Wild Arts!

Five books
Books purchased at the Wild Arts Festival in Portland, signed in person by the authors.


Litmosphere: 1. the vast domain of the world’s readers and writers 2. a lively literary mood permeating the air ~ sign in Powell’s Books, Portland

Wild Arts FestivalI love the literary scene in Portland. Our Thanksgiving visit there coincided with the annual Wild Arts Festival, a celebration of nature in art and books hosted by the Audubon Society of Portland in the old Montgomery Ward building, now known as Montgomery Park.

Walking into the festival, where hundreds of artists and authors were on hand, was like getting a gigantic embrace from the creative community.

I couldn’t decide among Ursula Le Guin’s many, many science fiction and fantasy books. In the end I chose her translation of Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way, and she graciously signed a copy for me.

Next, we met Robert Michael Pyle, a jolly teddy bear of a man who spent no less than 15 minutes entertaining us with stories about how, in his Honda Civic with 345,000 miles on the odometer, he spent a year searching for as many of the 800 species of American butterflies as he could find. I could have spent hours listening to this man; instead I bought his memoir and travelogue, Mariposa Road, which he signed with, “May these far rambles on bright wings incite your own wild road trips!”

A dedicated ecologist and naturalist, Robert Michael Pyle has written nearly 20 books and is the co-editor of Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings. (The literary genius Vladimir Nabokov was a butterfly expert and had an extensive collection.)

I purchased another of Robert’s memoirs, Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, about Washington’s Willapa Hills, whose forests have been plundered by lumber companies. Robert lives on a farm in Grays River once owned by a Swedish immigrant. I’m descended from Swedes, who were attracted to the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest because it reminded them of home; I’d love to see Willapa country one day. Of course, Robert signed Wintergreen, too, with these words, together with a sketch of a snail: “May these moss murmurs and fern-words honor your own hills of home – and maybe urge you Northwesterly!”

I can’t say enough about Floyd Skloot and Kim Stafford. They are both poets, and they’ve both written memoirs. (Actually, they’ve both written more than one, and I look forward to reading all of them.)

Since I’m writing a memoir myself, I decided to go for the memoirs: In the Shadow of MemoryFloyd Skloot’s first memoir (part neuroscience and part autobiography about a virus that left Skloot disabled and bereft of memories) and 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: My Brother’s Disappearance by Kim Stafford (his brother committed suicide.)

Both of these generous writers spoke with me about their work and asked at great length about mine. Kim wanted to know the working title of my memoir and, when I told him, he gave me a writing assignment to try. As I did the exercise Kim recommended, I discovered that one particular word in the title is especially important to my memoir’s theme. It got me thinking about how I could bring out the theme more vividly as I revise.

The authors I spoke with at the Wild Arts Festival were incredibly kind and gracious. I had instant connections with these generous writers, who are among the best in America today. Don’t be shy at these kinds of events. Writers and artists are the most giving and engaged people you’ll ever meet.

Portland is a book-loving town, and as I walked around the neighborhoods with family, I noticed several Little Free Libraries. It’s also a poetry-loving town, and a couple of the homes I passed by had poems on display – including one by Kim Stafford’s father, the great poet William Stafford.

Slipped inside the Kim Stafford memoir I bought was the gift of a poem that begins, “The only heroic thing is to not be a hero.” I believe Kim borrowed this phrase from a poem by his father, William: “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.”

Kim’s poem is called “A Few Words, Each Day,” and it includes this line: “The only heroic thing is to be a child of four…of fifteen…of forty…of eighty – trying with the heart and mind to listen to the self, each other, and the earth….”

Litmosphere definition sign in Powell's Books
We stopped by Powell’s Books for good measure, where I learned a new word.


Books: Braiding Sweetgrass; Notes from No Man's Land
At Powell’s I bought Eula Biss’s collection of essays and the latest book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatoni Nation.


Northern spotted owl at the Wild Arts Festival
Northern spotted owl at the Wild Arts Festival


Kim Stafford: “That is my story.”



21 thoughts on “Wild Arts!”

  1. There’s a Powell’s Books in Chicago also. That’s quite a haul you came away with! I appreciated what Kim Stafford says in the video at the end. A wise man with a sense of humor.

  2. I loved this post too. Too be immersed in that kind of litmosphere seems so enriching and inspiring. I haven’t read a lot of Le Guin either, but like you, feel the urge to do so. I had never heard of her Tao book and I am intrigued with that, having received so much from my very limited study of Tao. I also really enjoyed Kim Stafford’s talk about the past being our “destiny” and the future as something we create.

    1. I remember you wrote about your study of Tao and that intrigued me. I have a book about writing and Tao that I greatly enjoyed. I was so glad to find this video of Kim Stafford, I found it very enlightening too, listened to it a few times. I believe he offers an online writing class which I may look into in the future.

    1. Wendy, thanks for stopping by, I’ve really been enjoying your site, both your photos and words. I’d rather not say about the title because it’s a phrase from a well-known poem, and the author is, in a very very peripheral way, part of my story. Kim detected some ambivalence on my part as to the title, so he suggested coming up with 30 similar titles. I can’t say that I came up with a more compelling title, but it did highlight for me why I chose this particular poetic phrase. I’m not wedded to the title and realize it may have to change anyway if I’m able to find a publisher. So many people are writing memoirs these days so it was great to be listened to and encouraged.

      On 5 December 2015 at 13:19, Books Can Save A Life wrote:


      1. You are wise not to wed the title. I’ve heard it’s good to have several options, and yet be prepared that none of them may make the final cut. Publishers want books to succeed, so it’s a good idea to heed their advice. I’m also writing a memoir and am using my byline as a working title. But I’ll hold it loosely, unless I end up self-publishing it. 🙂

      2. I don’t know about you but I find writing a memoir occasionally liberating and gratifying, but more often just very difficult. I’m so glad to know another memoir writer. If you ever feel the need to share your writerly experiences, feel free to contact me at my email.

      3. I agree, it’s an emotional roller-coaster ride. But it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever. Here’s a link to a blog I read about memoir. I’ve also read Diane’s how-to book. Let me know if you know of any good how-to blogs. 🙂

  3. I confess I am insanely jealous you met and got an autographed book from Ursula Le Guin! Many of her books decorate my shelves. There were no authors the day I visited Powell’s, but it was a fun experience nonetheless.

    1. Actually, the authors were at a Wild Arts book festival, not at Powell’s – we stopped there on another visit. Anyway, it’s ironic because I’ve read few of her books, I’m not that into science fiction/fantasy, but I have a great deal of admiration for her. She is an amazing person and has given so much to the literary community. And of course she is so…Ursula…instantly recognizable in person.

  4. This is a beautiful post, Valerie. I loved reading about the books you bought and the authors who wrote them (and their fathers). They look like perfect little treasures. I especially like the sound (and look of) Mariposa Road. And, I love the poem by William Stafford. Kim Stafford also sounds like he has a way with words.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s