Matt Witt: Blog en-us (C) Matt Witt (Matt Witt) Thu, 24 Jun 2021 17:47:00 GMT Thu, 24 Jun 2021 17:47:00 GMT Matt Witt: Blog 88 120 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 Thu, 24 Jun 2021 17:47:13 GMT
World Wide Work bulletin: Books, Films, Music You May Have Missed Underwater LightUnderwater LightShort Sand Creek, Oregon

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.


The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (Milkweed). While telling an engrossing story focused on one Dakota woman, this novel shows how traditions, resilience, and trauma are passed from one generation to the next. It takes place against a background of the crisis of Midwestern family farms faced with environmental destruction and the power of multinational corporations like Monsanto.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (Katherine Tegens Books). A skillfully written novel for middle grade readers is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl who is inspired by the Innocence Project to investigate whether her father really committed the murder that resulted in his long imprisonment.

No-Signal Area by Robert Perisic (Seven Stories). Part satire, part commentary, this complex novel is set in a small Eastern European town where factory workers impacted by war and the fall of communism still hold dreams of self-management and a better future than what raw capitalism offers.

Surfacing from Vietnam by Paul Kirk Haeder (Cirque). Reading these 14 pieces of fiction is like mainlining emotion as a wide range of characters careen through life in the U.S. after the trauma of the war in Vietnam.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt (Little Brown). During the Civil War, there were women who disguised themselves as men to join the army. This highly original novel tells the story of one such woman, and in the process presents a different picture of war than is found in many history books.

Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat by Ruth Milkman (Polity). The decline in quality of life for workers orchestrated by billionaires and big corporations is the cause of increased immigration, not the result of it. An insightful researcher takes a close look at today’s “brown collar” jobs, growing inequality in the service sector, and recent efforts by immigrant workers to organize.

Civil Resistance by Erica Chenoweth (Oxford). A leading analyst of civil resistance campaigns around the world uses a question and answer format to explain what civil resistance is, why it succeeds or fails, how it is affected by the use of violence, and many other issues that movements for progressive change have debated for many years.

Teacher Unions and Social Justice edited by Michael Charney, Jesse Hagopian, and Bob Peterson (Rethinking Schools). Across the country, more teachers are transforming their unions to organize not only for pay and benefits but also to address racial equity, the school-to-prison pipeline, climate change, privatization, student debt, fair taxation, and other issues that affect education quality, families, and communities. Like other Rethinking Schools publications, this useful book is packed with real-life examples and concrete how-to material.

Above the Law by Ben Cohen (OR Books). 16 short case studies show how “qualified immunity” laws shield police from accountability.

Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe (Bold Type). Today’s capitalism tells working people that they should find fulfillment in an economy with “gigs”, “flexibility,” and service work in the caring professions, nonprofits, and the retail sector. But unless they organize, workers are actually getting lower pay, less security, longer hours, and more stress.

Burglar for Peace by Ted Glick (PM Press). Glick was an active member of a Catholic Left group that emerged in the late 1960s to engage in direct action against the U.S. war in Vietnam, including breaking into the offices of draft boards, the FBI, and war-profiteering corporations to destroy or liberate files. He describes how his activism led to 11 months of imprisonment, during which time his eyes were opened to race and class issues. His memoir draws heavily on diaries, testimony, letters, and other documents that show what he and other movement activists did and thought at the time. Now active in the climate action movement, he concludes with some lessons learned in hindsight.

Canyon Dreams by Michael Powell (Penguin Random House). A New York Times reporter spent time following a season of the boys’ basketball team at Chinle High School in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He combines their individual stories with a broader look at the impact of colonization.

The Wealth Hoarders by Chuck Collins (Polity). A researcher who as a young man gave away his inherited wealth explains how billionaire family dynasties maintain economic and political power and avoid paying taxes on trillions in hidden fortunes through shell companies, trusts, and other schemes.

Greening Affordable Housing by Walker Wells and Kimberly Vermeer (Island). Case studies illustrate principles for creating affordable housing that take into account climate change, social cohesion, and community health and resilience.

The Way to Gaamaak Cove by Doug Pope (Cirque). An Alaskan writer and outdoorsman recounts stories of his family’s adventures in the backcountry, often involving bears, harsh weather, his own miscalculations, and his wife’s resilience.


Beans. A Mohawk filmmaker made this dramatic coming-of-age feature film based on her own experiences as a 12-year-old girl when powerful interests sought to build a golf course on a sacred burial ground and used the Canadian Army against her family and others who engaged in civil disobedience to stop it.

Diggers. In a rare feature film that tells a realistic story of working class characters, families that have made their living as clam harvesters on Long Island for generations are confronted by wealthy corporate interests that are buying up the rights to the locals’ traditional waters.

Vanaja. A poor teenaged girl in India is taken in as a servant by a wealthy matron who helps her pursue her dream of becoming an accomplished traditional dancer. The story takes a turn, however, when the matron’s 23-year-old son returns from America to run for political office.

Supernova. Two men, played by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, have been partners for 20 years. Now, one has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and will soon not recognize the other. What will they do?

Night Catches Us. An ex-Black Panther returns home to Philadelphia, years after he left under a cloud of community suspicion that he collaborated with police in the death of another party leader. What happened, we learn, was not that simple.

Aquarius. A Brazilian grandmother has made her home for years in a beautiful old apartment building. Profit-hungry developers are ready to tear down a beautiful old Brazilian apartment building and replace it with luxury housing as soon as all the tenants have vacated. The last holdout, against the advice of her family, is a grandmother who has made her home there for years. As the conflict heats up, both sides play hardball.


Into the Ground by Beth Whitney. A lyrical and melodic album by a roots singer-songwriter from Washington State.

Devil in the Hills by Mary Hott. Drawing on oral history accounts by former coal camp residents in West Virginia about exploitation, sexual assault, and anti-union violence, a 7th generation resident of the state wrote story songs about the region’s often ignored history.

Partly on Time by Kinloch Nelson (Tompkins Square). Soothing guitar instrumentals with titles like Kittens, Company Leaves,, and Partly on Time.

(Matt Witt) matt witt matt witt photography new books new films new music The Seed Keeper World Wide Work Fri, 14 May 2021 00:43:08 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, 16 Dec 2020 00:23:25 GMT
Powerful Poetry on Horsetail at DawnHorsetail at DawnRogue River, Oregon

Powerful poetry by eight women is contained in the latest edition of Radar, an online poetry journal that publishes a photograph or other image with each poem.

I'm lucky enough to have six of my photographs published along side poems by Amy Miller.

If you haven't seen before, check it out.


(Matt Witt) matt witt matt witt photography radar Tue, 27 Oct 2020 22:40:58 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 Thu, 17 Sep 2020 20:56:14 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