by Char Miller on
Jul 13, 2016 (9:26 am)
After living in Southern California for nine years, I should be used to fire season—and the fact that there is something called fire season—but I’m not.
My wife and I moved to the Southland in late summer 2007, and within the month we saw some of the region’s most horrific firestorms consume vast stretches of chaparral-cloaked foothills, deep canyons filled with alder and oak and, at higher elevations, thick stands of pine and cedar.
From the Mexican border to the Santa Ynez Mountains east of Santa Barbara, wildlands—and more vividly, the many homes and trailers that had crowded into these spectacular terrains—went up in smoke. Journalists were not wrong to proclaim this a fire siege.
Dumbfounded, I began to write a series of essays about the tragic loss of life, the acrid air, and the bewildering sense that the world, and a lot of the neighborhoods my students came from, were on fire.
Many of these pieces appeared in On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest, and when the book entered its final stages of production, I was relieved. It almost seemed as if its publication would put an end to my having to confront such a disturbing subject, on the ground or in print.
And then the next fire season rolled around, and the one after that, and the one after that. With each wave of fire, nature burned through my wishful thinking and my writerly conceit that somehow I might have the last word.
The natural world’s capacity to dislodge us from our imagined safe havens—places material or intellectual—is one of the central themes of my new book, Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream. It’s no surprise that fire is one of its key subjects, but how we approach it as a biochemical fact, a political reality and a policymakers’ conundrum, matters a great deal.
“The West does not always flame out every summer; it just seems as if it does,” I write in the book’s introduction. “And not every fire is a smoke signal of distress, though many of them are. Picking through the region’s fiery terrain is a tricky business, then, as tricky as trying to extinguish a roaring blaze in the baked heat of August.”
Trying to capture fire’s complexity, its erratic movements as it chews through a forest and the public imagination, led me to write about some of the West’s most fearsome conflagrations.
The 2009 Station Fire roared through 250 square miles of the San Gabriel Mountains, filling the Los Angeles basin with a thick shroud of smoke. Water-dumping helicopters and fire retardant–laden jets made sortie after sortie. Every day a massive pyrocumulus cloud absorbed the sky, an eerie sight; and every evening I was transfixed as politicians, pundits, and the public laid waste to the firefighting agencies’ strategies and tactics.
Bigger still was the 2011 Wallow Fire, which burned an astonishing 841 square miles in Arizona but nary a structure—a result of many people’s newfound appreciation for how to build defensible space in their homes and communities.
These large stories dovetailed with a much smaller one, the thirteen-acre Foothill Fire that in 2013 swept through the Bernard Field Station on the northern edge of the Claremont Colleges where I teach. The once-charred landscape is now a living lab for faculty and students to analyze how a coastal sagebrush ecosystem recovers.
These blazes, regardless of their size, had their origin in human action: an inattentive hiker let his campfire blow up into the Wallow, an arsonist ignited the Station, and chop-saw wielding water company workers sent a shower of sparks into the field station’s tinder-dry brush. Fire, in short, is mostly a people problem.
Yet each of these, and their many analogs over the past decade or so, has also been fueled by a climate-changed environment. Collectively they serve as a signal flare: the landscape is in distress, and our addiction to carbon has intensified its vulnerability.
Multiple reminders of our complicity erupted this June. The Fish and Reservoir fires in the San Gabriel Mountains sent a massive plume of smoke over eastern Los Angeles County and beyond; ashes swirled in the air like tiny snowflakes and covered our car. In the southern Sierra the Erskine Fire—pushed by howling winds—raced across 36,000 acres in thirty hours, killing several people. Even the small Marina Fire in the eastern Sierra has much to tell us about fire’s regenerative processes.
Framing these fires is the news that more than 66 million trees are dead in California, a result of drought and wood-boring beetles. The significance of this data is hotly debated. Some believe the die-off will be responsible for catastrophic conflagrations; others, myself included, suggest that dead trees alone do not a catastrophe make. What is undeniable is that the story of fire in California and across the rest of the flammable West is unending.
by Steffanie Mortis on
Jul 6, 2016 (9:42 am)
I couldn’t fully articulate the feeling that this year’s Association of American University Presses conference left me with until the day after it ended, when I visited Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum.
