Thursday, April 30, 2009

Miranda Weiss (read her book, watch her video)

Speaking of nature writing, my friend and former UWP colleague Miranda Weiss's book, Tide Feather Snow has just been published (and is making its way to bookstores as we speak). I've been reading her vivid and powerful nature writings for years. Check out her her idiosyncratic and darkly lit book promo video. This makes me wish I had filmed a YouTube spot for The Cactus Eaters, perhaps showing some dumb guy eating a cactus (although someone has already beaten me to it. As you probably know, there is a widely circulated video of a weirdo -- no relation to me -- eating a cactus after putting some kind of sauce all over it.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Author's website coming soon ...

I'm finally getting around to it. Will post that link when I'm finished.

Through-hike the PMT

Considering that hiking season is just beginning, I just wanted to put in another plug for the PMT -- the Pine Mountain Trail, which took me through the wilds of Eastern Kentucky a few months back. Here's my story about my experience on the trail. This trail is magnificent (and, apparently, it is better marked these days.) If you have a chance to hike this thing, you should -- and afterwards, you should definitely stop over at Whitesburg, Kentucky. The people are very friendly out there (although I can't recommend the bourbon-flavored beer.)

Kara Levy in Narrative Magazine

Congratulations, Kara
(and here is her story.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zoe Ferraris/First Fiction book prize

Zoe just won the First Fiction Award from the LA Times for her excellent new book, "Finding Nouf.''

More writing and hiking in Santa Cruz

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing/hiking Pogonip exploration last week -- and, if you're interested, you have two more chances to write and hike in the woods. The writer Patricia Vecchione and the artist Tom Killion will soon lead hikes of their own into the forest. Check out Bookshop Santa Cruz's website for more details. Also, stay tuned to this blog for a few other observations and reading recommendations related to the Pogonip walk.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cactuseaters readers in the news! (updated)

Here at long last is that digest I was talking about, highlighting you, the readers, your recent projects and your interests. I will continue to update this.-
Cactuseaters readers in the news, volume one:

One of our readers, William Jacobs, was just voted one of the "least powerful people in Seattle.''

Bill Jacobs also alerted me to the journalism, blogs and and recent books by Novella Carpenter, who runs an urban farm that I would like to visit someday. Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, which will be published by Penguin this June.

And this just in from reader Mike Orlando:, who is feeling the pull of altruism and reaching out to help others.

"How many lawyers get to spend their afternoons helping a 13 year old and his family raise money to build schools for Kenyan orphans? This is precisely the question I asked myself when Denise Lyon called me up last year and asked me to come to work for them in their Grove St. living room.

After law school, I had no desire to practice in the mindless world of Corporate Biglaw. Instead, after a somewhat transformative experience working at a summer camp in Santa Cruz, I started teaching sixth grade at a little progressive school. Flash forward seven years and many adventures later, an opportunity landed in my lap to combine both those skills, plus (as I've discovered) learn many more. Event planning, grantwriting, website design, contending with the media, as well as coaching a nervous kid in speaking before an audience of hundreds. It is certainly not easy, but I don't think I've had this much fun in quite a while.

We're working as hard as we can to raise enough money, even in this economy when nonprofits have it awfully hard, but good things seem to be landing our lap: we just got our official 501(c)(3) certification last week, and the donations continue to show up in fits and starts. We're planning on taking Stefan to Kenya this summer to see the concrete results of the work he's been doing.

My pearl of wisdom from this? Cool opportunites and even cooler people, ones you (or at least I) couldn't even make up in the wildest of fantasies, can just show up on your doorstep.

I am also passing on your book to a few other friends of mine. Thanks for telling this great story.

Be well,
Mike Orlando

If you have an interesting bio or project that you are working on, shoot me an email here at and I will try to get you into a future edition of this news digest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wheezing my way across the Golden Gate Bridge ...

