Matt Witt: Blog en-us (C) Matt Witt (Matt Witt) Thu, 15 Sep 2022 20:19:00 GMT Thu, 15 Sep 2022 20:19:00 GMT Matt Witt: Blog 88 120 World Wide Work -- Books, Films, Music You May Have Missed The Patience of a HeronThe Patience of a HeronNetarts, Oregon

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.


True Biz by Sara Novic (Random House). Joys, challenges, and injustices faced by Deaf teenagers are at the heart of this edifying novel about three Deaf high school students who are coming of age and experiencing a political awakening.

Summer of Smoke by Josh Gross (Outsider). A satirical novel shows what life feels like these days to young people in an Oregon tourist town (Ashland) who face an uncertain future filled with climate-fueled fires and smoke.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter (Harper). Written in response to the Great Recession of 2008, this creative and often humorous novel captures the condition of many men who aren’t sure how to maintain family relationships and self-esteem as corporate greed drives down living standards.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Thorndike). A member of the Umpqua tribe who was born on the Grand Ronde reservation in Oregon in 1953 wrote this novel for both children and adults, drawing on her experience after the U.S. government “terminated” her tribe and relocated her family to Los Angeles.

Wilderness by Anthony Schmitz. A master of irony and humor spins this entertaining yarn about white settlers on the Midwestern frontier and a scam artist who takes advantage of their greed. This and other novels by the same author are now available free here.

Where River Turns to Sky by Gregg Kleiner (Avon). Old people In a small Oregon town escape their grim lives in a nursing home to form a somewhat shaky commune in an old house.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Ballantine). The challenges faced by Chinese immigrants to Jamaica and by Jamaican immigrants to Great Britain form the backdrop of this fable about a woman who goes to great lengths to be free and to pass on a better life to her children.

Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov (Deep Vellum). Most residents of a small community in eastern Ukraine have fled the interminable fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian loyalists, but the main character of this slow-moving novel has stayed in the “grey zone” between the two sides to tend to his bees. Eventually, he decides to take his bees to Crimea for the summer, where he knows a Muslim beekeeping family facing persecution from the Russian occupiers.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (One World). White people in America have often been told that equity for people of color will come at their expense. The chair of the board of Color of Change shows that those with the most wealth and power have used this divide-and-conquer story to impose policies that hurt all working people. She uses examples from communities across the U.S. to show that all working people benefit from multiracial organizing for liberty and justice for all. The author also discusses this in this webinar.

To Raise a Boy by Emma Brown (One Signal). Preventing sexual assault and harassment is only the first step. The reporter who brought to light Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh interviewed researchers, teachers, coaches, parents, men, and boys to explore the question: how can boys be raised to be fully human, healthy, respectful, and happy adults?

Coal, Cages, Crisis by Judah Schept (NYU). More than 350 new prisons were built in rural areas as mass incarceration ramped up. Appalachia was targeted for more than its share as the coal industry was declining and union jobs were disappearing. One community in eastern Kentucky successfully opposed a planned new federal prison and proposed better alternatives for community development.

Care-Centered Politics by Robert Gottlieb (MIT). A wide-ranging survey shows that an economic and political system based on profit is not able to address inequality, climate change, systemic racism, or global pandemics, and that new policies, institutions, and practices based on caring for each other and for the environment are needed instead. 

Gentrification Is Inevitable, and Other Lies by Leslie Kern (Verso). Wealthy developers, land speculators, corporate landlords, and their political allies tell us that gentrification is like the weather – there is nothing anyone can do about it. This intersectional analysis looks at gentrification through lenses of class, gender, and race to show how it actually works in today’s economy and to suggest ways to resist.

Fight Like Hell by Kim Kelly (One Signal). An activist journalist who has covered many of the growing number of union organizing campaigns around the country recounts inspiring stories from the history of American labor that are not taught in school. She tells about workers – many of them women and people of color – who organized in factories, service work, airlines, laundries, fields, mines, and many other industries, both in the past and in the current era.

How Birds Live Together by Marianne Taylor (Princeton). Spectacular photographs are accompanied by information about the types of homes and communities in which birds live.

Pollinator Anthology by Pollinator Project Rogue Valley. A 300-page anthology of photographs, paintings, poems, and factual information celebrates and educates about pollinators and native plants at a time when they are threatened by climate change, development, pesticides, and habitat loss. (I contributed 16 photographs from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.)


