In the summer of 1978, just a year into my lifelong obsession with fly fishing, I badgered my father to take three trout-addled middle schoolers on a trip to Yellowstone Park. Our destination was a remote lake reachable only by canoe and portage, the back bays of which were full of big and hungry fish. Or so the magazine claimed.

We headed east from Missoula on I-90, the canoe strapped precariously to the roof of a brown VW Rabbit whose every corner was stuffed with camping and fishing gear. We traveled southeast through Ennis and up the Madison Valley, eventually…


In the summer of 1978, just a year into my lifelong obsession with fly fishing, I badgered my father to take three trout-addled middle schoolers on a trip to Yellowstone Park. Our destination was a remote lake reachable only by canoe and portage, the back bays of which were full of big and hungry fish. Or so the magazine claimed.

We headed east from Missoula on I-90, the canoe strapped precariously to the roof of a brown VW Rabbit whose every corner was stuffed with camping and fishing gear. We traveled southeast through Ennis and up the Madison Valley, eventually…


I took up the guitar as I approached fifty and my wife faced her impending death. Angel from Montgomery was the first song I could truly (kinda, sorta) play. With fumbled chords and a halting voice, I played it as her legs failed and her speech disappeared within her tumor-ravaged brain. I played it again on the night she chose to forgo any more visits to the hospital, a newfound stillness on her face while she listened, even as her body withered away. A few weeks on, the simple chords rang hollow as I sat alone in a sepulchral bedroom…


The maximum slope, measured in degrees from the horizontal, at which loose solid material will remain in place without sliding.

By my eleventh summer, I knew where the earth would give way just enough. Where it would allow a brief arc beneath my waffled soles before they went airborne again, moments of weightlessness punctuated by dryland facsimiles of ski turns to come. The corrugated trunks of a dozen giant ponderosas marked the run, begun with a sprint towards an ever-steepening angle until each leap would send me yards at a time towards my Montana home below. …


An iron wrought deception marks the entrance to Auschwitz 1. Arbeit Macht Frei. It did no such thing for unfathomable numbers of cruelly pyjamaed souls herded past a conscripted orchestra, all of them awaiting an inhuman death.

I stop beyond the gate and pull back from my group. Just behind and to my right, framed by a barbed wire prison fence and a weathered skull and crossbones sign with warnings in German and Polish, I notice that an elderly couple has also paused. She is dressed in all black excepting a patterned magenta scarf, he too in somber hues right…


A joint piece in Scientific American in response to the latest IPCC report, from all of us involved in Let Science Speak. Please follow the link for the full essay.


This project challenged me to dig deep and open up for the importance of science as never before. To learn more, please visit the Let Science Speak website, where you can watch each of the six extraordinary movies made by the teams at Generous Films and A+B Pictures: Christine Arena, Ben Heretig, Adam Warmington, Matthew Shambroom, Amber Janis and more. I’m humbled and proud to share the screen with Katherine Hayhoe, Marshall Shepherd, Jacquelin Gill, Dawn Wright and Jon Foley — five remarkable scientists and people who are and have been frequent sources of inspiration.


Why I left a great job in a top R1 institution to help lead a small liberal arts college. Published in Inside Higher Education.


The two young women wove through the crowd with set jaws and fierce eyes. On each, a t-shirt with large block letters: Marjory Stoneman Douglas Soccer. An hour later, their classmate Maddie King would launch the Denver March for our Lives with a searingly eloquent speech.

I don’t have to have gone to college to know that something needs to change. Where’s my proof? My friends are dead. People are dying and you aren’t doing anything.

Just before King’s words, ten-year-old Olivia Claudi took the podium and rang out her tale of anxiety born from repeated school lockdown drills. Of…


A “Health Care” Act of Astonishing Cruelty

When I first saw Evelyn she was helping her older son get off the ground. The boy’s legs pedaled at the hospital floor as though upon a frozen lake, while his kind but vacant smile seemed unmoored from the efforts. Evelyn strained to lift him from behind, the boy already larger than her, refusing the help of a passing nurse before dragging him into a green plastic chair. The boy’s smile remained beneath a dented silver helmet.

Moments later, a name called and a smaller boy gets up from a bank of computers…

Alan Townsend

Dean, Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, U Montana. Dad. Writings on the environment & sustainability, and on cancer, loss & hope.

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