Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ellipsis ... "Give Peace a Chance"

I resigned as wrestling coach last week.

Sometimes you just have to admit you can't do it all, even if it means putting in a two-week notice, the first day of practice for the new season.

Tonight, I reveled in my new found freedom and blew off my nightly ritual of grading papers and answering school e-mails so I could "snuggle" with Koah (his words, not mine) and watch Nature for the second night in a row.

I also read "My Side of the Mountain" to my boys tonight -- to enable a brief melting away of the chronic pain of being a teacher.

And since I've been off Facebook for a while, I'll share the other highlight of the week: Kai wrote his first report on John Lennon. It wasn't the prettiest process. We had to grin and bare it through some rough edits, because the last words of that report were to "give peace a chance ... "

Kai insisted on keeping that ellipsis at the end of his essay because, he said, "peace needs a dot, dot, dot."


Epilogue: I have something in common with John Lennon and his son Sean. We all have the same birthday.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Parenting when 'A River Runs Through It'

“So it is that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don't know what part to give or maybe we don't like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.” 

 Rev. Maclean , from a River Runs Through It

My eight year old is testing his boundaries. He struggles with persuasion. He is big enough now that using violence to get his way can have dire consequences. It’s terrible. Sometimes I looked at his red angry face, with its slightly upturned nose and little folds under his eyes, and I think he looks like a “bad piggy” from the Rovio game app of the same name. 

Tonight I made Kai write an apology letter. He can’t do it. He doesn’t see why his actions are a problem. He is still right in his mind. Besides, he is doing what I tell him to do: standing up for what is correct and worth fighting for. However, tonight we made some break throughs after I told him that he needs to start picking his battles. 

“Oh,” he said. “I should just give up.” 


“No,” I said. “You should never give up. You just need save your energy for battles and fights you can win.”

It’s a hard lesson to learn, I said, that at this age you can’t win many of the battles you have with parents. 

“So why are you punishing me?” he asked, with a very puzzled look. “You interrupt me when I talk.”

“True. I do interrupt you because you aren’t listening to what we need you to hear. I’m punishing you for being disrespectful,” I tried to explain. “You can fight and stand up for what you think is right but you have to acknowledge that Mom and Dad need you to listen and do what we are asking you to do.”

That didn’t sink in.

“Do you know what ‘acknowledge’ means?”

Kai shakes his head. Yes he does know what acknowledge means. He just doesn’t know it.

“It is when you let me know you are listening and hear what I’m saying.”

It’s still a difficult concept to get across to a third grader who is starting to test his boundaries by developing enough sass to peel your fingertips backwards. 

So I made him write a letter. 

“Write what you are thinking now.”

One hour later. The page is mostly blank. 

“I hate writing.” 

“Say it. Then write it. What do you want to say to mom and dad about what is going on today with us?”

Adding another line to his letter, he says, “I agree to our agreement.”

Write that I said. He does.

“That’s much easier. Where did you learn how to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Tell people how to write.”

Internally, I sigh, in relief. The rest of the letter goes much more easily. We even edit his punctuation. Kai is on his way to being a writer. 

And he’s already found his voice. 

After we finished up a simple paragraph about what he is going to do -- to be more respectful, why he is going to be more respectful, and how he intends to make that happen -- he said he had one more thing to write. I could tell he had had an epiphany. 

“Do you want me to leave?”


I left him to his devices. Expecting, hoping that he writes something touching and heartfelt.

“Don’t read it until the morning,” he yelled from the kitchen table.

“Okay,” I said, now, really wondering what he wrote. 

“Good night dad.” 

“Good night.”

I couldn’t wait to read the final line of his letter. I disobeyed his request and read ... “bacon some day Please?”

I don’t know that bacon is a metaphor. He probably just wants bacon. On the other hand, Kai also likes telling jokes and his written voice reminded me that most of the time I don’t know what anyone needs -- until they tell me. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Everett Ruess for a Day

On Friday, I pretended I was Everett Ruess. No, I wasn't wandering off into the wilderness to revel in beauty -- to avoid the "discontent bred by cities." 