Elemental. This documentary about wildfires in the West features firefighters and scientists who say that a policy of fighting every fire can’t work given the impact of climate change. Some of the approaches advocated instead include letting fires burn when they don’t threaten homes, preserving old-growth forests that are more fire resilient, making sure structures are built or retrofitted to protect against burning embers, and learning from the ways indigenous peoples used fire. The otherwise thoughtful film begins with an exceedingly dramatic segment on the horrors of the fire that wiped out the town of Paradise, CA, that may be hard for some fire survivors to watch.

Sand Storm. In this intense feature film, women in a patriarchal Bedouin village try to take steps toward greater freedom.

Minamata. Based on a true story, this feature film follows famed photographer W. Eugene Smith as he goes to a small community in Japan to document the devastating impact of mercury poisoning caused by a large chemical company. The company stops at nothing to try to keep his photographs from being seen.

Fear. While walking in the woods, a widowed schoolteacher in a small Bulgarian village encounters a wandering African refugee. Like others in her community, she is afraid of him – until they get to know each other.  

Buffaloed. A young woman from a poor family will do anything to get out of her hometown of Buffalo and pursue the American dream. After brushes with the law, she becomes a debt collector and learns to use unethical practices to hound people like herself. More trouble ensues.

Sagebrush to Sea. A couple hiked nearly 200 miles through the mountains from Interstate 5 near the Oregon-California border to Crescent City on the coast. This 47-minute documentary shares their ecological knowledge as well as beautiful scenery.


Live Forever. Some of Billy Joe Shaver’s best-known songs are performed by Amanda Shires, Miranda Lambert, Margo Price, Edie Brickell, Willie Nelson, Ryan Bingham, Steve Earle, and more.

Until Now by Carrie Newcomer. The Midwestern singer tries to make sense of what’s happening to our world and also enjoys some humor:

I'm doing the best I can
At least that's what I plan
I'm trying to be the person that
my dog thinks I am

(Matt Witt) Elemental Matt Witt matt witt photography new books new films new music The Sum of Us True Biz Thu, 15 Sep 2022 20:17:20 GMT
Building Strong Communities Should Be a Team Sport My syndicated newspaper column talks about the human impact in my town and others as working people and farmers essentially have given heirs to the Walmart fortune and the chair of Starbucks a $4.6 billion "grant" to buy the Denver Broncos football team. What can we do about the fact that a few people have more wealth than they could ever use at the expense of so many people who are struggling without affordable housing, health care, education, child care or other basics?

(Matt Witt) Condoleezza Rice Denver Broncos Matt Witt Starbucks Walmart Waltons Writers on the Range Thu, 15 Sep 2022 20:10:14 GMT
They Say the War Is Over "They Say the War Is Over" by Matt Witt is a nonfiction short story published in the literary and arts journal Cirque, Edition #24, Summer 2022. This "timely and dramatic personal account about race, class, and war" can be read free in PDF form at this link, or on pages 46-50 free in Cirque online.

(Matt Witt) Cirque draft Matt Witt Oakland Induction Center They Say the War Is Over Vietnam War Fri, 15 Jul 2022 18:41:00 GMT
World Wide Work -- Books, Films, Music You May Have Missed  

Black Mountains HoodooBlack Mountains HoodooDeath Valley National Park, California

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.

Writers on the Range syndicates thought-provoking columns that are then published by dozens of newspapers in the western states, including this one I contributed about an unusual coalition from across the political spectrum that defeated a giant corporation’s fracked gas pipeline proposal as part of a broader fight for a clean energy future.

New Verse News publishes poems that react to topical issues or current events, including this one that I contributed recently. is an alternative online news source started recently after a wealthy media mogul from the east coast bought the two newspapers in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, shutting down one and orienting the other even closer to the local economic and political establishment. I contributed this article explaining a plan by the small town of Talent after a devastating wildfire to stimulate affordable housing, bring back small businesses, and help prevent future disasters.


The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller (Little Brown). In this contemplative and often touching novel full of nature lore, an unhappy Swedish man in the early 1900s goes to live in the Arctic, where he suffers a disfiguring mining accident that leads him to a life of solitude in a harsh and remote fjord. He eventually bonds, despite himself, with an itinerant trapper, a Scottish geologist, and his own niece who also could not fit into Swedish society.

Bird Brother by Rodney Stotts and Kate Pipkin (Island). Stotts grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington DC and was dealing drugs to survive when by chance he was hired by an environmental group to help clean up the Anacostia River to make it hospitable not only for humans but for bald eagles that once lived there. Today, he is a master falconer and uses exposure to nature to help kids as poor as he once was.

The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago (Knopf). Cultures around the world had a variety of traditional explanations for the aurora borealis, but it was not until the early 1900s that a Norwegian scientist demonstrated the actual cause. This intriguing biography shows the hoops he had to jump through and the scientific, corporate, and political forces he had to deal with, as well as the effect of his work on his personal life.