My friend and I wandered through the main exhibit, taking in The Thinker, The Kiss, and various bronze busts. As we were leaving, a docent announced a short gallery tour beginning in five minutes. My friend and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to stay, and I’m so glad we did.
The docent explained Rodin’s creative process—how he asked his models to move freely so he could study their anatomy, facial expressions, and personality. Some of his subjects, especially the political figures and other notable people he portrayed, were uncomfortable with this scrutiny, but Rodin’s main objective was to convey his subjects’ character, and to do this he had to study them closely.
The docent identified the works that make up The Gates of Hell, Rodin’s seminal piece based on Dante’s Inferno, and explained how each work has added layers of meaning when it functions as part of the whole. She pointed out the seam lines where molds were joined to make the cast. Rodin purposely left these lines, along with thumbprints and other marks—usually viewed as flaws and eliminated during the sculpting process—to pay homage to the artistic process.
The hour-long crash course on Rodin gave me a deeper appreciation for his art in the same way that the AAUP community—full of people with similar challenges but different ways of approaching them—filled me with admiration for the book making process.
I steeped myself in engaging sessions that tackled the terminology of copyediting, manuscript preparation guidelines, the delicate art of acquisitions, and ushering a project through to publication. I participated in discussions about issues specific to university presses, such as fundraising strategies and the peer review process, with acquisitions editors, digital marketing specialists, consultants, designers, press directors, editorial assistants, and newcomers like me.
I was heartened by the common question threading these discussions: How will university presses incorporate changing technologies to publish relevant books—whatever form they take—that will continue to reach their intended audience? I’m encouraged that, as a whole, university presses are expanding traditional publishing models to incorporate delivering information in nontraditional formats. We’re all adapting our views of the industry to evolving modes of education and communication.
When we came to The Three Shades in the garden outside the Rodin Museum, the docent suggested that we walk around the sculpture slowly. “Notice what is the same and different about each figure,” she said. “Notice how your perspective influences your perception.”
No matter how much you enjoy the work you do, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of daily tasks. My time in Philadelphia and at the AAUP conference allowed me to take a short walk around university publishing from different perspectives. I returned to Trinity University Press with a deeper appreciation and renewed enthusiasm for the work we do—both process and product.
by Jeanette Gutierrez on
Jun 27, 2016 (9:20 am)
Hi there! I’m Jeanette, the summer marketing and sales intern at Trinity University Press.
For two years I've been employed as a student worker at the Trinity library
. As the spring semester came to an end, I decided I wanted to devote the summer to gaining experience more relevant to my major, which is English. I love working at the library, and Trinity University Press felt like a natural extension of that.
I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m a bookworm, but I also love film and photography . . . which brings me to my minor, film studies. I'm especially interested in film adaptations of novels because I find that this admirable art form fuses two of my passions.
I was mentored as a high school student, and that experience helped shape me. For the last six years I've volunteered with Boy With a Ball, a nonprofit mentoring organization, and I really enjoy giving back to my community. TU Press also connects me with the community in that we publish books that bring to light the region's social and cultural issues.
I’m the social cultural chair for Trinity’s Latino Association
, which promotes education about Latino culture. The fact that TU Press publishes books about southwestern culture is a natural extension of my work there. My internship is a great way for me to learn about the publishing world and to gain experience writing and blogging, and in social media. Here we go!
Jun 17, 2016 (10:57 am)
Hi! I’m Danielle Trevino (far left), the new graphic design intern at TU Press. Even though the spring semester has ended, I still spend the majority of my time on campus. If I’m not working at the press, I’m probably working in The Contemporary’s office.
What is The Contemporary, you ask? Well, it’s a student publication based at Trinity University. We publish opinion pieces and essays by college students on current affairs, events, and social issues. We are currently transitioning from a student organization solely at Trinity into a nationwide startup. This summer our team has the opportunity to further develop our publication and work toward our goal of creating a unified platform for undergraduate thought-leaders across the country.
