November 19, 2017

Winged Wonders: Great migrations of sandhill cranes, Horizons, March 2014

With an assist from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, crane populations have rebounded dramatically, though habitat loss and hunting continue to imperil these graceful birds.

Yosemite with Ansel Adams, Press Democrat (Aug. 2015)

With Yosemite preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary (Oct. 1, 2015), my wife and I spent four days there in midsummer seeking new perspectives on the park.

The Art of the Interview, Book Passage, Aug. 2016

Have a script but be spontaneous too: Write questions in a narrative order to give the interview flow, but be spontaneous too. Let new questions be triggered by what the interviewee says.

Avoid judgment. This is crucial. If a subject feels judged in any way, he or she will almost certainly shut down.

Listen! This is one of the most important, most obvious and most overlooked interviewing skills. It’s easy to think about what you’ll ask next, but some of the most illuminating segments of my interviews come from spontaneous interaction. Stay with your subject and follow him or her into unexplored territory. My interview with Pico Iyer is an example of this. As they say in Vegas: “you must be present to win.”

Paul Theroux’s Cape Cod, Inspirato, Summer 2015

I first interviewed Paul Theroux in 2004 for my book, A Sense of Place, a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers. Though some consider him brusque, blunt and — this irritates him the most — curmudgeonly, I found him to be engaging and genuinely interested in me when we met in San Francisco a couple of weeks after the interview. We spoke again in 2015 for this story on Cape Cod and how his adopted home has become so important not just for his personal happiness but for his writing life.

Here’s an excerpt from the story: Theroux said the potential dangers of paddling around the Cape tuned his senses to hazards while traveling abroad. “This complex landscape has taught me ways of measuring the world of risk,” he writes in “The True Size of Cape Cod,” an essay in Fresh Air Fiend. “But the word ‘landscape’ presents a problem on the Cape. I find it hard to separate the land from the water, or the water from the winds.”

In our interview Theroux noted that the “Cape waters, and Nantucket Sound especially, can be dangerous in a small boat – even in a big boat.” The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard in August 1992, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,800 passengers, according to the New York Times, and knocking the ship out of commission for a year.

Sweet home Chicago: Blues, baseball and barbecue, Inspirato, Summer 2015

Sometimes, if you’ve worked with an editor for a while, she approaches you with an assignment. And occasionally she opens the door to your dream story. When my editor at Inspirato suddenly had an opening for a feature and asked me to pitch a story about Chicago, I sent in essence a three-word reply: “Blues, baseball, barbecue.” Ultimately I got the assignmet and wrote about my favorite aspects of the City of Big Shoulders.
Here’s an excerpt from the story: Wrigley Field has been showing its age, but that’s part of its charm, and a new Jumbotron installed this year adds 21st-century technology to the creaky yard. Mark Gonzales, who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune notes that baseball is “deep-rooted” in Chicago and that loyalty is passed down through the generations. “You can always sell hope, and hope remains strong with the Cubs.”
That hope is captured in Norman Rockwell’s 1948 painting The Dugout. It focuses on a slump-shouldered bat boy with dejected Cubs players sitting in the dugout behind him. Above are several jeering fans, but there’s one smiling kid, thrilled just to be at the game. That’s the symbol of the true Cubs fan.

Grateful Dead documentary: North Bay has starring role (May 2015)

“It will come out when it’s ready,” said Kreutzmann, 45, the son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “It would be nice to hit the 50th anniversary, but making a better film is more important.”

Guess who’s slicing your sturgeon, NYC’s ethnic food, Inspirato, Spring 2015

It’s no secret that many of the cooks making New York City’s best ethnic food didn’t grow up eating smoked salmon or corned beef sandwiches. On the upper east side I found two Chinese brothers selling fantastic sturgeon; the guys making the pastrami at Pastrami Queen on Lexington near 78th came from the Guatemalan pueblo of Solola. When I told a chef at Pastrami Queen that I’d been to his hometown, he smiled as if to politely say “yeah, right.” Then I mentioned that Solola’s market days are Tuesday and Friday and that the village near Lake Atitlan is one of the few places in Guatemala where men still wear traditional colorful clothing – his grin widened in recognition.

Patrick Amiot’s magical carousel, Sonoma magazine, July-Aug. 2014

“Let’s do a carousel,” Amiot replied. He just threw it out there. A week later the developer gave the green light, and Amiot began creating a merry-go-round like no other.

Islands magazine: Last of the Moken, June 2014

En route to Thailand last year, I saw a short video about the Moken, a Polynesian who traditionally have drifted among the islands and coasts of Thailand and Burma. Inspired to see them, we found a group that arranged visits and provided a translator, which led to this story in the June 2014 issue of […]

Art collector Jack Leissring: Eyes need to see this stuff

“Every piece I’ve ever purchased is because of an emotional response,” Leissring says, tapping a fist to his heart. “I have some big names, but that’s immaterial to me. This tendency we have to adulate some and ignore others is a tragic flaw.”