Deadheading by Beth Gilstrap (Red Hen). These 22 short stories tell about people in the South who live on the margins and ache for connection and ways to do right by the people around them.

I’d Like to Say Sorry But There’s No One to Say Sorry To by Mikolaj Grynberg (New Press). A Polish psychologist produced these 31 first-person fictional monologues, each just several pages long, by a variety of characters, some Jewish, some talking to or about Jews. It adds up to a poignant picture of how the trauma caused by persecution of Polish Jews during and after WWII and up to the present day lives on from one generation to the next. As might be expected in such a work, the deadly serious is mixed with irony and humor.

Generation Priced Out by Randy Shaw (University of California). Housing has become unaffordable for many in today’s younger generations. Looking at attempts in a dozen cities to do something about that, a longtime housing organizer identifies concrete steps that those who do have affordable housing can support, including building more affordable housing units, requiring that new developments include some affordable units, using public land for affordable housing, helping nonprofits purchase small affordable sites, increasing state and local funding, enacting strong tenant protections, ending exclusionary zoning, and more.

Our Veterans by Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven (Duke University). Many U.S. counties have highway signs when you cross into them that say, “We Honor Veterans.” But in practice the U.S. mostly does not live up to that slogan as it prioritizes military profiteering and endless wars over policies to achieve peace and as it mistreats many military personnel both during and after active duty. Without support to transition from active duty to civilian life, many military personnel are now finding their way to local law enforcement and/or to right-wing white supremacist groups, often with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, politicians, corporations, and traditional veteran organizations often advocate policies that serve their own interests instead of the veterans they claim to support.

Black Walden by Elise Lemire (University of Pennsylvania). Most history books describe Concord, Massachusetts, as a place where the American Revolution was launched by hard-working white farmers and where famous authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and Alcott generated iconic literature. This account reveals that enslaved Black people there provided a lot of the farm labor for wealthy farmers, and that when some of them became free they formed a small community in the Walden woods, years before Thoreau lived there.

The People Are Dancing Again by Charles Wilkinson (University of Washington). This instructive history was produced with the cooperation of indigenous peoples of southern and western Oregon and moves from their lives before the European-American invasion to the broken treaties and trails of tears to their reservation years and finally to their cultural revival.

Devils Hole Pupfish by Kevin C. Brown (University of Nebraska). For more than a hundred years, scientists and public agencies have tried to preserve a tiny and unique population of fish that live only in one underground body of water near Death Valley. The history of those efforts, often over the objections of wealthy developers, shows how clumsy humans can be when trying to “steward” already impacted ecosystems.

Twenty-Two Cents An Hour by Doug Crandell (ILR Press). Too many workers with disabilities are exploited for subminimum wages as low as 22 cents an hour while corporate executives, Wall Street speculators, and huge “nonprofits” grow wealthier and receive taxpayer subsidies, all the while claiming to be providing a public service by supposedly giving these workers “opportunities.” An exceptionally thoughtful and informative explanation of this exploitation gives specific examples, discusses the boycott of Goodwill Industries, cites efforts to make progress in Oregon and other states, and calls for nationwide reforms.

Toward Antarctica by Elizabeth Bradfield (Boreal). A woman who served as a naturalist on several tourist ships to Antarctica uses photographs, poems, and snippets of diary-like prose to share her thoughts and feelings that the experience provoked.

Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford (Penguin). Despite the title, the authors want Americans to “Remember the Alamo,” but as a good example of the need to reexamine our history through a lens of fact, not legend. The actual dispute between the Mexican government and those like Davy Crockett who were defending the fort was over whether “settlers” from southern states were going to be allowed to import slavery into Texas, which was then part of Mexico.

Humane by Samuel Moyn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). By focusing on the legalistic fine points of what kind of torture or drone attacks constitute “war crimes,” both major political parties have successfully shifted national discussion away from preventing wars and finding alternatives.

Managing with Labor’s Values by Ken Margolies (ILR). Activists in unions or social justice organizations sometimes find themselves in a position of supervising the work of others – a role they may not have expected. Often, they have internalized ineffective or even abusive management styles from other institutions. This guide, which can be downloaded for free, suggests ways to lead that are consistent with progressive values.


Soumaya. In this feature film based on a true story, a Muslim woman who is a manager at an airport transportation company in Paris is fired out of the blue as part of an “anti-terrorist” campaign, even though she has done nothing wrong.

Arab Blues. A psychoanalyst who has been living in Paris comes back to her hometown in Tunisia and sets up her practice there, with a specific focus on serving working class people. Everyone tells her that no one will be interested in seeing her, but the opposite turns out to be true.

