Make Way

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Make Way

By Damian Koshnick


We are surprised when the coyote

swiftly limps down a city street,

only to settle into the open cooler of a coffee shop

beside cans of soda and bottled water to

cool off and ice an injured leg.


Cities are an odd nature the coyote must feel,

a dangerous nature which grumbles in unlikely ways,

and swarms and honks, with staring, upright animals

that yell between very tall, oddly placed hills.


Or, we are amazed by the leggy-moose that lifts itself up

out of the river’s original thoroughfare that winds through town.

This kind of event makes us think we should call someone,

that surely there is a department for other animals that

places moose back where they ought to be.


Or there is that moment when we might see a mother duck,

who leads her procession of small ducklings through a crosswalk.

That awakens a deep instinct in us; it may even change the course of our day.

We might follow them for blocks, between houses, and we might even stop traffic,

to see that others make way for these creatures,

like visiting dignitaries that we live near, but know so little about.


Workplace Literacy: A Short Questionnaire (Under Revision)

Workplace Literacy: A Short Questionnaire (Under Revision)

My question is, is it possible to create a “fun” and short set of questions that can also offer useful glimpses into a professional’s workplace literacy experiences? The goal is to create a short, approachable list of questions that professionals, across many different fields, wouldn’t mind answering.

That is my goal here with the following list of questions that I am currently working to improve and revise. Suggestions and revisions are welcomed in the comments section. See the current draft of the questionnaire below.

The “Turkel” questionnaire: Tell us a bit about you and your workplace

Studs Turkel is well known for offering glimpses into the lives, thoughts, and beliefs of working people. In even more playful formats, Vanity Fair has the “Proust questionnaire”. And “Inside Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton is well known for asking famous actors Bernard Pivot’s list of questions. This is a list of questions asked in a similar spirit –for fun, but also to give us some insight about you and your craft.

We are, of course, not as famous as actors on the “Actor’s Studio,” nor do we have a crowd of adoring fans as fascinated with our answers; still, we want to know: Who are you? What do you do? And what, briefly, is involved in the work that you do?

With this in mind, please take a few minutes and address the following prompts in as much detail as you want.


I. Tell us a bit about you:

Briefly, who are you?

What do you do for a living and where do you work?

Of your daily responsibilities, which are the most interesting, or most regularly annoying?

What are the prominent, or interesting features of your workspace(s)?

II. Tell us a bit about your workplace:

1. What is your favorite word in your workplace (or profession)?

2. What is your least favorite word in your workplace (or profession)?

3. Are there an unusual phrases, or terms that you are likely to hear only at your workplace?

4. What are some common mistakes that others make?

5. What technology is most important for your work?

6. What does this technology help you do?

7. What are the most important sources of information at your job?

8. Do you have any “tricks” for finding, or managing information at your job?

9. What from your past prepared you most for the job you have?

10. If you had a minute to advise someone just entering your workplace, what do they need to know about writing, or the process of writing to succeed?

Thank you!

Prompting Students to Introduce Themselves by Documenting Their Writing Workspaces

As teachers, we are always looking for new ways for students to introduce themselves. Most of my professional and technical writing courses incorporate social constructionist perspectives. Now, when I begin my courses, I ask students to introduce themselves by documenting and describing their workspaces (and places). This allows them to start the course by describing something with which they are familiar, but also prepares them to think about writing in terms of a situated activity.

In what follows:


I. First I have archived some examples (from students that have cleared me to post them).


II. And second, I have shared a basic version of this assignment.




1. Alex Adrian, Online English Teacher for Scottsdale Unified School District

 Alex -Snapshot 1

My name is Alex Adrian.  I am the Lead Online English Teacher for Scottsdale Unified School District’s eLearning and SOL programs. 


My workspace is very special to me because I spend more time at this desk than I do in my bed. I am seated at this desk for hours upon hours every day, so I needed to make the area not feel like a work desk. The pictures and other small pieces allow me to lean back in my chair and forget about work for a few minutes a day and just reminisce about great memories. It may look to some like a clustered mess, but this is what I like to call my organizational mess. It takes others minutes to find something on my desk that takes me seconds to find.


2. Dennis Mitchell, Institutional Research Analyst and Adjunct Faculty at Mesa Community College

Dennis M. -Snapshot 2 

My name is Dennis Mitchell, and I write in a few distinct work and academic roles: in my full-time employment as “Institutional Research Analyst” at Mesa Community College (MCC); as a part-time English composition adjunct faculty at the same college; and as a graduate English Rhetoric and Composition Student, currently at Northern Arizona University.


