The best books I read in 2020

Fiction: On Earth Were Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Non-fiction: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf, The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Poetry: Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Lava Beds National Monument

At the deepest point of Heppe Ice Cave, there’s a pool of water that stays partially frozen throughout the year. When I hiked down into the cave last week, the layer of ice was visible about a foot under the water’s surface. I stood in twilight at high noon. A house finch flew down from the mouth of the cave and landed by my feet. He didn’t seem to mind me, just drank leisurely from the pool. I waited him out— watched him flutter and disappear back into the light.

Heppe Ice Cave

The Monument is 46,000 acres without a drop of surface water— only what snowmelt collects at the bottoms of lava tubes. A ranger told me that over the phone while I was planning the trip. I imagined an inhospitable landscape not capable of supporting human life, but I was terribly wrong.

Pictographs at Symbol Bridge

I didn’t take Tule Lake into consideration. Just north of the Monument, Tule Lake was massive before the Bureau of Reclamation drained most of it for irrigation in the early twentieth century. Tule Lake sustained Native populations for the last 11,000 years.

Sagebrush Mariposa Lily (Calochortus macrocarpus)

The north half of the Monument, closest to Tule Lake, was the site of the Modoc War of 1872-1873. At Captain Jack’s Stonghold, one can walk through the series of lava formations that Modoc leader Kintpuash and sixty followers used as trenches and fortification for five months. Despite their small numbers, they held off hundreds of US Army soldiers in a last-ditch attempt to protect their homeland. As a Jew, I was reminded of Masada.

Schonchin Butte Fire Lookout

Intent on catching the full moon rising, I hiked Schonchin Butte at sunset. It didn’t occur to me that it was the Fourth of July until I saw the miniature fireworks way out on the horizon. It was a terribly sad thing to see those fireworks over the battlefields, knowing that Kintpuash was ultimately hanged and the survivors were packed in cattle cars and shipped to a reservation Oklahoma.

There’s so much more to grapple with than the walls of caves.

The daily dilemma

The Buddha practiced walking meditation on the banks of the Neranjara River. That muddy water is just an out of focus memory now—years since I forded the warm, shallow river by foot on my little pilgrimage to the Mahakala Caves. These days I practice on the banks of the Truckee River, which is cold and clear and far away as can be.

There’s a path through a patch of wild roses that I like to pace. No flowers this time of year, but a good path— well worn— between two ponderosa pines.

My foot rocks from heel to toe in a slow arc. Sun on the front of my legs, the back of my legs are cold. Sun on the back of my legs, the front of my legs are cold.

I tell myself, “when walking just walk,” but I was raised by devoted birdwatchers.

It’s always something. I hear a red-tailed hawk cry above me and try not to look up. Try not to look for her shadow either. I hear a jay and try to discern—scrub or Steller’s? Twenty steps, turn, twenty steps, turn.

Mid-turn I glance up, and my eye catches on two mergansers swimming upstream. Their heads are below the surface, scanning for something good to eat. They are joined by a third, and overhearing the little barks of their private conversation gives me a thrill.

How can it be enough to make the mental note, “hearing?” How can I resist running upstream with them? I need to know what else they might have to say.  

The best books I read in 2019

Fiction: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem

Non-fiction: Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande; Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer; White Trash: The-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

Poetry: Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman

In the wake of an editorial error

This summer Peregrine accepted my poem “How I will explain the rape to my daughter” for publication. This fall they printed Issue XXXIII without sending proofs for contributors to look over. They made two errors in the formatting of my poem, interrupting the consistency and distracting from the power of the last line. I was heartbroken and embarrassed to share the piece, but not sharing wasn’t an option. It means so much to have the poem out in the world where other survivors of trauma can read it. I want to share the properly formatted version here:

The mistakes made by the editors of Peregrine pressed me to closely examine and consider that last line of the poem. Before submitting the poem in January of 2019, I had made a quick but significant edit to the last line. The intention was to make the poem more emotionally accessible, but in retrospect, I think I did myself a disservice. This is the poem with the original and perhaps more honest last line:

The tortuous and confusing truth of the matter is that in my years of healing, I never tried to unlearn my love for the man who hurt me. It’s not an easy thing to admit, even to myself. But it’s much more complex than any of that. So I want to have this version out in the world too, for those of you that might understand.

Climate Anxiety and the Strike

Fastidiously organizing our recycling, schlepping reusable shopping bags, carpooling, eating less meat— it’s not enough. It’s tremendously important, but it’s not enough. 


Facing that fact is so daunting that it sends many of us into a sort of paralyzing climate anxiety. We’re scared that we’re powerless, we’re scared that it’s too late. We try not to think about whether or not we ought to have children— the droughts and food shortages they might have to endure. We push the nightmarish visions out of our minds and try to carry on. 


I’m happy to say that some of that anxiety was alleviated for me this week thanks to the Climate Strike. Even in this outpost of the American West, I’m surrounded by people who want to protect this earth as much as I do. And then reading the news and seeing the crowds in New York, Hamburg, and Melbourne. Relief washed over me. Millions and millions of people standing up to save what we all have in common— our home. We have the numbers to induce systematic change on a global scale. Saving our planet is possible. 


That being said, it’s still a choice that we all have to make on a personal level— something new to add to our daily regimen of eco-habits. We need to pressure government organizations and corporations into regulating emissions and divesting from fossil fuels. We need to reach out to our representatives. Remind them that their job is to serve us. Meet your city officials. Instigate change on a local level. Vote for the planet. Set an example for your family and friends.


Climate anxiety, like any anxiety, can be incapacitating. Climate anxiety, like any anxiety, can also be overcome.

Climate Strike in Reno, NV on September 20, 2019. Photo by Clinton Collins.