New addition - photo albums

I've begun to add my photo albums to this site -- starting with the Outside Magazine gear testing trip to the Grand Canyon last December. Check them out by clicking on the Albums button above.


On the way to Montreal

Free Wifi Internet access in public places is still somewhere between a nice trick and a useful tool. The idea of sending e-mails from a lovely park in the center of a city is tantalizing - but when I am actually in that park and can send e-mail - I can think of a dozen other things I would like to do (including traditional park activities like people watching, and doing nothing).
So here I am in Albuquerque's airport (or, as they rightly call it, the "Sunport"), and I've sent a few e-mails to my co-workers about magazine stories I browsed in the book shop. I've also checked the New York Times headlines to read about Oprah's retraction, and President Bush's party photos with Jack. But now I'm ready to close my computer and pull out a magazine. After all -- I spend ten to twelve hours a day socketed into a high-speed Internet connection. Sometimes I relish the chance for a break.
On my way to Montreal for the weekend.


The BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent"

Since I began "podcatching" a few months ago--that is, listening to podcasts downloaded from the Web, one of my favorites has become the BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent". For fifty years the "Beeb" has allowed its foreign reporters to let off steam or tell a story through these spoken-word personal essays. "FooC," as its fans like to call it, provides listeners with revealing, eye-level perspectives on regions of the globe where U.S.-based reporters never tread--the lost Hejaz railway in Arabia, a re-born school in Monrovia, the wind-swept Kazakh capital of Almaty, and the teeming streets of Mumbai. The world listens to these reports--one correspondent recalled being summoned to the office of the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir after he described her legs as "stumpy" in his FooC broadcast. I listen to the segments to keep up with news from around the world, and to discover good ideas for Outside magazine to cover. If you want to take a wider look around, check it out.


A matter of altitude

On Saturday afternoon I played tennis outdoors and went skiing. Only in Santa Fe, I might add. The tennis courts sit on Old Taos Road, where the radio towers that mark the location of the ski mountain are visible 16 miles and 2,500 feet in elevation away. The winter sun, still strong even at its weakest angle, heats the town to over 50F degrees by noon and makes possible a quick tennis match. The same sun divides the ski runs into shadow and light, and warms the long, slow chair lift up the mountain. Lack of snow this year has allowed only the lower mountain to open, though the bright, balmy days have moved up spring skiing to January. More snow is forecast for tonight and tomorrow, and all skiers hope to wake to a white-shrouded world in the morning. But the last few weeks of unchallenged blue sky and sun -- and tennis and skiing in the same day -- have their appeal too.


Starting to write

Now that writing has become something of an occupation for me, I've learned to ask other writers how they go about it. When faced with a blank computer screen or piece of paper--where do they go for the inspiration to fill it? What do the first random words of a 4,000 word article look like? Is it better to outline, or just dive into an opening scene? Do they need a deadline and a badgering editor, or can they write to completion on their own? I get dozens of different answers, although coffee shops, rough outlines, and harassing editors are common themes.
I'm facing one of those empty pages as I start a feature story on my family's farm in Pennsylvania. I try to think back to previous articles I wrote, but my memories of the first drafts are always swallowed up by the stronger impressions of the final revisions. I can never remember that magic moment when my sentences and paragraphs cease to be fragmented ambitions, and merge to become the hot, spinning core of a story. Each time, it seems, I must rediscover how to write.


Always archiving

Growing up in Ohio, every Sunday night I would sit on the family-room floor and cut out stories from the three newspapers we received at home: the Hudson Hub-Times, the Akron Beacon Journal, and the Sunday New York Times. By the time I graduated from high school I had assembled several thick folders of clippings--mostly about the church-state and First Amendment issues that rocked by hometown during those years, but also about important national issues like the Gulf War and the collapse of Communism. Nowadays I don't subscribe to a daily newspaper, so my kitchen scissors are replaced by digital cut 'n paste on my laptop. I maintain dozens of virtual folders stuffed with hundreds of articles on topics ranging from Science to Books/Literature to Media. I don't know why I collect these articles--I've referenced them only a few times over many years of archiving. But I still keep gathering them, perhaps adhering to the midwestern motto: "Might come in handy some day." So anytime I see an article on topics that interest me--from the evolutionary connections between animals through time, to analysis of important Supreme Court decisions--I always clip and save and wonder when I will use it again.