The top left and bottom pictures of my mashup capture my office at MCC. I spend the vast majority of my workdays starring at the two monolithic monitors hanging above my desk; a picture of a favorite place (Chase Field) and other trinkets help the office feel more comfortable. The two monitors help display many data sets and reports at once to assist in the creation of my own work-related texts. Interruptions emanate from my email inbox, coworkers, boss and uncomfortable office temperature, and I occupy this workspace during a typical weekday schedule. While this office is primarily used to construct work-related texts, I do use this workspace to compose faculty-related or student-related texts during breaks or after business hours.


My home desk occupies the top right of my mashup image: one monitor with stacks and shelves of papers, books and baseball memorabilia. Creating texts in this environment faces distractions from my dogs (a chubby Chihuahua and a black lab mix), my significant other, household tasks, the TV in the nearby living room or noises outside.


3. Ramon Lira, Academic Advisor and ESL Adjunct Instructor at Phoenix College

 Ramon -Snapshot 3

My name is Ramon Lira. I work as an academic advisor and ESL adjunct instructor at Phoenix College. I’m currently taking additional English courses through NAU to be eligible to teach other areas such as composition and creative writing.


My workspace is a desk in a spare bedroom, which I share with my wife. The desk is simple, with only “useful” clutter such as paper, pens, a small lamp and computer equipment. To the right is my collection of some interesting things I’ve collected over the years, such as a paper mache replica of a mummy and a Michael Jackson skeleton figurine, both of which I picked up while visiting my wife’s hometown in Mexico. 


One thing about this space that makes it special to me is that this is where I wrote “English Speech Production in Insects,” which won the grand prize in this year’s NAU humorous writing contest. The winning entries should be posted soon at:


4. Anthony Garcia, Higher Education at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University

 Anthony -Snapshot 4

My name is Anthony Garcia and this is my first semester at NAU in the graduate professional writing certificate. I currently work in both the public school and higher education settings teaching English. This fall I will be transitioning exclusively to teaching in the higher education setting at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University, in the Norfolk/ Virginia Beach area.


The picture of my work area is necessarily basic, but arguably complex. This is my work environment in the public school that I teach in. The work area is extremely basic where only the humming of the HVAC system keeps me amused. I do not favor a generic work environment for getting most of my writing done. Instead, I prefer the white noise of coffee shops, kids playing in a pool, or the waves rolling onto the shore. For this reason, I’m returning to higher education in the fall where writing, grading, and conferencing with students offers more flexibility. 


5. Kevin Boyd, Graduate Student at Northern Arizona University

 Kevin -Snapshot 5

My name is Kevin Boyd and I am a student at Northern Arizona University in the MA in English program. My workspace for my studies consists of a desk in my bedroom with a computer hooked up to a forty inch television as a monitor. When I am alone, it is a perfect setup to write and complete schoolwork.  The large monitor allows me to write on one side of the screen and have another document or website on the other side for quick reference.


Unfortunately, I also have to share my workspace with a four-legged friend. My cat’s food is also on top of the desk. The desk is the only safe place we have been able to find where our dog is unable to get into his food. Sometimes when I am working the cat comes up to eat, paws at the monitor, or tries to rest his head on my hand that should be typing.


6. Selina Reid, University Staff Position at Arizona State University

 Selina -Snapshot 6

My name is Selina Reid, and I am in the Rhetoric and Teaching Writing (RTW) program with NAU. This is my first semester as a graduate student, although graduate school is my area of expertise. I currently hold a staff position at Arizona State University in the Graduate College, where I’m a jack-of-all-trades, helping students, applicants and academic units go from application to graduation. I specialize in dealing with international students, international transcripts review, and I issue I-20 documents which allow international students to apply to get their student visas and study in the United States.

My workspace differs according to what tasks I need to accomplish. Much of my reading is done while walking on my treadmill. You can see my makeshift foam and duct tape “desk” that I rest my books on. I studied and read throughout my undergraduate career this way and I am convinced that walking and reading makes me learn more efficiently.


The big, brown chair is the latest addition to my reading and studying workspace. This chair is only for lazy, non-serious reading and writing. This is not a schoolwork chair.


The kitchen table is the best workspace for writing and doing school assignments. I like being next to the kitchen and family room while I work, but sitting at the table forces me to get down to business, unlike the comfy chair.


