A Farewell to Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin died Tuesday. I loved her work and am endlessly grateful that she shared it with us.

Jason Kehe wrote this week in Wired:

“The fiction we now call ‘speculative’ derives its power from freedom: freedom from the present, from its norms, its oppressions. Le Guin exploited that freedom and made it her ultimate theme.”

Kehe wrote that LeGuin had “The Sight,” and that her speech at the National Book Awards in 2014 showed it.

In the interest of  sharing that speech, I am posting the transcript (thanks to the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction). For those of you who want to hear it, the video follows.  It’s a short speech, but it still resonates today.

My favorite quote from the speech is this one: “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” And she goes on to remind us that “resistance and change often begin in art.”

TRANSCRIPT: Ursula K. LeGuin, National Book Awards, 2014:

Thank you, Neil [Gaiman, who introduced her], and to the givers of this beautiful award, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful awards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. [ad-lib response to audience:] Thank you, brave applauders.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an eBook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us—the producers who write the books, and make the books—accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. [ad-lib response to audience:] Well, I love you too, darling.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit.

Its name is freedom.

Thank you.

Thank you, Ursula K. LeGuin.

Sort of a Quiet Summer

It’s been sort of a quiet summer here. The roads were all torn up, the university students were gone, and football season was over. Now it’s September, and that’s all changed. Except the roads. They are still all torn up.

I kept meaning to blog, but my travel plans kept changing. Work has been busy as well, which means that after a long day spent staring at a computer for work, the last thing I wanted to do was sit and stare at another computer to blog. Turtlecam took a break, as the backyard turtle scene has been quiet, with only one regular visitor this summer.

He (or she!) is a cutie, though!

Here is what happened, trip-wise.

Originally I was signed up for two bicycling trips: one in June, to Italy, and the second in October, in New England. The Italy trip was cancelled because of earthquake damage, and the second trip didn’t make. I went ahead and signed up for an end-to-end trip through Portugal to replace the New England trip, and settled in for meeting some big work deadlines at the end of June.

Then I got an email from a friend who, along with her husband, crews on yachts. The boat they were working on was in Bermuda for the American’s Cup, and they needed a fourth crew member in July to help sail the boat from Bermuda to St. Martin. Did I want to join them?

Of course I did. Not only are they two of my favorite people on the planet, but how could I turn down visiting Bermuda and sailing along the Bermuda Triangle to St. Martin? I withdrew from the Portugal trip and bought my ticket to Bermuda.

And that trip was great. I didn’t blog it because WIFI can be sketchy on board, and you definitely don’t get it out in the Atlantic Ocean. But I will be writing a few posts about the trip in the next couple of weeks to make up for that.

The other distraction this summer is an obsession I’ve developed with a particular yarn—Malabrigo Rasta—and turning said yarn into beanies. The yarn is super chunky, super soft, warm, and a dream to knit with. It is also hand-dyed in batches of five. This makes the colorways unique and always lovely. You never make the same beanie twice, even if you use the same colorway.

Here’s an example with one of my favorite colorways, Arco Iris.

This is one of the first beanies I made, and I made it for myself. When friends kept grabbing it off my head and putting it on their own, I decided to make more. I considered making a beanie in every colorway, but there are 46 of them, and the yarn is pricey. So I settled on 30 beanies, and have been knitting away on them ever since.

This beanie is Beanie No. 21 in that series…and the same colorway, Arco Iris, as the beanie above.

Wild, isn’t it?! Such variation is great for making a single item from one skein, but not so good if you want to make something that requires several skeins.

I also learned how to make fingerless gloves this summer—here is my friend Carolyn modeling the pair I made for her.

It made me very happy that she put them on as soon as I gave them to her, and was still wearing them when I left. In Oklahoma, at the end of summer! Hopefully it will get cold enough this winter for them to be useful.

That’s my quiet summer. More on Bermuda, the passage, St. Martin, and the beanies in future posts. Hope you all had a relaxing Labor Day weekend!

First Turtle

Today marks the occasion of the first turtle spotted in my yard this year.

Let’s see…last year, the first sighting was also in April, so it is turtle time! Today’s sighting was a déjà vu all over again moment, as the turtle was at my back gate, trying to dig its way under. Rather than build a wall, I let it in.

I think this is the same turtle I posted about late last fall, judging from the battered shell and the spot of red on its neck.