The County. In the Icelandic countryside, a cooperative formed decades ago to free farmers from exploitation by outside corporations has now become corrupt itself. After her husband dies, a very determined dairy farmer tries to organize her neighbors to fight back, despite threats and intimidation.

The Sense of Wonder. A French widow with two children is trying, without much success, to save the family farm. Driving home one day, her car hits a stranger, giving him bruises that need to be tended to. It turns out that he has a form of autism and is both socially unusual and mentally gifted. In this feel-good feature film that often requires a willing suspension of disbelief, the two of them find that each can help the other.

Perro Bomba. A young Haitian man immigrates to Chile for a better life in this realistic feature film. He works hard and stays out of trouble, but, little by little, racism and classism in his adopted homeland keep narrowing his options.


Native Sons by Los Lobos. The virtuoso band from East L.A. displays its versatility as it covers songs from a wide range of L.A. musicians, including Lalo Guerrero, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Percy Mayfield, The Beach Boys, The Midniters, Dave Alvin, and more.

Quietly Blowing It by Hiss Golden Messenger. Easy listening songs about love and loneliness and about working class life today, as in “Mighty Dollar”: “It never fixed a broken heart. It never made a dumb man smarter. Hey, but I made it try. It’s hard to see with the sun in your eyes.”

If you find this bulletin helpful, please share this edition of World Wide Work with others.

The photograph above, “Black Mountains Hoodoo,” was taken this spring at Death Valley National Park. More photos may be seen at, where all proceeds from sales go directly to the Rogue Action Center, an independent nonprofit hub for community organizing.

(Matt Witt) Matt Witt matt witt photography New Verse News The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven World Wide Work Writers on the Range Fri, 06 May 2022 22:42:08 GMT
Going on a Lion Hunt  

Pinyon, Late AfternoonPinyon, Late AfternoonRed Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, Arizona

This article appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:

Going On a Lion Hunt

By Matt Witt

“Going on a lion hunt! But I’m not afraid! Cause I got my guns! And my bullets at my side!” –

“Going on a Lion Hunt” is a children’s activity used by Scout troops, summer camps, and others. I remember it from when I was a kid. Children get in a circle. The adult leader starts a call-and-response chant about going to hunt a lion. The kids call out that they are not afraid since they are bringing their guns on the hunt, and then they act out overcoming obstacles like muddy terrain, a river, a cave, and more.

“For those who long for rugged beauty unspoiled and untamed by man, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is one of the few places in the Southwest that can lay claim to such a lack of man's accomplishments. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.” – U.S. Forest Service

One morning in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness south of Flagstaff, Arizona, my brother, his son, and I encountered an older man in hunting clothes talking to someone by two-way radio.

Soon, we realized that the side of the hill ahead of us was crawling with hound dogs – running, sniffing, and baying.

At first, I was hesitant to approach the man. I live in Oregon, where armed men not long ago took over a national wildlife refuge for more than a month, trashed it, and threatened its employees, yet the leaders walked away scot free. The rural part of the state where I reside is increasingly plagued by armed groups that espouse a mixture of white male supremacy and hostility to public lands. Asking even innocent questions of strangers with guns could be a mistake.

But then again, the old man could be like a former neighbor of mine in rural Virginia. That neighbor hunted because he didn’t have a lot of extra money and counted on five deer per year as part of his household’s food supply. Although we didn’t hunt ourselves, we were willing to let that neighbor cross onto our land when he needed to fill his freezer.

So after a few minutes my brother and I asked this man what he was doing.  

“Nothing gets the blood pumping more than coming up on hounds that have bayed or treed a mountain lion!” Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

He said he was serving as the base for a group of men who were following ten hounds he had provided to them.

When he didn’t reveal more, I asked, “Are they tracking a mountain lion?”

“Correct,” he said.

When I asked how he knew the cougar was in the area, he said he had found a deer it had killed and eaten, and the dogs had followed the big cat’s scent from there.

We saw that he was closely monitoring a GPS device that received signals from transmitters attached to each dog so he could tell the men the hounds’ locations.

“Is the idea that the hounds will tree the cougar?” I asked.

“Correct,” he said.

If the hounds got close enough to the lion, ancient instinct would kick in from the time, long ago, when cougars had to fear packs of wolves. The terrified lion would climb a tree, knowing the hounds couldn’t do the same. Eventually, the men would arrive where the baying hounds were gathered and shoot the motionless cat at close range.

“I don’t know if we’ll get this one,” he said. “It’s a runner.”