7. Steven Seamons, Associate at W.L. Gore & Associates

Steven S. -Snapshot 7 

Since I am not permitted to take a picture of my workspace at Gore, you get to see my workspace at home. My name is Steven Seamons. I am an associate at W.L. Gore & Associates, and I attend NAU.


At this workspace I am a father of 4 (2 girls and 2 boys) all under the age of 8, and it is very hard to find a free minute, or at least quite free minute.


For this assignment you get a glimpse of this workspace in all of its glory. On closer inspection you can see we have a lot of coats. We live in the mountains and we are always in need of an extra layer, my workspace is also the coldest spot in the house. I have to wear socks so my feet don’t turn into ice. This workspace is most commonly used for storage of bottles, crayons, children’s art, and supplies for runny noses.


8. Kathryn Johnson, Graduate Student Northern Arizona University, Mother, Business Owner

 Kathryn -Snapshot 8

My undergraduate self of 8 years ago would be shaking her head in disbelief if she saw this. Gone is the idealistic dream of what I thought my home office would one day be like when I became a mother and a teacher. Instead, on what doubles as my dining room table (my favorite piece of furniture, witness to countless family occasions with all the people I hold dear) there sits what appears to be a mess. On the contrary, I promise, it is actually an organized chaos of bills, business paperwork, and now, as evidence of my jump back into the academic world, endless amounts of English classwork. It is a place that is uncharacteristically peaceful for me in the early morning hours and afternoon naptime, knowing the most precious things in the world to me, my twins 3 ½ and new baby boy, 8 weeks, are sleeping soundly in the rooms within earshot. It’s true that this is probably not the most convenient home office for a student, business owner, mother, and former English teacher, however, the views are great and the kitchen (copiously stocked  with cereal, coffee and beer- essentials for every busy mom) is close by, so I can’t complain.


9. Steven Maierson – Undergraduate Admissions and Orientation at Northern Arizona University

Steven M. -Snapshot 9 

I work in two separate environments in distinct capacities. The larger and more vibrant image is the space in which I free write and work as a student. It is my game station and link to the world and all its ills. Books and images surround me, things representative of who I am—tiny Batman figurines, a replica of Sting from The Lord of the Rings, and the desktop image of a Black Mage from Final Fantasy. The other half is my workspace at Undergraduate Admissions and Orientation at Northern Arizona University. At this place I maintain an orderly environment with minimal personal conveniences. I keep it neat so that if I need to move it isn’t a hassle. The small flashes of personality are random holiday gifts we receive in the office and, of course, a fantastic image of Tremors as my desktop background. It is here where I write procedural documentation and the occasional essay for school.


10. Dennis White, Saint Louis Community College; District Coordinator (4 campuses, 2 satellite locations), Assistant Professor, Reading (Florissant Valley Campus)

 Dennis W. -Snapshot 10

I share an office in the communications building with another faculty member, which is the typical setup; offices are located at each end of the building with classrooms in between. I spend many hours writing in this space, most recently developing student and instructor materials for the college’s new student success course, which just completed its first year of implementation. Sometimes I work through periods of concentrated writing activity, and other times I engage in conversations with colleagues, students, and administrators. I usually place work on the desk to the left of the computer, which I removed in order to give this picture a cleaner look, but I am fairly neat in the way I typically maintain my writing space. I enjoy writing here and the relatively quiet location at the end of a hallway. I also enjoy the close proximity of a window, glancing out of which provides an occasional quick break when needed to reenergize my writing.


11. Ashley Salazar, Assistant Director of TRIO Educational Talent Search, Garden City Community College

 Ashley -Snapshot 11

Our office and my desk are hidden away in the basement of the administrative building on campus, but I like it that way. It allows for our small staff to work together without distraction and shields the outside world from the chaos that we often create.  Our writing takes many forms and those texts create action. That action is often noisy, causing the rest of the college campus to appreciate the existence of a “lower level”.  I have a distinct area for my own creative processes, but I share the larger communal space with two other staff members.  I find it both comical and telling that we regularly communicate through text via internet signals and computer screens when we sit within inches of one another.


12. Jesse Maloney, substitute High School Teacher at Greyhills Academy High School and Graduate Student at Northern Arizona University

 Jesse -Snapshot 12

My name is Jesse Maloney, I’m a substitute High School teacher at Greyhills Academy High School and graduate student at Northern Arizona University.  The place where I like to conduct my school work now that it’s summer is at the bar in our outdoor parlor. 