I was Everett Ruess for a day, visiting some Language Arts and Social Studies classes at work. And a funny thing happened: Squirrelly middle schoolers were interested in history. 

They asked questions. They listened to what Everett had to say. They clapped after I read "Wilderness Song." They sat forward in their chairs and LISTENED.

It wasn't normal middle school behavior to be sure.

For my part, it was really fun reciting some ER poetry, letters, and famous quotes. I felt like a rock star when I walked down the hall: Kids would say "hey, there's Everett Ruess. I found him."

And the one thing that really strikes me from this experience is that some of the kids who saw my presentation -- were only a year away from beginning to "pull an Everett Ruess."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


“So much paper and ink have been expended on Ruess, especially on speculations regarding his mysterious disappearance from an Escalante side canyon in 1934, that it almost seems an environmental crime to add to the expenditure, but a summary account of his life, at least is necessary.” (Topping, 1997, p. 317)

Philip Fradkin also wrote the
biography of Wallace Stegner.
In the final paragraphs to “Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife” – and its devotion to understanding and telling the truths associated with Everett’s “short life” – Philip Fradkin suggests that literary and investigative favors are “not about to be extended to everyone.”

So why then does Everertt’s story about his mysterious disappearance in the Utah desert in 1934 deserve to have even more paper, ink, and energy expended on his life?

In my opinion, this particular expenditure by Fradkin is needed because the telling of Everett’s story always lacks context. It needed to have written what Paul Harvey coined “the rest of the story.”

Fradkin’s book brings an expanded and insightful context to the Everett saga. And this is Fradkin’s biggest gift to Everett’s mysterious death because it keeps the “short life” from becoming long in fiction.

However, Fradkin’s research does leave out the fact that “Finding Everett Ruess” was written and researched during the same time period he alliterates about Everett’s “Astonishing Afterlife.” Despite that fact, Fradkin’s book doesn’t need to review David Robert’s book “Finding Everett Ruess” because Roberts offers very little new information about Everett’s story and basically repeats what most Ruess fans already know – if they read “Everett Ruess:Vagabond for Beauty” and kept up with the steady flow of news about Roberts’ misadventures to solve the Ruess mystery.

I first learned about Fradkin’s book about Everett a couple of years ago when he contacted me to get a copy of my thesis about Everett Ruess’s connection to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. (SUWA still uses a block print, inspired by Everett's artwork during his trips to the Utah desert). 

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
used a "self portrait" created by Everett Ruess
as their logo. They dropped the design and replaced it
with a logo inspired by Everett's block prints of the
Utah desert He created a juniper print that was
very much loved by wilderness warrior
Terry Tempest Williams.
Fradkin was pushy and impatient in his requests and as a result I didn’t feel like helping him out with his research.

Besides, I thought, a copy of my thesis is at the University of Utah, where he is doing much of his original research, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find it there or at Brigham Young University. My stubbornness with Fradkin’s request may have led to my thesis research not even getting mentioned or referenced by Fradkin. Roberts read my thesis after learning about it the night I gave a copy of it to him and Bud Rusho.  

Fradkin may have read my thesis but it isn’t evident in book’s footnotes or index. However, he did report one of the most interesting things I first reported about Everett regarding claim’s about his mysterious love letters to Frances. Robert’s picked up on this “tidbit” from my thesis, but should be noted, that Roberts’ struggled to solve this mystery. Fradkin, on the other hand, shows the panache of a seasoned investigative reporter and provides some very interesting insights that will end this part of the mystery for many Ruess aficionados.

However, both Roberts and Fradkin missed out on some of the important insights my research highlights. (More on that later.)

Fradkin’s thoughtfully researched book is full of context and insights that do not use Everett as a platform to talk about his own opinions or experience in the wilderness (sorry David Roberts … that description very much describes the narrative and style of your writings about Everett, despite the fact you were very gracious in your recognition of my thesis). Fradkins does this to a certain extent but it is tastefully done and, in most cases, provides more context about how he did his research.

