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Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

Meet the Intern: Eleanor Gilbert

by Eleanor Gilbert on

 I’m Eleanor, the new marketing intern at TU Press.

I’ve always got a story on my mind and a new book I plan to read—when I’m not flooded with course work.

When I was younger, books and stories were a way for my mom and grandmother to teach me about the world and their experiences in it. Later the library became my favorite after-school hideout, where I would check out excessive numbers of books to find new worlds to explore. Sometimes teachers didn’t believe I was reading all the books I was carrying around!

Despite other people’s doubts, I kept reading, delving deeper into social issues and developing a penchant for writing. Working in publishing allows me to observe a book’s progress as if I am watching the growth of a very quiet child. It’s no one person’s baby because it takes more than one person to make it happen. Lucky for me, I am a part—however small—of that process.

Outside of the press, I immerse myself in working for the Trinity Review, watching Netflix, hanging out with fellow Swashbucklers, volunteering with my brothers in Alpha Phi Omega, and trying to learn something new. I like the informational overload, and I’m typically looking for more—until I pass out for the day, that is.

I know the work at the press is going to be hard, but it’s also fun. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of the team!

Meet the Intern: Claire Alford

by Claire Alford on

I’m Claire Alford, and I’m the new assistant to the director intern at TU Press!

My parents instilled in me from an early age the idea that books are cool, fun, and important, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I’ve grown older, reading has turned into more of a school-focused chore (the woes of a twenty-one-year-old).I am a junior communication major at Trinity with a love for film, television, music, and books (basically any type of media). I’m in limbo about what I want to do in the future, but one thing I know is that I want to be surrounded by creativity—and that’s exactly what I get here at the press.

At the press, I get to work on beautiful books, both inside and out. This has inspired me to begin reading as a pastime again—that is, for something besides school. If nothing else, I’ll become a more informed human being, and what could be wrong with that?

Aside from reading, I enjoy being a student at Trinity (especially now that I’ve finished my last midterm exam) and exploring everything San Antonio has to offer. I’m thrilled to be working at the press and am excited to learn the ins and outs of this wonderful business, from equally wonderful people.

Forests for the Trees

by Char Miller on

Leading environmentalist and historian, Char Miller, analyzes California’s ecological history in his new book Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream. For all the glitz and glamour that the state has to bring, Miller uncovers some of the less enticing environmental issues that hide just below the surface where most do not notice. Char Miller will be in conversation with Bob Rivard of The Rivard Report on "California Dreams, Texas Schemes: Two States in Environmental Crisis and What They Can Learn From Each Other.” Free and open to the public at the Trinity University Holt Center on Wednesday, October 25. Before that, Miller brings us a few words to open our eyes to one of the environmental isuues they will discuss. Seating is limited, but you will be able to view a livestream at More information on the event here.

The trees are dying. The forests are not.

This subtle but absolutely critical distinction is getting lost in all the angst over the tree die-off in the Central Sierra, coastal ranges, and other forests of the Golden State. Players ranging from the U.S. Forest Service to Cal Fire to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other public officials are ignoring this key fact in their rush to do something, anything, about the dying trees.

Feinstein, in a recent letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urged him to transfer the tidy sum of $38 million to the Forest Service so that it can immediately harvest thousands of red-needled pine and other dead trees in high hazard areas in the Sequoia, Sierra, and Stanislaus national forests.

“After five years of historic drought,” she argued, “which has led to the death of an estimated 66 million trees in California alone, my state and its people face a heightened and potentially catastrophic risk of wildfire this year and for years to come.”

Her words are important, for how we talk about drought, fire, and ecosystem resilience is revelatory of larger issues. As I argue in Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream, “A wildland fire is never just a fire. Even as it burns through forests, grasslands or chaparral, it also eats into the political landscape, like acid on a copper plate. And in that etching, with the surface opened, we can glimpse a society’s most basic philosophical commitments, its deepest operating assumptions.”

Those assumptions are partly revealed in Senator Feinstein’s request for funding to harvest large swaths of the Sierra. She, and those who are co-promoting this policy, are calculating that dead trees equal catastrophe. To avoid catastrophe, clearcut the forests. Their calculation is flawed.

 Consider the attention-getting figure of 66 million dead trees (or “snags”), widely publicized this summer. It seems like a lot, yet the figure shrinks when set in its wider, arboreal context. As Doug Bevington of Environment Now has reported, there are 33 million forested acres in the state, meaning that the recent pulse of tree mortality on average has increased the number of dead trees by a mere two snags per acre.

“To put that number in perspective,” he writes, “forest animals that live in snags generally need at least four to eight snags per acre to provide sufficient habitat and some species require even more snags.” Portions of California’s forests suffer from a deficit of dead trees, not a surfeit.

Besides, dead trees are not dead. They are essential to the life chances of such cavity-nesting species as the endangered California spotted owl and the increasingly rare black-backed woodpecker. Ditto for the little-seen Pacific fisher, a forest-dweller related to the weasel whose diet in part consists of small mammals that take advantage of snag-ecosystems. A host of other organisms feast on dead trees upright or fallen, so that what on the surface might seem like a ghost forest in fact is a biodiversity hotspot, a teeming terrain.

While countless living things thrive off of the “dead” trees, fire does not. This seems counterintuitive, which may account for the head-scratching, heated rhetoric that Senator Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, and firefighting agencies have deployed to make their case that California is on the verge of burning up. In doing so, they have dismissed the findings of fire ecology research demonstrating that snags do not burn with a greater intensity and that their presence does not accelerate the spread of fire.

As scientists reported in the 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Contrary to the expectation of increased wildfire activity in recently infested red-stage stands, we found no difference between observed area and expected area burned in red-stage or subsequent gray-stage stands during three peak years of wildfire activity, which account for 46 percent of area burned during the 2002–2013 period.”

