Author Archives: DJ Lee

Offline Peace

Sometimes–often, actually–being on screen and connected makes me feel queasy. I found this meme online (ironically!) and use it as a landing page to remind me to turn off and go for a walk.

A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures

My nonfiction essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures” was published by the fantastic Superstition Review.

Marine Algae

Kelp on Kilve Beach, South coast of England

This article on marine algae has a couple of fascinating ideas: oxygen comes from slime; kelp is not a single plant but a group individuals; there are 7,000 species of algae, and they produce 330 billion tons of oxygen per year.


A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures

My nonfiction essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures” was published by the fantastic Superstition Review.

Not Afraid

The photographer Edgar Zippel has produced 100 images of young people from across Europe, including Portugal, Iceland, Italy, Germany, Albania, and England. The portraits are medium close-up. You can see head and torso, with background blurred.

The participants are aged 18-24. They look edgy and unsure, but also full of energy and grit. They are the face of the new Europe, the just-barely adults who will look in the mirror in 20 years having inherited a world. The Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin ran the show in 2014, and now there is a book based on the show.

Catalog cover from Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin

I’m most interested in Zippel’s use of oral history/ethnography along with the photos. I unfortunately couldn’t find much of the ethnography online, but I read in several reviews that he asked each person three questions: What do you want to do? What are you looking forward to? What are you afraid of? To the last question, one of the participants answered, “I’m not afraid of anything!” which became the title of the exhibition and book. The phrase is probably used ironically, but judging from the handful of images online, I’m not so sure. There’s something of optimism in it, too. Actually, the images communicate a lot of hope.

In fact, what I love about the questions is their thrust, their forward momentum. There is no pastness in them (except maybe the question about being afraid). Even though I’m squarely in middle age, I could feel something ignite, a spark of new, when I read the questions. The images themselves capture the now, the pure, momentary presence of these young people.


I’m drawn again and again to Melody Jue‘s talk about kelp, oceans, and how to think like this magical underwater plant. She says that out of every five breaths we take, four of them are thanks to kelp. And she quotes Sylvia Earle: the planet’s lungs are blue.

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Walking and Writing

I just returned from teaching a course with my good friend Karen Houppert for the Johns Hopkins University Summer Craft and Science Writing Conference in Bar Harbor, Maine. We walked in Acadia National Park, along the rugged beaches, and in the labyrinthian gardens, the perfect inspiration for writing about the natural world.

A Poesis of Mourning: Witnessing Loss and Recovery in Non-Human Animals

Me, Aaron Moe, Courtney Kersten, Anna Banks, and Scott Slovic after our panel in Detroit.

On June 23, 2017, I served on a panel at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Conference in Detroit. The conference theme was “Rust and Recovery.” Thanks to my fellow panelists and the amazing questions from the audience.

Panel Chair: Scott Slovic, University of Idaho

Aaron Moe, Saint Mary’s College, Toward a Poetics of Gaia: Biosemiotics and Jody Gladding’s Translations from Bark Beetle

Anna Banks, University of Idaho, Drinkers of the Wind: The Autopoiesis of Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies

Courtney Kersten, University of California, Santa Cruz, Sea Otter Gawking in Monterey Bay: A Hybrid Exploration of Human- Animal Relations

D.J. Lee, Washington State University, Polar Bear Watch


Walking alone in the dark. I headed into town instead of out of town, where I usually go, past the overfull creek, the old railroad ties, the new hospital, and ended at One World Cafe, hardly a soul in the place, but a guitarist was playing something light and soothing. I sipped peppermint tea, listened for a while, then slipped back into the dark, into a cold spring warmed by tea and music.

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Sled Dogs

Sled dogs have their own houses in Ilulissat, Greenland. One day last summer, I walked along the outskirts of town toward the Kangia Icefjord, the stench of urine and matted fur. The puppies run free, while the adult dogs fight against their chains, crying for seal meat, for freedom, for snow, for love. Listen, you can hear them even now.

Letter to America

Letter to America, published in Terrain: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments

Life After Life

My essay “Life After Life” was named finalist for the 7th Annual nonfiction essay contest at The essay was also a finalist for The Offbeat nonfiction contest.

The essay appears, along with a photograph and audio reading, in


Sunshine Road

Bill Chipman Trail

Two bicycles were laying on the Moscow-Pullman bike path near Sunshine Road. I was worried. A black mountain bike, it seemed, had collided with a blue road bike and the two had fallen in a scene of violence. Wheels cranked in odd directions. Seats twisted toward the ground. There’s something tragic about the sight of a bicycle mangled on asphalt. As I rounded the corner, I saw the bikes belonged to a couple. It had been no wreck; the bikes had been placed there on purpose. The couple sat on a cedar bench bolted to the edge of the path, knees bent toward one another. Their helmeted heads touched. Their shoulders seemed welded together. They were squinting at something plucked from the natural world, something green–a blade of grass, maybe, or a flower. As I passed, they looked up and nodded, as if acknowledging my humanity.

Political news has overwhelmed the week. I cherish these small, lovely moments.


She Opened a Space in the Wilderness


Storyteller: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams

Click to read the interview

The Degraded West

Peter Chilson, Liz Stephens, Mary Blew, and me after our panel in Big Sky, Montana at the Western Literature Association Conference.