When I put on some surf shorts and a basketball jersey it’s a serene warm setting even at night and I don’t feel cooped up and stressed.  It helps to lose track of time and get quality reading and writing done with my heavy semester.





Hello and welcome to _____,


We all, likely, have multiple places in which we work and in which we read, think, and write. This assignment asks you to document and describe the key features of your environment at one of those “places”. I put “places” in quotations because it may be a fluid and dynamic location. You can, and should here, think of work places and spaces as both a physical location, but also as a time-based location. What else is potentially at play? For example, do you share the space with others? Is there anyone else competing for that space? Are there interruptions? Etc.


To think about reading and writing as things that happen in spaces, in locations, in specific time periods, is a unique way to introduce yourself to others in the course. Follow these instructions. This firs assignment will also prompt you think about the production of texts as a literal and situated act that happens in real locations. And it will help you get to know your classmates a bit in order to jumpstart the formation of our classroom community.


With this in mind, I was recently inspired by the discovery and playfulness of a blog: that invites writers to send photographs and brief descriptions of the settings and spaces in which they work. As teachers, researchers, and students of writing, we all spend endless hours in these spaces writing and working. See my example at: Consider how my example is primarily playful. Feel free to be playful yourself, but also focus on including some serious forms of analysis about some aspect of your workspace that is worth comment.


So, tell us a bit about your workspace.




1. Include only one (JPG) photograph (which can be a mash-up, multi-panel photograph) of the setting/space in which you work and write.


2. Include the following information: your name, title/job, and the university/school with which you are affiliated.


3. And include a short description focusing on what you find most interesting to describe/share about your workspace.


4. Post your narrative for the class to see. Remember: Write it in a fashion where you feel comfortable sharing publicly. Do not include details that you don’t want others to know. Do not include details that you might consider too personal for some reason.

Charlotte Lewis on the Open Road (circa 1937)

We have all read Kerouac’s “On the Road”. There is a wonderful passage in Part 1 when Kerouac explains:

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes -Awww!”

But, this isn’t about Kerouac. It predates his “On the Road” by about a decade, but it every bit as much about trying to be mad, about trying to live like mad and hitting the road. This is about the life of Charlotte Lewis from Fargo, North Dakota. This is her story of brief escape, in 1937, from her hometown. These were five women in their early twenties trying to break free of their known lives to something new, unknown, and more expansive. Her writing isn’t refined, but it is infectious, fun, and full of euphoria for something beyond the ordinary. 

This photo was included with her road trip journal entries from July 18 - 21 1937.
This photo of Charlotte Lewis was included with her road trip journal entries, July 18 – 21 1937.

As she described it:

In memory of a trip taken July 18th to 21st. Starting on Monday by car [in Fargo, North Dakota] and ending on Thursday by rail and which got as far as Bismarck, North Dakota. Although it was meant to be a coast to coast journey.

Picture of Charlotte Lewis' journal (circa 1937)
Picture of Charlotte Lewis’ journal (circa 1937)


I could not stay so fixed, so rooted. I had to venture, had to roam towards the setting sun I traveled when at last I left my home. In each town we chanced to visit, I was gay, what ere belied … For it was to give space for wandering that the world was made

So [dashes and scribblings]  — — — —- < —— -> —– Wide.

And so we went west! Went west to see the grandeur, to seek adventure -perhaps- and to leave our footprints on the sands of time. Went west the five of us, in a “bug,” sans money, sans equipment, sans anything. It was a half cocked idea all told, and I shall tell you what happened to us.

Left Fargo at 2-o’cock after quite an argument with Mother who forbade my going. Stopped first at Osgood to pick up a few things and next at Chafee to pick up a more.

Fargo during the 1930's. See:
Fargo during the 1930’s. See:

And then we were out on the prairie speeding past drowsy one horse towns -swaying, chuck full of bushy catkins, tall golden fields of grain, clumps of bushes, lazy winding rivers, sluggish streams and azure lakes. Past pastures and farms and herds of horses, sheep and cattle. And the oder of a new mown hay; the fragrance of fields of alfalfa and sweet clover  -ummmm,

Cruising along I-94 North Dakota heading west.
Cruising along I-94 North Dakota heading west. Aside, see: “Ghost Towns and Abandoned Places of North Dakota:

It was great! But was made twice as thrilling because we thought we were being pursued. Thus we drove all afternoon and at dusk struck hills -rolling hills- from which one could gaze deep down into the valley below. On the crest of one of these we had our first view of Valley City -snuggled there in the hollow. Valley City with its myriad of gleaming lights flickering through the gathering twilight. We had supper here and afterwards explored the city.