We strive to create a marketplace for ideas so that all undergraduate voices can be heard and informed ideas and opinions can be formulated. The only qualification is that authors must be undergraduates. All current affairs topics are welcome, and students from universities anywhere in the United States are welcome to submit.
Additionally, we’re looking for students interested in appearing as regular columnists (as opposed to onetime submissions). Please reach out if you’re interested.
We know everyone has opinions, and we want everyone’s voice to be heard. Conservative, liberal, politically apathetic, bio major, poly sci major, English major—we’re open to all. We want to be the apex for publishing differing opinions locally and nationally.
If you’re interested, here is our second edition, our website, and a bit more information about us. Submit via email. Be in the know: like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and add us on Snapchat.
May 20, 2016 (1:35 pm)
Summer is just around the corner, and that means chances to travel and time to read, or the perfect staycation with books galore. Whether on the road or "away" at home, books are life, and we have new books for wanderlusters and the road weary alike. All are available in paperback and ebook, from road trip and travel adventures to puzzle magic and essays. Come away with us.
Crossing the Plains with Bruno by Annick Smith
Writer and filmmaker Annick Smith weaves together a memoir of travel and relationships, western and family history, human tenderness, and animal love. A road trip across the Great Plains with her chocolate lab, Bruno, takes Smith from her rural homestead in Montana to pick up her nearly 100-year-old moth from her senior residence on Chicago’s north side and a beach house on a dune overlooking Lake Michigan. This is a story narrated by a woman living with the imminent reality of a parent’s death, but it is the dog riding shotgun, like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote, that is the reminder of the physical realities outside our own imaginations.
The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit
From women’s issues to Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, Rebecca Solnit is an important voice for human rights, the degradation of the environment, and the socioeconomic and cultural boundaries that hold us back from hope. She’s been compared to Susan Sontag, Annie Dillard, and Joan Didion and has been called “one of our finest thinkers” by the Los Angeles Times. As the title of her book suggests, the territory of Solnit’s concerns is vast, and in her signature alchemical style she combines commentary on history, justice, war, and peace, and explorations of place, art, and community. Available in hardcover or paperback, whichever works best for your poolside reading!
Getting to Grey Owl by Kurt Caswell
Writer, teacher, and adventurer Kurt Caswell has spent his life canoeing, hiking, and pedaling his way toward a deeper understanding of our vast and varied world. Getting to Grey Owl chronicles more than twenty years of his travels as he engages with merchants in Morocco, riverboats in China, and bullfights in Spain. Caswell climbs four mountains in the United Kingdom and backpacks through Iceland’s wild Hornstrandir Peninsula. He explores the meaning of roads and pathways, the story of Cain and Abel, nomadic life and the evolution of the human animals, and the fragility of love. Maybe Caswell journeyed somewhere that you’re traveling to this summer!
A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic by Peter Turchi
Discover the magic that goes into creating puzzles. In A Muse and a Maze, Peter Turchi draws out the similarities between writing and puzzle making and its flip side, puzzle solving. As he teases out how mystery lies at the heart of all storytelling, he uncovers the magic–the creation of credible illusion–that writers share with the likes of Houdini and other master magicians. This much-anticipated follow-up to Maps of the Imagination is a joy for readers (and writers!) of any genre, helping them navigate the fine line between the real and the perceived, between the everyday and the wondrous.
A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape by Matt Donovan
Donovan pursues the image of the cloud throughout fourteen spellbinding essays on ruin and redemption, exploring the flawless connections between antiquity and the present, personal experience and historical events, architecture and art and literature. The redemptive power of beauty hovers over this spectacular work, reminding us that darkness and light make an inextricable pattern in our lives and form the delicate balance of what ultimately makes life worthwhile, what gives meaning to the sorrow and joy of being human.
Delayed Legacy by Conrad Netting
This nationally acclaimed account of a son’s search for his father’s legacy is now available in paperback. When the infant Conrad Netting received his late father’s Air Medal in a military ceremony in February 1945, it seemed to close the book on yet another tragedy of World War II. But what appeared to be closure was only a pause after Netting dug deeper into his father’s past. The resulting tale is part love story, part wartime thriller, part coming-of-age struggle, and, above all, a compelling real-life reminder that the human story is not over when a war ends.