Gibbs Smith, Publisher, had W.L. "Bud" Rusho edit some of the first
books about Everett Ruess. "Vagabond for Beauty" remains
one of the best books containing Everett's original,
art, poetry, prose and letters.
Fradkin’s devotion to reporting the context of Everett’s “Astonishing Afterlife” includes great insights about Everett’s relatives, associates, and goings-on in American history. That context is beautiful and complimentary to the topic. It also helps demythologize the Ruess story, by reminding the reader that yes, Everett Ruess is unique, but no, he is not alone in his sentiments about nature, art, and literature for this time period.

This is something Gibbs Smith, the Everett Ruess publisher-in-chief, will tell you over and over: that Everett was the first real appreciator of wilderness, for sentimental reasons. Fradkin proves otherwise. But be warned: Fradkin stops short of providing some of the political context of the wilderness movement that reinvigorated the telling of the Everett Ruess story in the 1980s and what I think are some of the real reasons for Everett’s “astonishing afterlife.”

Fradkins book is a page turner because, like the good journalist he is, Fradkin writes for the audience that knows Everett’s story – while still giving the Ruess novice the ability to enjoy an extended prologue to the original Everett Ruess books: “Vagabond for Beauty” and “The Wilderness Journals.”

Fradkin further dampens the Everett Ruess myth by setting the record straight, by grounding Everett in reality – which does, in my mind diminish Everett’s mythos and storied connection to the Utah wilderness movement and self-styled, ersatz desert rats (line taken from a letter to the editor of a Tucson newspaper, criticizing how Everett’s story is used for political purposes).

Letter criticizing the use of Everett Rues for political purposes.
The irony here is that Everett, in many ways, never seemed to be grounded in reality and now the definitive story about him is fertilized with facts. I also like the fact Fradkin also looked at this story from the lens of a parent who has to deal with children who are depressed or go their own way.

And since I can’t resist being a hypocrite, I want to tell my own story about my connection with Everett -- as taken from the introduction to my master’s thesis, "Everett Ruess and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: A Triangulated Study Employing the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (ELM).”

My thesis is currently published online as “Selling Everett Ruess: Protecting Utah’s Redrock Wilderness Created an Environmental Saint.” 

Here’s a blurb from the introduction:

“I first learned about Ruess when my father spent two bits at a yard sale and bought me a copy of Everett Ruess: Vagabond for Beauty (Rusho, 1983). That summer I shared a mutual love with Ruess of the Escalante Canyons in southern Utah. Since that time it’s been an interesting journey, but my parasocial relationship with Ruess has stirred within me an everlasting lust for the desert. And like Ruess, I too crave intellectual companionship, boring easily with people who revel in “the discontent bred by cities.”

My thesis was first published as "Everett Ruess
and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:
A Triangulated Study Employing the Elaboration
Likelihood Model of Persuasion (ELM). The
cover of the online version is very similar to
the cover design for David Robert's
"Finding Everett Ruess."
Ironically, my zeal for Ruess waned when my passion for protecting the environment peaked. It was one thing to revel in beauty, but quite another to preserve it. Activism resulted in abandoning much of the art and literature that was a catalyst for my raging environmentalism. SUWA became a part of my paradigm and I participated as a “wilderness warrior” in Washington D.C. About that time, Big Suckin’ Moose – a band I used to play drums and percussion for – recorded a song about wilderness titled, “Washington D.C.” The song is now on a compact disc sold through SUWA. Nevertheless, my interest in SUWA, like my love for Ruess, went into remission.

Interest in the Ruess myth resumed when I researched a communication theory about parasocial relationships. While rummaging through scholarly journals, I remembered an experience I had when I was working in the backcountry of Alaska’s Resurrection Bay. I was in the midst of building a bridge made of raw spruce trees when a tousled man in his mid twenties walked up to me from almost out of nowhere and started talking. We exchanged a few sentiments about the Bay and then the young man excused himself and mumbled as he walked away, “I think I’ll be going now... I’m gonna build a fire and commune with the spirit of Everett Ruess.” That memory hurled me back into the lure of the Ruess myth and for the past year I have been researching how Ruess has evolved from myth to wilderness icon. How could an obscure young adventurer from California, lost in Utah in 1934, be known over sixty years later, by a stranger passing by in the wilds of Alaska?