“5 day Guided Mountain Lion Hunts are $5,000.00 per person. Weapon types can be archery, muzzleloader, centerfire rifle or centerfire handguns. Weapon choice is not as critical as other big game hunts.” – Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

“5 Days Any Legal Lion $5000. These hunts are conducted on side-by-side's or 4wheelers.” – Killer Lion Hunts Guides

It seemed the man wasn’t eager to share much more information, so we didn’t ask about the financial arrangement between him and the men who were following his dogs. But when I got home I searched online for the going rate. At $5,000 per person, this apparently is not a hobby for the Walmart worker who makes $11 an hour, or for teachers or health care workers or Uber drivers or anyone else who lives on a budget.

“Mountain lion hunting is meeting the Department’s management objective of… providing recreational opportunities for 6,000 hunters per year.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

“As long as the mountain lion hunters are walking into the wilderness and are not using any mechanized form of transportation and no motorized equipment, they are legal under the Wilderness Act.” – U.S. Forest Service

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “About 850 livestock operators presently graze 56,000 cattle on public lands in Arizona.” But protecting ranchers’ profits isn’t a significant reason for killing mountain lions. Only an average of 27 of the big cats are killed in Arizona each year because a rancher claimed a case of “cattle depredation” – less than one-thirteenth of the average annual “harvest” of lions in that state by “hunters” seeking “recreational opportunities.”

“Trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 lions in the U.S. in the last decade.” Humane Society Report, “Cecil 2,” 2016

“Since 1890, there have been 29 fatal attacks by mountain lions on humans in North America.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

My brother, his son, and I left the old man and continued hiking. We could still hear the hounds’ baying and see their movements. I wondered if this might be my long-awaited chance to see a mountain lion. A few years ago, I came across fresh prints in newly fallen snow not far from my Oregon home. And my son and daughter-in-law saw one calmly walking through the woods only a couple hundred yards from our house. But I never have had that good fortune.

I found myself imagining the big cat racing across this Arizona trail in front of us, and wondered if we would try to use our hiking poles to fend off the dogs long enough for the cougar to escape, and what sort of confrontation that might create with the gunmen. That didn’t happen, of course, as the lion seemed to be getting away without our help.

During our time in the area, we climbed to the top of massive red rock formations caused by powerful natural forces over millions of years.

We walked on an iced-over stream that reflected reds and yellows coming from steep and narrow canyon walls.

We trekked for miles through clumps of giant old trees – pinyon, alligator bark juniper, oak, sycamore, and more – and wondered what will happen to them and other living things there as the climate continues to get hotter and drier.

“The southwestern United States is expected to become more prone to droughts with climate change. The resulting loss of vegetation will not only impact herbivores like mule deer; their main predator, mountain lions, might take an even larger hit.” – NASA

In our visit to red-rock wilderness we had gone on our own kind of hunt. But contrary to the old kids’ game, we were afraid – not of the lion, but for our common future.

(Matt Witt) lion hunt Matt Witt matt witt photography Trouble magazine Mon, 07 Feb 2022 22:45:00 GMT
New Start New Start Along Bear Creek After FireNew Start Along Bear Creek After FireTalent, Oregon

This photo and text were published by New Verse News on Dec. 16, 2020:


By Matt Witt

It used to be

that if you walked along Bear Creek

that runs next to town

you could see the stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by brambles of highly flammable blackberries

and tangles of branches.


Then this summer’s inferno

burned everything to ash,

clearing out the old understory

and leaving only a sprinkling of

charred tree trunks,

like ghosts from the past.


Now you can walk freely

across cleared black ground

and see how the stream community works,

the side creeks feeding it,

the ducks and coots and geese

finding food and

shelter from predators.


It used to be

that if you walked through town

you could see the money stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by fairy tales about

rugged individuals and

the generosity of the rich

without ever asking

who all that wealth was

taken from.


Then the fire burned everything to ash,

leaving those who could least afford it

to scramble for survival

while developers and bankers met

to discuss how they might profit

by grabbing up the close-in valuable land

and moving “their” workers,

many with brown skin,

to the valley’s outskirts,

all in the name of charity.


Now you can see

how money and power flow

from bottom to top

filling giant pools for a few

with not much left to trickle down.


Along Bear Creek,

just weeks after the fire,

small sprouts of green

bring the possibility of

a new community

better than the old

with each plant and bird and animal

doing its part.


In town,

new sprouts of community

are taking root too

as people work together

to make sure everyone has

food and shelter and hope

and to ask what we can do

so what grows back

will be better for all of us,

now that we can see.