Don't be alarmed if you see a guy in a black Nike hat wheezing his way across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the Marin Headlands tomorrow (unless I pass out along the way.) Every year I do some sort of outlandish and very long birthday trail run or hike, and this year will be no exception. This will also be my first significant training run before the San Francisco Marathon, which I am planning on running a second time. (By the way, please don't honk if you see me. I startle very easily.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Extra certificates for hike survivors

Also --- one or two of you vanished out of the Pogonip before I could get you your "hike survivor'' certificates. (pictured above.) If so, shoot me an email and I will get you a hard copy one way or the other. I might send a small pile of them over to Bookshop Santa Cruz so you can just pick them up.

The Green Loop! (map coming soon.)

Also in honor of Earth Day, I wanted to talk about a great all-day hike that begins and ends in downtown Santa Cruz (or at the Harvey West industrial area) and will leave your calves sore for about a week. I guarantee that you will see redtail hawks, you will probably see bobcats and you might even catch a glimpse of a mountain lion. Various folks at our recent Pogonip "Write and Hike'' extravaganza asked about this so I will try to throw together a very rough map as soon as I can and put it up on the blog. Essentially it starts at the Pogonip, includes the open space area over UC Santa Cruz, crosses Highway 9, goes straight into the Gray Whale Ranch area, traverses through Wilder Ranch and finally winds up in downtown Santa Cruz. This is almost all woodlands and rolling hills, with only a few miles of urban hiking. I highly recommend it for marathon trainers as well as daytrippers. The one bummer is water. The hike is extremely dry so you might want someone to cache water for you or perhaps meet you with refreshments at the Highway 9 pull-off near Gray Whale.

Since today is Earth Day, I should also mention that sustainability and the environment were big concerns of my big brother, David, aka "Zooknoone.'' He always called me on Earth Day, which falls awfully close to my birthday, and he often took part in Earth Day-related activities. To honor his memory, this is a great year to make some Earth Day resolutions (driving and flying less, dragging out that fat-tire bike, etc.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writing and hiking in the Pogonip (updated.)

The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran an article about our recent writing/hiking adventure in the spectacular Pogonip -- an open-space area where nature is asserting itself after years of mistreatment. (These days, flourishing redwoods are kicking down the same lime kilns that burned through most of the old-growth timber in the area.) It was great to hear from so many talented people who described themselves as "non-writers'' but read breathtaking descriptions of the natural world. It was even more impressive when you think about the fact that they wrote these observations right on the spot while walking through the forest and the meadow. We didn't see any banana slugs or coyotes --or mountain lions -- but we crossed streams, meandered through ferns, climbed a hill, enjoyed ocean views and had a peaceful picnic near the old building where they filmed the climactic vampire battle in "The Lost Boys.''

Also: during the talk, I asked the writers to avoid using the word "magnificent'' in their nature descriptions. "Instead, try to choose evocative and descriptive words that will make the reader see that it is magnificent.'' And then, after offering up that rule, I proceeded to use the word "magnificent'' again and again and again while describing all the things we were seeing. ("Wow. Isn't that redwood tree magnificent!!! Isn't that ocean view magnificent??") It was mortifying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everyone -- please bring comfortable shoes

To everyone who is coming along on the Nature Walk this Saturday in Santa Cruz:(organized under the auspices of Bookshop Santa Cruz.)

First of all, greetings to all of you. Looking forward to meeting you in person (and I've already met a few of you on my past travels, so hello again.) I wanted to let you know that we are in for one medium-grade undulating hill early on in the walk and one short but somewhat steeper hill. Overall, I would call this walk moderate, with quite a few easy sections (flat or downhill). Just bring comfortable walking shoes or boots with good traction for that steeper hill because it has a bit of loose gravel on it. Here is how this will work: we will talk about 'voice,' the narrator and the places where memoir and nature writing intersect. We will talk a bit about the lovely greenbelt property where we will be hiking, and take breaks in a forest, and on a meadow, so you can work on your 'memoir' and nature writing sketches. And of course I will try to answer any questions you have about my project, publishing or anything you have in mind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Canada Rocks, updated