Valley City -Highway 10 and Highline Railroad Bridge, circa 1930's.
Valley City -Highway 10 and Highline Railroad Bridge, circa 1930’s.

We dozed that night beneath the stars just outside of town on the edge of a wheat field. A solitary blanket we had for a coverlet. Silence lay over the land broken only by the throb of a motor passing on the highway and the low hum of mosquitoes. And such a rest -ah- like fugitives from the dawn, the cloud banks of night were scattering in the east and a pale morning star forecast another sun as we awoke with the dawning. Numb with cold, damp, and hungry as hell we jogged up and down the lane to warm up. Then we piled in the roadster and headed north, due north to Minot through the crisp chill of an early morning. Dew glistening white on the grass. Winding roads stretching back through the fog. Wheat fields laden with moisture.Then the first rosy hues, seemingly painted by an artist’s hand were heralding the approach of the monarch-sun. Mile after mile skimming by. Not a car on the highway.

Suddenly the clouds parted, the sun burst through -gold, pure gold throwing splendor and warmth into a frigid world. Birds voices rose in a melody of song, trilling a greeting. A dog brayed somewhere. A rooster sent a garrulous challenge to the world. A punctured tire forced us to turn back and soon we were in Valley again, searching for a place to wash and eat. Everything was closed, hardly a soul stirring. Here we loitered half the day while waiting to fix the car. Then we started out again. Hardly had we reached the city limits before Marie got sore and jumping out of the car declared her intention of wiring her father for money enough to pay return fare to Fargo. Down the street she tore; her sidekick running after her, while I persuaded the rest to continue the trip then went after them and brought them back into the fold.

We reached Jamestown late that afternoon, but did not stay for fear the cops were posted. Out on the prairie again through clouds of dust and heat that was oppressive. Night was a relief, a night though, filled with the many whisperings of those both known and those unseen things. Cricket chirps near and far; frogs chanting in a nearby marsh. A full moon was slow, rounding into sight to bath the prairie in a silver light. The stars, candles of the night, appeared one at a time. Then, the Bismarck lights showed, just discernible through the distance. There was a prison high on a hill with an armed sentry pacing the walls. Then we arrived on main street which was all a bustle.

At the train depot we were informed that boys were not allowed in the lady’s waiting room which proved that our disguises were convincing since we fooled the ladies. But, again we set out, to the outskirts of town at the edge of the Missouri river to sleep beneath a hay stack. Mosquitoes pestered us throughout the night. Up with dawn, we drove back into town to wash, eat, and look the city over. Suddenly Marie and I became oppressed with the idea that the coppers had us spotted. And we were right.

We sold the car and all took different routes to the railroad track where we decided to catch a westbound freight and get out of Bismarck pronto! Then we dressed once more as boys and sat in the shade waiting for our private train car. Along the track came a man in hiking clothes. I was instantly suspicious of his clothes. They were too immaculate to have traveled far; and he claimed to have come from the coast. Everything is tough he claimed and we had better turn back before it was too late.

Everybody’s feet were cold but mine. I was too anxious to reach Seattle to worry about hard luck. But, then he informed us that the police actually were on our trail. After he had gone, we decided to split again. Marie and I with a few dollars in our pockets were to take the trail and the rest were to follow directly and meet us at Medina that evening. Out on the trail once more we were met by the same wolf in cheap clothing who advised us to kick up some dust clouds because the police wagon just went by. Half a mile farther on, a big car passed us and stopped. Two men got out. They proved to be plain clothed men and they forced us into the car and took us to the police station. Here the head of the department gave us the third degree. I didn’t say any more than was necessary, but Marie babbled incessantly.

We were taken charge of by Anton Beer, justice of the peace, who sent us out to eat, but we could not do more than nibble a few bites. In the meantime, Mr. Beer, who proved to be a real friend, sent a telegram to our parents:

“Mrs. Cora Simonson -wire seven dollars at once by Western Union. Am at police station. Reply yes, or no.” -Laura Lewis

The answer we received in two hours was fourteen dollars and “Come home.” After that, we felt better. We spent most of the afternoon walking about the city and had a good time even though we were trailed by a police officer everywhere we went.