I organized a panel at the Western Literature Association in Big Sky, Montana. The conference theme was “The Profane West.” Shout out to my fellow panelists whose literary readings I thoroughly enjoyed: Mary Blew, Liz Stephens, and Peter Chilson.

Mary Blew, “Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin”: In my first published novel, Jackalope Dreams, I examined the experiences of a middle-aged woman who was brought up according to the traditions of the Old West (school-of-hard-knocks, taciturnity, self-reliance, masculinity), who values her past but longs for a means of self-expression as she encounters the New West with its transcience and its overlay of glamor and romanticization. In my current novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin, I explore the experiences of a young woman who also longs for a means of self-expression, who knows nothing of the Old West, but has grown up in a degraded West: packaged, oversold, abused, and environmentally exploited.

Liz Stephens, “The Lost Coast: Los Angeles”: My personal essay asks why we continue to move West despite its instability. The 1994 Northridge earthquake only verified something I’d suspected for a long time: the earth was alive, as a body. I found this comforting. That I could not control the earth as a body was absolutely unsurprising, a given. I knew how that worked. Rather than leave, I bought a $500 Chevette. I signed a lease on a dark first-floor Hollywood apartment. One of my roommates stood outside the window of my Silverlake bedroom every morning barefoot in the dew with her waist-length red hair down and waved her cigarette with deliberation as she turned slowly south and east and north and finally west, gesturing to her pan-American gods, offering them smoke to let her start every single day new. This was my introduction to how it was done, Los Angeles style, and I took its possibilities to heart. Just as I wished, time passed full of new starts, with very few middles and no ends at all, and took me with it.

Peter Chilson, “Sahara in the Alpine”: Combining narrative and reportage, my essay explores how globalization has changed the American West in surprising and uncomfortable ways. One recent morning near my hometown of Aspen, Colorado, I was skiing among across miles of forest and meadow near the house where I grew up in the 1970s. Back then, this stretch of land belonged to deer, bear, and coyotes. I recognized the familiar way sunlight tumbled through branches, casting bright, fractured stains on the snow, but there were other things I didn’t recognize. I’d been away for many years and now I found that dozens of new homes had invaded the forest, houses with great picture windows, wraparound decks, hot tubs, and high stone walls. Then, I rounded a corner near one of these huge houses and heard voices speaking in Bambara, a language of West Africa, where I’ve traveled and worked over two decades as a reporter and Peace Corps volunteer. I stopped, peering through the trees, about to meet a side of the American West about which I was shamefully ignorant.

DJ Lee, “Life After Life”: My creative nonfiction essay weaves my experience of watching the full blood moon lunar eclipse on September 27, 2016, with accounts of near-death from the eighteenth-century to the present day, as well as with the catastrophic forest fires that scorched the West in 2016. The essay takes the form of a walk down the Latah Trail in Moscow, Idaho, where I met a stranger who was also on the trail to see the eclipse. He told me about the time he had died and rode his motorcycle into heaven and was later revived by doctors. His near-death account matched other accounts I had been fascinated with since I was ten years old, including that of my great grandmother. Because he told me his story in the shadowy atmosphere of the lunar eclipse and the extreme forest fires burning all around our town, I began to think about how near death our planet was and what life after might be like.

Literature, Science, and Exploration

"Literature, Science and Exploration," Cambridge 2004.
Literature, Science and Exploration,” Cambridge 2004, 2007.

In 1768, Captain James Cook made the most important scientific voyage of the eighteenth century. He was not alone: scores of explorers like Cook, travelling in the name of science, brought new worlds and new peoples within the horizon of European knowledge for the first time. Their discoveries changed the course of science. Old scientific disciplines, such as astronomy and botany, were transformed; new ones, like craniology and comparative anatomy, were brought into being. Scientific disciplines, in turn, pushed literature of the period towards new subjects, forms and styles. Works as diverse as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Wordsworth’s Excursion responded to the explorers’ and scientists’ latest discoveries. This wide-ranging and well-illustrated study shows how literary Romanticism arose partly in response to science’s appropriation of explorers’ encounters with foreign people and places and how it, in turn, changed the profile of science and exploration. This book, co-written with Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson and published by Cambridge University Press, looks at the intricate network of forces that shaped literature and science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Read a review in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Ponies of Caldbeck Commons

This is a story about the Lake District, England.

Ponies of Caldbeck Commons was published this Fall in Newfound


Public Humanities Lecture

“I don’t know where it comes from, but I like to listen to people who have been sidelined for one reason or another, because when they start to talk they tell you things you won’t hear from anyone else.” Those are words were spoken by the author W.G. Sebald. What tools do we use to find and then understand these sidelined stories and hidden voices? My talk public humanities talk featured the words of slaves buried deep in British parliamentary papers, those of of poor, illiterate single mothers tucked into the Foundling Hospital archives in London, as well as the stories of some 50 people I interviewed as part of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness History Project, people who lived close to the land and knew how to listen to and translate the language of plants, animals, and the entire wilderness ecosystem. The talk emphasized the value of research that engages with not only literary and historical texts, but also communities and local environments.

Plenary Panel, Writers of the Palouse

On Friday, June 26th 2015, celebrated writers from the University of Idaho and others gathered at the Kentworthy Performing Arts Centre in downtown Moscow Idaho for a literary celebration and conversation about the inland Northwest: oil, soil, rivers, mountains, lentils, and more.

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