That question, asked by me in 1999 – about how Everett could be known, at all – begins to be answered by Fradkin. His book also signifies what I think could be the peak of the Golden Age of Ruess.

I predicted this golden age in the conclusion to my thesis in 2003. Fradkin misses this point in his book.

That is, at least, one part of the context readers need to know when they digest Fradkin's book: that Everett’s short life, with its enduring afterlife, depends on storytellers with an agenda. And where that agenda takes the Everett Ruess story from here is something I will continue to follow -- as one of Everett’s enduring disciples.


Topping, G. (1997). Glen Canyon and the San Juan Country. Moscow: University of Idaho Press.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is it the reporting about "Everett Ruess: Wilderness Song" -- or the actual documentary -- that are lacking important details?

I recently read one of the only articles I've been able to find about the recent screening of "Everett Ruess: Wilderness Song" in Salt Lake this spring. 

The reporting left me in a quandary because I really felt like the article left out an important point: What is Lindsay Jaeger's documentary actually about and what is it adding to the current discussion about Everett Ruess's enduring mystery and evolving legacy? 

Everett Ruess fans can only gather so much from the Wilderness Song youtube trailer.

As a result, Everett Ruess Disciples like me are largely left to media accounts of Everett's life and influence. However, as a journalist, I am increasingly aware of how news reports that act as the "first rough draft of history" are only as good as an article's credible feedback.

One of the things, I also noticed in this article about Wilderness Song is that the reporter didn't put this movie in context with other Ruess-related media -- including last year's two books about Everett. And more importantly, the reporter should have done enough reporting to know that other documentaries have been made about Everett. 

News is supposed to be new. 

And if Everett Ruess is a Utah icon, as the article's headline suggests, then it should tell people what "new" information is being shown by the creation of this movie. This article only gets to a piece of this and spends almost as much time telling Lindsay Jaeger's story as it does Everett's. It has quotes from people saying the movie followed the right path, but it remains unclear what that path looks like.

Some people will say that that is the point: the article create's buzz about the movie so more people will watch it. That's great, if you have the wherewithal and ability to watch it.

My other concern is that this movie is in its final stages of being done and I haven't heard from Lindsay about my take on her project. According to the Tribune, Jaeger "hopes her documentary will help to keep the interest alive, not just in Ruess as an icon but also as a conduit to a fascination and respect for wilderness lands. Outside of Utah, it’s rare to find people who know who Ruess was. It’s only once they connect his legacy to the larger canvas of environmental concerns that his appeal clicks into view."

Jaeger is a member of my Everett Ruess Disciples group. She knows I'm one the founders -- connecting the Everett Ruess story online. She should also know that I wrote my master's thesis about how the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance "connect(ed) his legacy" to their environmental concerns. 

So why hasn't she called? I think maybe that's my fault. 

I should have told Jaeger to call me. I guess I just figured anyone who is doing sophisticated research about Everett Ruess would figure out some of her research was already done in 2003.

Philip Fradkin and David Robert's figured this out for their books (even though the fomer left out that fact in his book). Steve Robert's figured it out for his Everett Ruess Arts Festival in Escalante. So why hasn't Jaeger? 

I posed these points on the Everett Ruess Disciples Facebook group and an interesting discussion continues to unfold. 

I'll leave some of my other issues for those postings but I will end by saying that if Jaeger thinks, according to the Tribune article, that very few people know about Everett Ruess she is mistaken. 

I believe the Everett Ruess Disciples, named and unnamed, and the large amount of mass media about Everett Ruess -- including the book "Into the Wild" reaching the New York Times best seller list -- prove otherwise.


p.s. One thing that has emerged from the online discussion about this article on Facebook is the news to me that another Everett Ruess movie, "Nemo 1934" is coming out this fall. Information about that project can be viewed here.

One last thought: The Diane Orr said she had tons of footage that didn't make it into her film "Lost Forever." That, to me, is the important stuff Jaeger needs in her movie, along with quotes from the same types of people I interviewed about Everett's connection to the Souther Utah Wilderness Alliance. 