In the evening, Anton gave us enough money to go to a moving picture theatre. We didn’t see much of the picture because my eyelids refused to stay open and Marie was falling into a doze continually. Every once in a while her head would drop with a thump to the back of the seat and she would rouse and say, “God, this is the worst picture I ever saw in my life.” This amused me immensely and I started to laugh and laugh and laugh without being able to stop.

Notable Movies, 1937:

Finally, we left the show and went up to Mr. Beer’s office where we spent the night on a row of chairs. Early next morning we went out ate our breakfast; and when Anton arrived, he walked over to the depot and brought our tickets. Tickets that would take us home. Then the train pulled in and we were off … “Going back, going back” moaned the wheels. “Back to Fargo, the black hole of despair. Your adventure over.”

With every mile our hearts sank lower. When at last we arrived, there was Charlotte and Marie’s father waiting for us. Nothing was changed. Fargo was and still is the same. And so, here we are with only the memory of three glorious days spent traveling westward in a bug, sans money, sans equipment, sans anything.

But, I say -“Beware here to-day and gone tomorrow; and the next time I leave, I am gone forever.”


The Work Spaces and Places of Writing Teachers, Researchers, and Administrators

Our Workplace Snapshots

I was recently inspired by the discovery and playfulness of a blog: <; that invites writers to send photographs and brief descriptions of the settings and spaces in which they work. As teachers, researchers, and administrators of writing, we all spend endless hours in these spaces writing and working. Many publications in our field (like “Local Literacies” and  “Worlds Apart”) investigate the literate settings of community activists, architecture students, etc. These are, of course, in-depth, serious publications.

But what of our own? What I am inviting here are playful, fun, and short “workspace snapshots” from fellow WPA’ers, teachers, and researchers of writing.

Open Invitation: Share your work space/place:

  1. Include only one (JPG) photograph (which can be a mash-up, multi-panel photograph) of the setting/space in which you work and write.
  2. Include the following information: name, what you teach, and the university/school with which you are affiliated.
  3. And include a short description (no more than about 160 words) of what you find most interesting to describe/share about your workspace.
  4. Email to: I will collect and host these “workspace snapshots” on my professional, academic blog: <;.
  5. See current blog post to which your contribution will be added: <;.

An Archive of Snapshots


Workplace Snapshot 1: Damian C. Koshnick’s Workspace, [Teaches Professional Writing at Northern Arizona University]

Damian notes: It is a convenience to have a real home office. It is a space I share, as so many of us do, with a trusted pet who sits beside me without complaint for hours. The desk was a gift from my father, a big object and I’ve put the effort in moving it around the country as I have pursued degrees and teaching opportunities. I appreciate having “old” feeling things near me while I write -wood desk, and perhaps most particularly a vertebrae and a native rock scraping tool both of which I found while hiking. The vertebrae in particular reminds me, as the hours pass, that life is short. Ideally, this keeps me pragmatic about what I try to accomplish when I write. It doesn’t always work of course. And the rock tool reminds me that not everything happens on a computer.

Thought, Desire, and the Movement of Other Things -A Poem by Damian C. Koshnick

Author holds rights to all content on this website. Author must give explicit written permission for reproduction/use of any content, whole or part, found on this site. Author can be contacted at:


Thought, Desire, and the Movement of Other Things

By Damian C. Koshnick

The peach is not in the bowl
it used to be, with the grapes;
instead, it sits now at the very edge of the kitchen’s round, wood table
by the green, empty wine bottle
where I put it yesterday.

The crease that peaches tend to have
is the critical balancing point
that prevents it from falling to the floor.
Even now, as a full breeze is blowing through the window above the sink,
the peach stays put.
Activity though, abounds around it.

I brew coffee. I chew my thumbnail.
Sitting beside it, I scratch my forehead recalling bits of a dream.
I am out of milk and sugar. A voice from the living room says,
“James Brown is dead.”

I listen to the mailman, with his afternoon envelopes
walking hastily across the porch, as the neighbor dog carries on
her tireless conversations about other moving things.

I want the peach to fall off of the table without intervening,
proof of forward motion, the push of time in the universe,
but I want to eat it too.

The breeze blows once slightly. It blows again more heavily.
A bee flies, he is stuck between two panes of glass;
the phone rings, a solitary ant jitters and shuffles across
the yellowing, broken linoleum.

The peach stays put, still life;
until, although irritated, I hastily put it to my mouth
and eat it up.