And the timidity. Whenever I moved the camera, the head ducked back inside the shell. Here is a shot of the late-season visitor from last year:

What do you think? Same turtle? I think it is–look at the white markings on the shell, and the pointy edge of the shell by its tail. Which means that somehow, it got out of my backyard, in spite of the chainlink fence…and found its way back to my gate this spring. Interesting!

Turtles seem to have really good memories, and don’t need global positioning systems or cell phones to find the places where they want to go.

Time for me to keep my eyes peeled for more turtles, and start stocking up on fresh strawberries!

Why I Marched

People keep asking me why I marched in the Women’s March in Oklahoma City on January 21, 2017. This question always takes me by surprise, as the answer is obvious to me.

I marched because Trump is wrong.  I marched because I wanted to stand up and be counted with the millions of others who also think he is wrong.

It’s that simple.

Sure, there are people who support Trump. They whine and complain about protesters as if people marching with signs are un-American, as if they don’t live in a country where the very first amendment to the Constitution was the right to free speech. They are fine with that right being taken away, fine with Trump calling free speech “foolish,” fine with protesters being arrested for the mere act of protesting.

Like I said: wrong.

Many of the people who have asked me why I marched asked it as if I should be ashamed. They think protesters should “just shut up and accept it”—as if doing so is a good thing, as if uncritical acceptance of the status quo isn’t the very thing that makes tyranny possible.

Not to mention that if women throughout history had simply shut up and accepted it, we’d still be stuck in the 1870s, when “ … women could not own property, could not sign contracts, could not vote, file law suits, nor have their own money. Under their father’s roof, he had control and that control was passed to her husband upon marriage. A woman running away from violent domestic abuse was hunted down by the law and returned to her husband as she was his property.

Maybe some women want to return to those days. Either that, or they are so ignorant of their own history that they do not know that the rights they enjoy today had to be fought for–and that women marched in the streets to win them. Then, as now, men—and some women—belittled those who dared to march. That sorry tradition continues: the worldwide marches on January 21st scared some men so badly that they resorted to the oldest tried-and-true method men use to diminish women: they called us fat.

Seriously? The supporters of Trump, who is himself a singularly unattractive individual, wrote off the concerns of millions of people united in protest by dismissing them as “fat.”


Then there was this Facebook status posted by a city councilor in Carlsbad, New Mexico, who is obviously unable to stand the idea of women as anything other than slaves to men:

To which I say…

So I am proud to have marched. I’m proud to have stood up against sexist attitudes towards women–attitudes, I might add, the president shares. I’m proud to stand against state legislators who propose legislation based on the premises that pregnant women are nothing but “hosts” with no rights of their own, that doctors have the right to withhold the status of a fetus from pregnant women, and that rape and incest are “the will of God.

I have no desire to return to the legal status of women in the 1870s. Call me progressive: I want society to move forward, not backward. I want a world in which my nieces won’t have to  protest this same old shit.

That’s why I marched.

Death Valley Day 5: Up, Out, and Partings

The last day of a bicycle tour is always a bit harried and sad–so many partings, and so much to do. Plus it is a return to the non-vacationing reality. But first, a bike ride!

What goes down into Death Valley must come up to depart. Our ride out covered 19 miles of steady, gradual climbing up to 3,000 feet. This is at the turn-out to Zabriski Point and our last long look back into the valley.


We all stopped and walked up to the Zabriski Point viewing area–looking out over badlands and the valley, it was a fitting goodbye to the park.



Badlands…I would love to see this when it is raining and water is rushing through the carved channels.


Once we left Zabriski Point, we continued climbing through more badlands.


For the readers who enjoyed the 20-mule team details, here is another: a canyon named for the mule teams.


Our next pull-out was at around 2,000 feet. A lone raven came to see us off–and guard the pit toilets, apparently!


Farther along the road…



Finally, 3,000 feet! It was much cooler up here, and windy, making for more comfortable riding. I had a flat tire, the only one of the entire trip, up here. Fortunately, I was within sight of the van, and the whole thing was dealt with expeditiously.


Which meant I was in good shape for the next stage, a 10-mile descent down to Amargosa. It was also gradual, so we pedaled the whole way down. We met a group of self-supported riders, two from Belgium and one from England. They are headed for Tierra del Fuego and have already been on the road several months. We filled up their water bottles and pressed cookies and energy bars on them, as we no longer needed them. Here is the descent…


Our final stop was the Amargosa Cafe, which I highly recommend!