(Matt Witt) Bear Creek fire Matt Witt New Start New Verse News Oregon Wed, 26 Jan 2022 00:23:00 GMT
The Executioner's Face WelcomeWelcomeTalent, Oregon

The following was published Sept. 16, 2020 by New Verse News.

The Executioner's Face

By Matt Witt

We load the car --

two sets of clothes and

a lifetime of memories --

as skyscraper flames are destroying

hundreds of homes of

friends and neighbors

a mile away.

Did they get out in time?

And then what?


We hit the back roads,

searching for safety,

with Bob Dylan howling through car speakers:

"The soles of my feet,

I swear they're burning."


Decades of reports said

this was coming

without climate action.

"Hotter temperatures."

"Disappearing snowpack."

"More frequent and more intense fires."

"Urgent transition needed to solar."

"Rapid investment in energy efficiency."


We can already picture

the photos the media will feed us

of some scraggly guy with stringy hair

who may have dropped a match --

with headlines: “What caused the fire?”


There will be no photos of

corporate lobbyists

whose puppets for years said

let's double down on what got us here

or who gave us half measures

and asked for applause.


We drive through the smoke,

community destroyed,

and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:

"The executioner's face,” he wails,

“is always well hidden."

(Matt Witt) fires matt witt New Verse News Oregon Talent Wed, 26 Jan 2022 00:23:00 GMT
Legacy Whitebark PineWhitebark PineCrater Lake National Park, Oregon

This poem and photo appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:



By Matt Witt



trying to find my way up

with no trail

no footprints to follow

just snow


Through woods of firs and hemlocks

climbing steep open spaces

that would be meadows in summer

but now are huge white expanses

too cold to melt



a whitebark pine


sticking out of the snow


After three miles

the Crater Lake rim

formed by a volcano

thousands of years ago


The lake

a caldera

twenty square miles

winter blue


Frigid wind

cornices of unsupported snow

one wrong step

into the water

two thousand feet below

and almost two thousand feet deep


To the left

a massive peak

named by white men

for a president’s son


To the right


named for a federal agent

who annihilated native people


Peaks named as if this place

is a monument

to their legacy


This place

that was here

long before us

and will be here

long after we

melt away

like the snow

I am standing on


Back then

average snowfall

was nearly twice

what it is now

and the lake and air

were many degrees cooler


Habitat for

furry pikas

whitebark pines

and gray-crowned rosy finches

already in danger

and that’s just the beginning


Our legacy

what to name it?

(Matt Witt) climate change Crater Lake Legacy Matt Witt Trouble Trouble magazine Fri, 31 Dec 2021 22:37:16 GMT
Migrant Green-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathGreen-Tailed Towhee Taking a BathCascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon

This poem and photo were published by New Verse News on May 27, 2021.


By Matt Witt

This green-tailed towhee
that weighs about an ounce
migrated more than 1,000 miles
from its wintering home in Mexico
to its annual nesting ground
in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument,
where I watched it taking a bath at a tiny spring.
It migrates every year,
eluding hawks and falcons,
braving snowstorms and lightning,
never losing its way.
This bird is a lot stronger
than I’ll ever be.
(Matt Witt) cascade-siskiyou national monument green-tailed towhee matt witt migrant new verse news poem Sat, 11 Dec 2021 18:47:00 GMT
Beartooth Beauty The following article appeared in the Billings (MT) Gazette on Sept. 28, 2019.

Sandhill Crane at SunsetSandhill Crane at SunsetAbsaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Wyoming

By Matt Witt

It was 8:30 p.m. on a late July evening in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness when an hour-long barrage of one-inch hailstones finally stopped pounding my tent above Native Lake.

The lightning, which had been so close I couldn’t finish saying “one, one thousand” before thunder boomed, had finally moved about five miles away.

Hearing only a slight drizzle, I grabbed my camera and crawled out of the tent. The light was low, but pink sunset clouds were still reflecting in nearby tarns that were surrounded by the newly fallen hail.

In the other direction, dense clouds and the lake itself were glowing with the most vibrant purple I’d ever seen.

This scene was just one of the highlights of nine days I spent as an Artist in Residence for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation (ABWF) this past summer.

In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, ABWF sponsors several Artists in Residence each summer to spend seven to ten days in the wilderness, drawing inspiration from the beauty and solitude for their painting, writing, musical compositions, or other work.

For me, the artist residency in an ecosystem very different than where I live in rural Oregon gave me unusual opportunities to apply my “Closer to Nature” approach to photography, focusing in on simple details and uncluttered images in an attempt to see nature’s beauty with fresh eyes.

I photographed a sandhill crane silhouetted against a dramatic yellow sunset.