What I Learned from Hiking the Grand Canyon for the First Time …

If you are going to hike the Grand Canyon in mid-May, you really have to start on the trail by sunrise, or no later than 6:00 am. We found that out the hard way when we left Flagstaff at 6:00 am, only to get to the south rim, and specifically the Hermit Trail to start just after 9:00 am. This is fine, if you like to suffer and you have enough water to avoid real problems. By the time we reached the canyon floor and could follow the creeks, it had been over 100 degrees and upwards of 109 F for two hours. And the part I didn’t fully realize when starting out is that going down for 10 miles on that trail (not maintained) with the loose rock, where every footfall is a challenge to avoid slipping, may take a few less hours, but is every bit as difficult as going uphill. Going uphill the mental strain is certainly more difficult, but going downhill the physical strain is, arguably, stronger. Downhill takes a serious toll on your lower calves and quads, essentially because you are constantly arresting slippage and sliding. I primarily learned what my friend, Don Miller, advised too -“there is no reason not to do this hike without hiking poles.” Hiking poles are, in my view, a must not just because they provide added contact with the ground, but also because they take some strain off the lower body.

On the way down the Hermit Trail to Monument Valley with the Colorado river in the background with Geoffrey LaFlair, Nick Velde, Ian, Don MillerRandy Rebman, and Damian Koshnick [Photo by: Don Miller]

ImageThere was some debate between all of us about the right amount of water to carry on trail. The dilemma is a familiar one; water is heavy, but also critical. I brought a 3 liter bladder (which when stored in the backpack keeps the water cool for a longer period than a bottle), and I brought 2, 1 liter Nalgene bottles. This is ideal because in one Nalgene you can mix up an electrolyte drink, and with the other you can keep a flexible, smaller supply of water available for additional filtering, etc. (for quick stops at Santa Maria Springs when, in the rare instances, water is available to filter quickly). Although a diuretic, I like to also have green tea with for a small, but refreshing hit of caffeine (which, in the right amounts, helps with energy and muscles). I packed in 5 liters which, given the heat we were hiking in, was ideal. On a cooler day, I could see 4 liters working for the 10 mile hike down. But, I would never leave with less than 4 liters (because as the on trail saying seems to go “it is not a race” after all). I assume that even in the heart of summer there is typically enough creek flow to filter. Many people, as it turns out, do not like to filter from the Colorado river directly. In part, I think this is a precaution based on the fact that depending on your proximity to the little Colorado river, that flow is known to be contaminated with uranium from now defunct mining operations. Before going, I was informed about the value of a “rat sack”. Rats and mice are the most consistent problem in the canyon and I was entertained to see that a rat sack is actually like a chain mail bag, strong enough apparently to keep rodents from chewing through. I bought mine for about $30 at my favorite outdoor supplier in Flagstaff, Peace Surplus [].

My new rat sack

As to food, my wife had heard something that seems obvious otherwise, but given my familiarity with camping in Montana, northern Minnesota, etc. hadn’t occurred to me. Chocolate doesn’t travel well in heat. I wanted to bring a bunch of chocolate as there is no better time for it than heavy exercise outdoors, but I decided to avoid the mess. Instead I brought granola bars and licorice for the quick sugars. I should have brought more similar types of snacks heavy in salt. We had a conversation about how valuable those marathon gels would be for this kind of hiking -good, quick, accessible, easy to carry energy hits when on trail. Next time, I will certainly bring a few of those for the low energy spikes that inevitably occur. There is very little that is more fun than being intuitive and guessing what your body needs at different moments. You will know, but I always need reminding that often feeling “tired” has as much to do with some deficiency in electrolytes, salts, sugars, carbs, basic calories, etc. It is excellent to get that rush of energy that results just when you thought you were otherwise reaching a very tough stretch. As to bigger meals, my favorite discovery this trip was Uncle Ben’s ready rice medleys. Nearly no matter how good you pace yourself, or keep hydrated, etc. there are bound to be some surprises and difficult moments. On our trek down, Ian over-heated a bit and got a bit dehydrated (headache) and Randy got a pretty significant bloody nose. Despite his relative misery, his bloody face added to the journey.

