library of Congress, etc.— factual records, if you like.

But factual records by themselves aren’t compelling enough to make a story appealing. For that you need to do contextual research. Digging into…

“My book is with the publisher now.”

In the golden age of publishing those words would practically absolve the author of further duty (particularly after the edits and revisions were complete). After all, his or her words were now in the hands of highly skilled designers.

In those days, books were every bit as much visual treasures as verbal ones. Even a cursory glance at a book from the 1920s or 1930s takes you back to a time when the craft of designing, printing and binding books was high art.

Of course, many things have conspired to make publishing books…

How long-distance hiking, throwing pots and embracing structure came to my rescue

Long-distance hikers, those attempting to complete trails that are hundreds or thousands of miles long, try to minimize what they call “zero days” — literally days where they make no forward progress toward their end goal.

I view my writing the same way. I can’t stand “zero days” when my writing is concerned. No one has ever hiked the Pacific Crest Trail by sitting in a tent and wishing it to fruition. Similarly, a book has never written itself. You have to go through a lot of ups and downs to make either thing happen. There are no shortcuts. …

I’m a full-time author, speaker, photographer and film documentary director that’s on the road an average of ten months per year. On a typical day, I drive five to six hours in my vintage camper van. Given my schedule and the realities of living the #vanlife, I’m often asked, “How do find time to write?”

For me, it’s not the time that’s the issue, it’s the place. You can’t be a successful writer unless you make the time. That’s a given. The hard part for me is finding a place to work that has two things: a quiet atmosphere and…

Childe Hassam’s watercolor rendering of the Spectatorium

“In September 1893, a 15-year-old boy from Massachusetts spent the day touring the Chicago World’s Fair. He had traveled there by train with two of his older brothers to visit their father, who had spent the previous year onsite, preparing for the event. The family patriarch, Steele MacKaye (pronounced Mack-eye), had arrived in Chicago in 1892 with a plan so great it could not be contained within the fairgrounds. He proposed and received backing to build the largest auditorium in the world, which he called the Spectatorium.”

So begins the first chapter of my book, “Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron…

Fred Beckey. © North Cascades National Park Archives

I met the incomparable Fred Beckey when I was twenty-nine years old. The legend of this extraordinary mountaineer was well established by that time (he was 64 and still going strong). Those outside mountaineering circles may have never heard of him, but the list of his first ascents will never be surpassed.

If you stood on any peak in the North Cascades and looked out on the hundreds of mountains surrounding you in all directions, almost every climbing route among them would bear the stamp, “First ascent, Fred Beckey.” …

Hiking boots are the most important piece of equipment you have on the trail. To state the obvious, taking care of your feet is essential. So is staying upright. The consequences of choosing footwear poorly compromise your ability to do both.

Years ago, I was in the envious position of testing hiking boots. I walked thousands of miles using every brand and style imaginable.

Here’s what I learned

Low end boots aren’t worth it. Don’t even go there. Your safety is worth good boots. The hallmarks of cheap boots are poorly glued on soles that quickly delaminate, poorly stitched uppers that start fraying and…

Jeff Ryan

Author, historian and documentary filmmaker Jeff Ryan writes about hiking and other forms of exploration and the history of the American conservation movement.

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