An intensely yellow-orange lily flower was reflected in a lake.

A rainbow appeared above trees colored with red sunset light.

Textures caught my eye on big boulders that I later learned were fossilized coral.

I had a relatively rare encounter with a pika and photographed a lone whitebark pine – both species in jeopardy as climate change threatens the cold environments they require.

As a follow-up to this artist residency, I’m now sharing these and many other images with ABWF to use in its educational work promoting and maintaining wilderness, as well as posting them for the public at

With the high-altitude weather sometimes turning harsh, and no one else around for much of the time, I had plenty of time to think about the people who survived in this wilderness for thousands of years without having a car at a trailhead or housing to go back to with electricity and heat. Given how much time most of us spend sheltered by those comforts, it seems more important than ever to protect wilderness and all the living things that depend on it.

This summer, two other artists took part in ABWF’s program. One was Stephanie Rose (, a painter who used a Forest Service cabin as a her base of operations.

“I painted a collection of field studies, each of which seared into my memory my impressions of a particular place,” Rose said. “I will use these field studies to grow paintings in the studio, where I am able to further distill the motif I want to communicate to other people.”

The other was Marc Beaudin (, a poet and theater artist who worked from a remote Forest Service cabin up the Boulder River south of Big Timber.

“I finished a manuscript of poetry called Life List, where each poem honors a different bird species that has made an impact on my life and writing,” Beaudin said. “Having several days and nights without electricity, and all the disruptive technologies that come with it, meant there was nothing to take me away from my work, and having the power and beauty of the mountains, forest and river around me meant constant inspiration to keep at it.”

This was the sixth year the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation has operated its Artist in Residence Program, according to David Kallenbach, ABWF’s executive director. 

“I’ve been astounded by how many people have found out about the opportunity and by the diverse qualities of the artists who have participated in the program – from a videographer to a paper-making artist to a composer, as well as painters, writers, and poets,” Kallenbach said.

To learn more about the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation and how to get involved in its many volunteer opportunities, see


(Matt Witt) Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation artist in residence Matt Witt matt witt photography Sat, 28 Sep 2019 23:52:35 GMT
Madrone on the Hill Madrone on the HillMadrone on the HillTalent, Oregon This poem, together with this photo, was published in the July/August 2019 edition of Jefferson Journal, the magazine of Jefferson Public Radio serving Northern California and Southern Oregon from Mendocino and Redding to Eugene and all communities in between.

Madrone on the Hill

By Matt Witt

The old madrone tree

stands by itself

at the very top of the hill

above our house

in southern Oregon.


In spring, small bell-shaped flowers.

In summer, peeling red bark

on a smooth yellow-green core.

In autumn, berries that feed quail,

raccoons, and bears.


When winter snow and fog

make it hard to see,

the old madrone stands tall

and waits for spring.


Near the bottom of the hill,

the grave of John Beeson

who came here to farm

with his wife and son

just before the Civil War.


He could climb this hill

for a longer view

and see the Table Rocks,

Grizzly Peak,

and Bear Creek flowing

to the Rogue River,

all millions of years

in the making.


Down below

he also saw

native people killed

like deer

by men who proclaimed

their Christian faith.


He protested,

sent articles,

spoke at meetings,

until a mob told him to

pack his things

and leave.


Back east, he published

“A Plea for the Indians,”

made his case to President Lincoln,

gave speeches in

New York and Boston.


If John Beeson could stand

with this giant madrone today

he would see a town

where anti-immigrant posters

appear in the night.


But also where

three hundred residents

defended a local mosque.


Season after season

John Beeson is still here,

like our old madrone

at the very top of our hill.

(Matt Witt) Jefferson Journal John Beeson Madrone on the Hill Matt Witt poem Fri, 12 Jul 2019 23:44:00 GMT
Tic Tac Toe This poem was published Feb. 8, 2019 by New Verse News.

I Am a Renter and I VoteI Am a Renter and I VoteRogue Action Center, Oregon TIC TAC TOE

By Matt Witt

As a child
I played tic tac toe.
Should I go here,
or should I go there?

Then I learned:
you never win
if the other person goes first
with an X in
the middle square.

Olivia tells the city council
she and her son
had to move three times
after rent increases
left nothing to spare.

She works at Walmart
but after the rent
the paycheck covers only
food and bus fare.

Frank, who builds expensive homes
and has fifty rental units,
tells the council he would love to
help people like her,
he really would,
but prices are
whatever the market will bear.

Profit first.

The X in the middle square.

(Matt Witt) matt witt new news the x in the middle square tic tac toe verse Sun, 17 Feb 2019 01:39:52 GMT
Stronger Together This article was published in the Medford Mail Tribune.