Ian and Randy Rebman suffering just a bit. I hiked in an umbrella as an “experiment”. I would do so again, just a smaller and sturdier umbrella that can handle more of the wind gusts. [Photo by: Geoffrey LaFlair]

In those moments of suffering, there was nothing better than humor. Geoff came up with a genius catch-phrase to utter at those times, “cluck, cluck, mother*cker”. Looking back, it seems to me a concise way of giving voice to the environment’s indifference as we worked hard to transverse the landscape -gossamer human efforts against the consuming scale. I had my own moment late in the journey when, hiking back to camp at night from having dinner on the Colorado river, I slipped in the creek bed and my head hit granite. I saw some black and was certainly disoriented. I was also glad to have some good friends nearby to solve an issues that might have come up from a full concussion at the bottom of the canyon. Thankfully, it was at most a minor concussion, and I didn’t get a headache, nor was I dizzy hiking the 8 1/2 hours out the next day.

[My head the next morning … Photo by: Nick Velde]

I know people run, hike, etc. the canyon alone all the time, but given all that can go wrong that far away from the canyon rim and civilization, I would never do much hiking on my own down there. As Don Miller put it succinctly, the canyon is, “beautiful, precisely because of its juxtaposition as such a violent place”.  On our second full day down in the canyon, in fact, we spent the whole day avoiding the sun by moving with the shade in Monument creek. This was one of my two favorite things about the hike. It had been a long time, too long, since I spent the day outside with nothing to do. We joked, laughed, washed up just a bit in a small waterfall, drank water, snacked, sat in the cool creek, and literally moved with the sun with the merciful shade that the rock provided. We were not that far away from imitating the local wildlife.

Zen in the shade [Photo by Don Miller]

My second favorite time on the trip was down by the Colorado river that evening. We ate dinner, swam, enjoyed the amazingly fine sand, watched a river rafting trip go by, took photos, watched a few fish jump, saw the sunset, etc. The water is very cold (52 degrees or so), but very refreshing.  After spending about ten minutes floating in the river, when I got out, I could feel a real deep coldness in my chest. It was nothing, however, that a few minutes in the late evening sun couldn’t fix. The beach at the confluence (trickle) of Monument creek with the Colorado was a fine place to pass some time. We felt lucky to have it to ourselves. Hiking mid-week, I am sure, helped.

Randy, Ian, Don, Nick, Geoff talking near the confluence of Monument Creek and the Colorado river. Monument Creek goes underground a bit before trickling into the Colorado (mid-May). Photo by: Damian Koshnick

Randy walking the watershed toward the hermit rapids on the Colorado river. The sand on the beach was very, very fine at hermit rapids. And there is plenty to explore along the bank: Distance is such a factor in the grand canyon, not just real measurable distances between landmarks, but simply the largeness and expanse as you are hiking between those distances. The eye and the legs have very different perspectives that rarely seem to correspond to expectation.

In between those relative distances, the body comes to appreciate again just how critical water is.

Nick and Randy passing time by the “waterfall” -Photo by: Geoffrey LaFlair

We all, at different times, brought up the primal feeling that being near water down there evoked. Just as the land relaxes in anticipation of a big rain, so did we away from the sheer expanse of the canyon, hidden in the niches of the watershed.

Knowing how and where to access such water =’s comfort and happiness. I’d go back again in a moment. There was nothing better than being so tired that contemplating the universe simply meant sitting near a stream with an empty head, watching the world and the day pass with shadows across the steady sound of water running in the creek.

There is a poem which I have always loved by Phyllis Webb:

It seems to me that my notion of this poem in the Grand Canyon is to revise this a bit:

The degree of nothingness
is important:
to sit emptily
in the shade (and water)
avoiding fire
that is the way …

For me, it was great to get away from the computer. After 4 days of recovery (eye, head, and calf muscles), I am ready to plan the next trip. This time, with just a bit more knowledge about what it means to hike the grand canyon.

Hike Profile -3 days / 2 nights 5.15 to 5.17 (2012)- Monument Creek, Grand Canyon via Hermit Trail.

Some resources on hike:

Don Miller’s description of the hike pre-trip:

“Luckily we’ll be on a perennial water source (Monument Creek) and the trail down has enough twists and turns to find some shade fairly regularly (though the last 3 miles or so are pretty exposed). It’s still going to be pretty friggin’ hot down there. Probably low-mid nineties. I’m hoping to spend a good deal of time soaking in the creek and wading in the Colorado. And Damian, this actually is a somewhat “pampered” site in that there is an open air toilet nearby. You just don’t want to use it midday, unless you don’t mind your ass fusing to the scalding toilet seat.”

Geoff’s photo of Nick, a perfect summary of the trip:

Nick Velde, at home in the wild -Photo by: Geoffrey LaFlair