I've got the audio and transcripts, she just needs to add the pictures. Those details found here ...

Friday, May 25, 2012

If I were an artist like Everett Ruess ...

If I was an artist like Everett Ruess I would apply for the Everett Ruess artist in residence (this program) today. I love the Everett Ruess Art Festival and recommend it as one of the best fall travel experiences around.

Side note: School is out for the summer so I get a week off until I start teaching summer school. I will be popping in an out of my Everett Ruess Disciples group on Facebook but, frankly, I'm almost on the verge of leaving Facebook forever. I just don't like trying to maintain friendships on a virtual level.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The best lessons about Chris McCandless and 'Into the Wild' include Everett Ruess

I've working on a rough outline for an integrated curriculum using the story Everett Ruess as the connecting theme to teach a whole host of subjects. 

In the meantime it'll be interesting to see if this lesson plan about Chris McCandless and Into the Wild generates any interest in my Everett Ruess Disciples group on Facebook. 

Read more:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Frontier Fellowships at the Epicenter: Would Everett Ruess apply?

As I road the train through the Sierra's today, after a short stop in Green River, Utah, I was reminded of Everett's indomitable spirit. There is a group in Green River who have an interesting mission.

I love that they they offer a "frontier fellowship." Check it out at

Screen grab of an endeavor I think Everett would support ... or at least record in his journal or a letter home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everett Ruess would have hated Mesa Verde today

Everett visited Mesa Verde National Park during an interesting time in history (CCC camps, etc.). My wife actually wrote a book about that time during her time at the park. She wrote about the development of the park and created an archaeologists's bible that helps them preserve some of the modern history as well.

As result, I still have a keen interest in what is going on there and thought I would share a link to some heavy parts of national park management.

If any of you are as interested in enjoying, preserving and protecting our national resources as Everett was, I think you will find this information to be very enlightening.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When I stood ... (continued from Everett's Mesa Verde)

When I stood at the bottom of Square Tower House (called Square House Tower by Everett Ruess) and looked back at the famous overlook, where most people view the site,  I couldn't help but think of Everett Ruess looking down -- feeling inspired to create what I think is one of his best block prints.

Square House Tower and Crow's Nest by Nate Thompson
 Square House Tower is the tallest of Mesa Verde National Park's ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) structures and is closed to the public. It is four stories high. Most of the floors are still intact and the walls are painted with bands of bright white and red clay.

I got a chance to see the site first hand in 2003. It was a dream come true because of my love of Everett Ruess country. However, my dream visit evolved when I saw the site's Crow's Nest.

Sitting a dozen yards up and over -- from the front of the site's tower -- the Crow's nest is wedged into a crevasse. It looks as though it will fall at any moment. Surprisingly, the archaeologist who took me to Square Tower said she actually visited the Nest and collected samples of its plastered walls.

The result of my visit that day: I fell in love with ancient Puebloan plaster. It is an integral part of Mesa Verde's "Hidden Landscape" (the unwanted name of my wife's book about Mesa Verde's development as a park). And most visitor's to this an other Puebloan sites don't or can't appreciate it.

The plastered walls Everett may have seen in Mesa Verde are probably long gone. The multi-layered painted surfaces -- some 50 layers thick in some pueblos -- are vanishing during our lifetime.

The Crow's Nest by Nate Thompson
Sometimes my wife jokes like Ronald Reagan and says "if you've seen one Pueblo, you've seen them all." Her response mocks his comment about redwoods. That's when I respond: "What Pueblo?" (Another Reagan joke: He made a similar statement before popping a grape in his mouth after being asked California's famous grape boycott).

What Everett Ruess do people see when they think of Square House Tower or Long House? Are there any journal entries about Everett at Mesa Verde? Surely, a CCC employee would have written something about the novelty of the stranger who stayed in their bunk house?

I proposed offering a special tour called "Everett's Mesa Verde" when I worked as a ranger at the park in 2009. I didn't push the idea very hard because one of my criticism's the books I read about Everett is that, inevitably, the books turn to telling the author's own story.