Even the state’s firefighter-in-chief, Cal Fire’s Director Ken Pimlott, agrees with the “emerging body of science that has found dead trees don’t significantly increase the likelihood of wildfires.”

Don’t get me wrong: there are legitimate reasons to log some snags located in portions of the wildland-urban interface to ensure public safety and protect vital infrastructure. But slicking off tens of thousands of trees willy-nilly—let alone the 3.7 million that have been proposed for harvest in the Central Sierra national forests alone—cannot be defended in terms of science or policy; and doing so would break the bank.

Nor can it be defended as a kind of political logrolling, in which agencies and their allies spread fear of imminent ecosystem collapse that can only be averted with a massive infusion of federal and state dollars to prop up the collapsing timber and biomass industries. The latter turns board-feet into kilowatts, a process as inefficient and CO2-spewing as coal, accelerating the planet’s warming. Not climate-smart.

So let’s take nature seriously. Those who mourn the loss of the iconic, pine-scented sweep of green, for example, should remember that the “death” we perceive in California’s forests presages their regrowth, a point I also stress in Not So Golden State.

“Set aside the concept that fires inevitably, irreparably destroy forests,” I observe, “and consider instead the idea fire may have a regenerative capacity.”

But don’t take my word for it. Read John Muir, the troubadour of all things Sierra, who in 1878 concluded that natural disturbances were how his beloved sequoia flourished. Erosion and floods, the “burrowing of wolf or squirrel,” and the “fall of aged trees” cleared the way for successive generations to flourish. Even fire, “the great destroyer of Sequoia . . . furnishes bare virgin ground, one of the conditions essential for its growth from seed.”

Muir’s penetrating insight was controversial in the late nineteenth century, but it shouldn’t be today.

The trees are dying. The forests are not.

Viva Tequila!

by Tom Payton on

From famed three-martini lunches at the Algonquin in New York to effervescent parties for legions of fans when a book is published, I've heard many legendary stories about the role of alcohol in the world of authors and publishers. In fact, I've attended my fair share of memorable book parties over the decades. 

Last Friday I was honored to attend the opening for Aliento Tequila, a photography exhibition capturing the rich process of tequila making. From the blue agave's lore to hand shearing, reduction, and fermentation, the often decades-long process is a true art. Joel Salcido captures this art in his stunning photographs, currently on exhibit at Mexico's General Consulate in Dallas. The photographs with accompanying text will be published in a book by Trinity University Press in 2017. 

I particularly enjoyed my visit with Consul General Francisco de la Torre Galindo, who hosted the exhibit and reception and warmly received us. Our meetings explored future exhibition plans in the United States and Spain beginning next year. 

I learned a lot about the finesse of producing fine tequilas that rightfully share the stage with aged scotch—my soft spot, until last week, that is. Jorge Raptis of Don Julio shared tasting samples of aged tequilas followed by crisp margaritas or palomas. My favorite, you ask? Don Julio 70, a smooth añejo claro aged eighteen months in oak barrels and then filtered.

I can't wait for the book publication party. Viva tequila!

7 Podcasts for Book Nerds

by Reagan Herzog on

There’s a podcast for everything.

As someone who listens to podcasts (and has one of her own), I knew there must be a multitude of podcasts for and by book enthusiasts. Here are seven that any self-proclaimed book nerd will love, ranging from poetry to young adult to classics.

Literary Disco

Book nerds and writers Julia Pistell, Tod Golberg, and Rider Strong discuss books, essays, and stories, sometimes with the help of a guest author. This fun and passionate group of friends reads everything from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Sweet Valley High. Perfect for anyone who has ever wanted to be in a cool book club with interesting people, with a few laughs and tangents along the way. Suggested episode: You really can’t go wrong with any of them.

Lit Up

Host Angela Ledgerwood has candid conversations with her favorite authors about what they’re reading, writing, and the world around them. An honest, unique look into the minds of today’s noteworthy authors, with discussions that prove interesting whether or not you’re familiar with the author. Suggested episode: Chapter 41, “The Ever Introspective Mary-Louise Parker.”

Poem of the Day

Each day the Poetry Foundation posts a reading of a short poem. The short format makes this podcast perfect for the beginning of your day or when you need a quick moment of relaxation. Suggested episode: Start with today’s poem!

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

Each week hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile read a chapter from the Harry Potter series as if it were a sacred text, exploring a central theme, such as love or forgiveness, to gain a deeper understanding from the text. A great podcast for Harry Potter fans or anyone interested in a new way of looking at a literature and pop-culture phenomenon. Suggested episode: “The Boy Who Lived” (book 1, chapter 1). It’s best to start from the beginning and go in order.

Late Night Conversation

Unscripted and refreshing, this podcast from Late Night Library is dedicated to book culture. Hosts Paul Martone and Kristin Maffei talk to authors, publishers, editors, and other industry professionals. Late Night Library also produces Late Night Debut, a podcast dedicated to debut books and their authors. Suggested episode: “Jen Kirkman / I Can Barely Take Care of Myself.”

The Readers

This podcast pitches itself as “book-based banter,” and that’s the only way to describe this casual conversation between three friends (Simon Savidge, Thomas Otto, and Gavin Pugh) about anything and everything book-related. You’ll feel as though you’re a part of the conversation and a part of the group. Suggested episode: No. 150, “Bookshelf Bingo.”


A weekly podcast about all of the books you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t got around to. Hosts Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting discuss a book from their personal backlog, ranging from Moby-Dick to Winnie-the-Pooh. Hilarious and enjoyable, but be forewarned that they don’t shy away from spoilers. Suggested episode: Pick a book you love (or hate) and start there.