I just want to take this opportunity to thank the entire country of Canada. A couple of days ago, I received two inspiring and uplifting messages from the first-ever Canadian to write into my blog. Ever! In light of these recent messages, I want to take this moment to emphasize that Cactuseaters.blogspot is a Canada-friendly zone and let you know that I, too, was offended by the recent Billy Bob Thornton comments. It helps to remember that Billy Bob has also said some peculiar things about the Statue of Liberty and antique shops, among other things. If I ever have the chance to go on a book tour throughout Canada, I promise to never compare your fans to Thanksgiving foodstuffs. By the way, I am soliciting contributions to "stuff you probably don't know about Canada.'' Feel free to send in at any time, and I'll turn it, eventually, into a continually updated column, available only here on Cactuseaters.blogspot

Monday, April 13, 2009

Redwood hike/talk in Santa Cruz

Thanks so much to everyone who signed up for the Bookshop Santa Cruz hike/talk in the woods; looking forward to seeing you out in the redwoods on Saturday.

I also want to thank readers so much for your very moving messages about testimonials about David; I am getting so many great stories and messages about him, and I will add them continuously to this blog as they come in. Also, make sure to check out my brother Phil's blog, Pawprints, listed below.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Your resolution for the month: Adopt a "shelter'' animal

I'm getting quite a few emails from people asking me if "Zook'' had any favorite charity, and if they can donate to it in his name. I still need to pin down the details with his family -- but in the meantime, I can safely say that he was a true champion of animal adoption; his household was filled with creatures (two dogs, two cats) and every one of those animals is either a stray or a shelter animal. He took great care of the animals, and hated to leave them in kennels for any length of time when he was away. So ... one great way to honor David is to give a good home to a dog or cat that you find in a shelter. In my case, I eliminated the middleman and just adopted a cat right off the street some years back when I was living in Pleasure Point, a so-called "Surf Ghetto'' in Santa Cruz County near Portola Drive. He was all bones when I adopted him. Now, Robert Earl (a short-haired tabby cat) is so humongous that he crushes my chest at night when I'm trying to sleep.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"Match Day'' tonight in Palo Alto

My friend Brian Eule will be speaking tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. He will be reading from his much-praised new nonfiction book, "Match Day.''

My brother Phil's blog

My oldest brother has just launched his blog, PawPrints. Stay tuned for regular postings. His first piece of writing is a lovely tribute to Zooknoone.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Eastern Sierra stormfront

Reposting this image in memory of Zooknoone, who passed away on March 27, 2009. Thank you for your remembrances and messages, and feel free to send in again.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Remembering Zooknoone in Carson City

Thank you to everyone who paid tribute to my brother David, alias "Zooknoone,'' in Carson City on Thursday and Friday (and also today -- a drumming circle/life celebration has been scheduled in town.)"Zook,'' my big brother, a musician, writer, and field adjuster by trade, passed away on March 27 after emergency open-heart surgery. All of us miss him terribly. (please see remembrances below, and thank you so much for your kind words about my brother. I will continue to update this and file your messages about him as they come in.) My brother Phil -- who is a very gifted writer -- read a tribute, I shared a few words of my own, and we spent time with UCSD pals of Zooknoone, including John and Youndy. My mother and father made the trip out from southern California. A storm blew up over the Sierra Nevada almost immediately after the gathering. It was enough to powder up the mountains, almost blow the yarmulke (skullcap) off my father's head, and force drivers to put chains on all four tires up on Highway 80 over Donner Pass, but we were able to punch through on the 50. David thrived in the Eastern Sierra landscape, especially in spring when the weather warmed up but occasional flurries still lit up the mountains. He would have loved the way the land looked on Friday morning.

I expect the blog to sreturn to relative normal -- if you can call this blog 'normal -- very soon, but thank you for your continuing emails, tributes and messages.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Looking forward to remembering with all of Zook's family and friends in Carson City tomorrow. I'm bringing a DVD of a great Zook performance of a Randy Newman song from his rock opera, "Faust,' along with a few words about him. Feel free to pitch in by email if there are any anecdotes you want me to include (but send in as soon as you see this email. I'm taking off for Nevada really soon.)By the way, I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone in the Cactus community and your kind words of support.