Bull Elk Between Two RedwoodsBull Elk Between Two RedwoodsPrairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California Face to Face with a Bull Elk in the Redwoods

By Matt Witt

There I was, with no sign of an impending encounter with a bull elk, as I hiked the remote and deserted Friendship Ridge Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park south of Crescent City before Labor Day.

As I walked through the giant trees, I was thinking about the fact that while redwoods can be more than 300 feet tall, they have very shallow root systems. The reason they can withstand strong winds or floods is that the roots of many trees in a grove are intertwined.  They are like many communities in nature, I thought – they are stronger together.

My thoughts were interrupted, though, by seeing fresh elk scat along the trail. This put me on alert because it was rutting season, when Roosevelt bull elk can be particularly aggressive.  

I came around a corner, and there stood a young bull elk, twice the size of local deer, its impressive antlers towering above me, eating foliage from the side of the trail.

He looked at me with interest, but when I stopped, he went back to grazing, showing neither aggression nor fear.

The slope the trail cut through was too steep and dense for me to be able to go around, so I decided to wait, and to take photographs in the meantime. Surely, he would leave the trail to go up or down the slope, opening the way for me to pass.

No such luck. He liked having his feet on a flat trail. He ate. And ate. And ate.

Growing impatient, I decided to see what would happen if I cautiously took some steps toward him, but anytime I did, he turned his 850-pound body to face me. Not wanting to be one of those fools you see in the news who provoked a wild animal by encroaching on its space, I backed up again.

Soon after, he decided to stop eating and chew his cud – to regurgitate some of what he had eaten back into his mouth for a second chew.

So he lay down – right in the trail -- to do so. And chewed. And chewed. And chewed.

By now, an hour had passed. I had planned to complete a 7.5-mile loop through the redwoods to the coast and past several big waterfalls. I had no intention of going back and no way to go forward.

Just then, two people appeared.  We eventually discovered that if the three of us stood side by side and walked slowly toward the elk, he would turn away and slowly walk along the trail in the direction we were trying to go. For the next mile and a half, the three of us walked together, with the elk leading the way.  The three of us, apparently, were a little like the redwoods – we were stronger and stood taller as a group than as one alone.

Once the elk finally left us and the two other hikers went on their way, I went back to marveling at this species of tree that has been on earth for at least 240 million years. Ninety-six percent of the original old growth has been logged, and climate change now threatens what’s left. I could only hope that the cathedral-like feeling I was experiencing – and perhaps quirky encounters with Roosevelt elk – will be there for future generations.


(Matt Witt) elk matt witt redwoods Fri, 28 Sep 2018 19:01:49 GMT
Mileage (Originally published in the literary and arts journal, Cirque, Summer 2016 edition.)


By Matt Witt

Low Water, No BirdsLow Water, No BirdsLake Abert, Oregon

A long-haul trucker’s got his shiny red rig parked

on an early Wednesday morning

off Highway 395 in remote eastern Oregon

at a wildlife area at the edge of Lake Abert

where the few tourists that pass by

might stop to snap a scenic picture with their phones

and move on.


Ever since GPS technology came in,

the company knows where he is

every minute of every trip –

exactly where he stopped

and for how long

(after all, how long does a person need

to eat breakfast or make a bathroom stop?)


But GPS doesn’t know everything,

and neither does the company.


They know that he stopped

a regulation amount of time to sleep

in that cramped compartment behind the cab.


They don’t know that he walked

along the curving shore

in his t-shirt that used to be white

and watched the young sun light up

the ridges in the salt-covered mud.


They don’t know that he saw

silver bands of seepage

trying to snake their way

from the bottom of the hill

out to the little bit of actual water

way out in the middle

of the mostly dried-up lakebed.


They don’t know that he thought,

despite himself,

about all the climate change

he wishes he did not see

everywhere he drives.


They don’t know that he climbed

a little ways up the hill behind

so he could see how the water appeared

out of focus and dreamy

with reds, oranges, and yellows

as the fast-moving clouds

kept changing the light.


They don’t know that he sat

for a few minutes

in the silence

doing absolutely nothing

except watching the geese

waddle away from him

like they used to do

at the marsh outside of town

when he was a boy.


In a few days

he will pull that shiny red rig

into the company terminal

and the records will show

that he got as much mileage

out of this trip

as he could,

and that he never wasted

even a single moment.


(Matt Witt) Abert Lake Cirque climate change Eastern Oregon Lake Abert long-haul trucker Matt Witt truck driver Mon, 03 Sep 2018 07:15:00 GMT