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Happy Birthday, Gary Snyder….

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 11.23.37 AMI first encountered Gary Snyder’s writing in the summer of 2001.  I was living on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, waitressing and hiking and wondering about love, writing in my journal and scrambling across meadows and drinking beers around campfires.  I’d just graduated from the Evergreen State College and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. I had a milk crate full of used books I’d picked up at Orca Books on my way out of Olympia, and in one of them (Ann Charters’ Portable Beat Reader) I encountered Snyder.

I was enamored of the Beats, of their spontaneous prose and their resistance to convention and their love of travel, jazz, and Buddhism, but I was bothered by the currents of privilege and chauvinism that ran through so much of the Beat canon.  Snyder was a revelation to me. From what I could tell he came from a West Coast working class family with Wobbly roots, he knew the rural, he gloried in folklore, he embraced discipline, he seemed to have a  far more respectful attitude toward women in his life then so many of his contemporaries. And, most thrilling of all, he wrote about the places I loved.  He was a poet of the North Cascades, of Old Highway 99, of the Upper Skagit, of the Pacific Rim.

On a trip off-mountain I picked up his Collected Works in a bookshop in Eugene and spent the rest of the summer pouring over his essays, translations, poems and letters.  Looking back over those pages today, 14 years later, I can see in my emphatic underlinings and euphoric margin-notes something of a map, a map of a philosophy and a poetic style and a way of living that made sense to me, a map I would carry with me into all of my subsequent wanderings.

Mid August at Sourdough Lookout

Down Valley a smoke haze

Three days heat, after five days rain

Pitch glows on the fir-cones

Across rocks and meadows

Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read

A few friends, but they are in cities,

Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup

Looking down for miles

Through high still air.

His poems delighted me with their crispness, their vivid detail, their reverence for the ordinary, the wild, the human. His essays informed my emerging philosophy about environmental politics and the significance of human stories of place.

I followed the map I’d etched out across his Collected Works to the North Cascades Institute, where I volunteered for the adult education program, helping with administrative tasks for weekend programs on nature poetry, ecology, watercoloring, raptor identification, and a host of other themes. I followed the map further still, to Utah, where I set out to twine together folklore, history, and environmental studies into a body of research and writing that ten years later, became my first book.

In 2004, at the outset of my graduate studies in Utah, I wrote Snyder letter of thanks, and had a friend deliver it to him at a reading in Bellingham. She made me a recording of his reading, and I played it in my apartment, cooking dinner in the Utah evening, nose full of the smell of sauteed onions.  Several months later, I discovered a message from him in my inbox.


Dear Sarah

Looking around my piled up papers in the library/barn I came again on your note from the Cache Valley, Utah State—I used to know it well—when Tom Lyon taught there and edited Western American Literature.  I love the story of what you’ve been doing.  Bless you, and be well and be wild in your work.


Today he is 85. I think I’ll mail him a copy of my book for a birthday present.



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Living Wage and Tip Culture Evolution

Link to a good article about the evolution of tip culture and living wages in Seattle. In which Overeducated Waitress gets a lil mention. 😉 More to come on this subject from me soon.

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5 AMpWed, 02 Apr 2014 08:56:51 +000056Wednesday 2009 · 8:56 am

Josie B

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

Josie B,
Josie B.
how many shifts has it been
how many married ketchups and quiet moments of sadness
how many big trays
how many tickets stabbed
how many laughs that we drank down like water
to sustain us
how many slights
how many sweetnesses
have we shared
in the last five years

This past Sunday,
you folded your apron neatly
rolled it up
and slid it across the table.
i’ll take it for now,
i said
but someday i’m gonna follow you out

Out into the uncertain world of
the Good Work
we went to school for

you are setting out to do art
with people who have been discarded
people who struggle to make peace with their own minds
people who battle addiction and incredible pain
you are frightened, and justifiably so,
and you are brilliant, and ready
and so very loved.


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September 11, 11 years on.

Overeducated Waitress

I still remember the first time I heard him say that, eight years ago this month, September 20, 2001. I heard the audio clip again today, sampled at the end of a hiphop track, and it gave me chills.

There was the America I lived in before he said that, and there was the America I lived in after. I am still trying to figure out what changed.

journal, 10 September, 2001. day off today, decent weather. decided to have a try at making the hike-climb to Camp Muir. Left Guidehouse around 10:45 or so and began trudging up the cement trails to Pebble Creek. Around Panorama point, I reflect on an orderpad (brought along cuz its lighter than the journal) “the breezes coming off the mountain are cold from the glaciers, and sweep away everything that lingers.” felt an incredible sense of peace and singleness of purpose as…

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no new words lately, but sometimes old ones need to be said again.

Overeducated Waitress

(sum spontaneous prose dedicated to every woman
who ever got the water of postpartum depression
up her nose)

while scrubbing the stovetop again with the baby strapped to my chest
it occurs to me:
June Cleaver kept vodka in the laundry room for the same reason I keep abandoning the dishes to go
stare numbly at the garden, hoping for a ripe tomato or
significant growth in the winter greens.
we labor at the same tasks
and there is no appreciable result
no skyscrapers
no accolades
no quarterly reports
no published works
only a maintaining of socially prescribed norms

thou shalt have a clean stovetop
thou shalt have a healthy, well-fed happy offspring
within the prescribed percentiles of height and weight
and neuronal development
thou shalt have a full cupboard of sterilized breast pump parts
and clean laundry in which to clothe your kid, daily
thou shalt prepare…

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Moment of Grace

Driving up the hill in the rain, I notice an older couple

emerging from their rundown house

he walks past the broke down cars

and opens a patio umbrella over a rickety table

she follows behind, carrying a tray

with an old fashioned coffee pot

and mugs

and then I have driven past

and I am left with only this

moment of grace

even people with very little money

like to sip hot things in the out of doors

and watch the world go by

while having a bit

of conversation

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