Out in the middle of nowhere, I got to have this for lunch:



Then it was back to Las Vegas by shuttle, and many partings at the airport. The 15 of us are now scattered to the winds, and I am looking forward to being on my way! Until the next trip…

Death Valley Day 4: Badwater

Today we actually got to start early, while the morning was still cool. Our destination was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. How low is it? 282 feet below sea level.

But before we got there…we had to ride 18 miles! This picture shows why it is a good idea to ride with a tour company in Death Valley. The van meets us at various points along the route, plying us with water, chocolate, and any other snacks necessary for our continued survival.


With the morning light, I got some nice shots back along the way we came.


Most of the route took us along the side of a long valley. The mountains on the other side are the Panamints.



We rode by the turnoff for the Devil’s Golf Course–if nothing else, this trip has made me want to come back to Death Valley and rent a jeep to explore some of the off-road attractions like this one!


And here is Badwater Basin–that was quick! Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at over 11,000 feet, is off to the left.


You can walk out on the salt flats and get a sense of the immensity of it all.


And if you look back at the cliffs behind you, the park service has placed a sign reading “sea level” about halfway up to give you an idea of just how far below it you are here. It’s that white blob about midway up the cliff!


And for those inquiring minds who want to know, the park service has also provided this:


Our guides said it is supposed to cool down next week. Damn, just missed that! We didn’t linger at the basin, because in the best tradition of cyclists bent on kicking their own asses, several of us opted to ride the Artist’s Loop on the way back to Furnace Creek. The loop starts with a three-mile climb at an approximately 15% slope. And by then, it was HOT.

Going up…17-climbing

And looking back behind, as I am prone to do…We aren’t even to the top yet.


But we did reach the top, and the van was there with water. Then the fun began, with dips and curves and colored cliffs all around us.



Some of the cliffs reminded me of ice cream (maybe it was the heat…), and I thought of the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” song. This is not really a hobo’s paradise though….


After one more brutal climb, we got to descend all the way back down to the floor of the valley.


If you squint at the picture below, you can see the van waiting loyally down by the main road at the bottom of the final descent. My hands were sore after the descent, because it was narrow and curvy and steep, so I feathered the brakes the whole way down.


After the van, there were only five more miles to ride to get back to the ranch. But boy, were those hard miles. It was hot and I was done. I kept my mind on the pool and rode, but still saw some awesome cliffs that I missed in the morning. And look at that ribbon of road! Really, the cycling here is amazing.


Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. It starts with a 3,000-foot climb over 19 miles, which should be pretty sweet. Especially if we can start before it gets too hot!!

Death Valley Day 3: In Pursuit of Magic

This morning began with universal dismay and disbelief over the results of the election. As Trump himself has said, “The system…is rigged.” So I was happy to see the graffito I spotted on the back of the sign at the trailhead for Mosaic Canyon:


Yes. A much better pursuit than bumming out about a moron occupying the White House.

We pursued that magic first with a hike up Mosaic Canyon. This canyon is narrow and twisty at the beginning…


But opens up the farther up-canyon you go.


The rock was the good part–slick and smooth in some places…mc-rock

And boulders of breccia in others.


Once we finished our hike, we took off by bicycle for a quick 25-mile ride from Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek. For me, bicycling is always magic!


Along the way, we passed these salt flats…


And visited the Harmony Borax Works site, which mined the salt flats for borax in the late 1880s. If you’ve heard of 20-mule teams, this is where it comes from–they pulled the double wagons of borax out of Death Valley.


Check out the brakes on the wagon:


And here is all that remains of a worker’s dwelling.borax-housing

Our next stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center, where we learned just how hot it was when we rode in…and how low we were: 190′ below sea level.


The visitor’s center boasts the official dark sky park plaque. We went to a “Death Valley by Moonlight” presentation later, and explored the magic of the night sky in the desert–and saw three shooting stars and our moon shadows.


Furnace Creek is much bigger and busier than Stovepipe Wells. It even boasts its own post office.


But for us, the big attraction was a warm spring-fed pool, where we all ended up after our arrival at Furnace Creek Ranch.


In the desert, the biggest magic is water.