In Praise of Lichens

I neglected to post a link to a lyric essay I co-wrote with a lichenologist, John Villella, which was published in 2014. Lichens are one of my favorite things on the planet. Here’s why: In Praise of Lichens. (Click on the words “View/Download” to download and read it for free.)

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Critical Thesis Published at Numéro Cinq Magazine

 I’m pleased to announce that my graduate critical thesis, A Visual Approach to Syntactical and Image Patterns in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, went online today at Numéro Cinq Magazine. I hope this will become a useful resource for literary scholars, artists, teachers, readers, writers, and anyone who likes to look at pretty pictures.

pilgrim epigraph page

pilgrim page 98

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What We Are Up To

Steven and I have created a website where we post the latest pictures and thoughts about what we are learning and discovering in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon. Salamanders, lichen, woodpeckers, and jackrabbits are some of what you will see at A Season In the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. So far we are updating the site about once a week, usually on Fridays. It’s a fun and quick way to share our works in progress.

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New publication!

Delighted to announce that my essay, “Whirlpools,” with Steven’s photographs, appears in this year’s issue of Flycatcher Journal.


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Lincoln, Oregon

It’s been forever since I updated my blog, and in the interim, I’ve graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA in creative non-fiction and fiction), driven across the whole country in a Nissan Versa (containing two kids, husband, cat, and dog, plus most of what we needed for the coming year), and settled into a new, though temporary, life as a college professor at a little cross-disciplinary program on a mountain outside Ashland, OR. A thousand things have happened, prompting a million thoughts, each deserving its own post. SO here I pause for a brief moment to acknowledge what has been omitted.

Come winter, come the end of my first semester of teaching, I expect I will backtrack in time to catch up on some of these missed opportunities. For now, though, I must push ahead to prep for a writing workshop with my students, prepare for a three-day trip to the Oregon Coast (I’ll be chaperoning Pinehurst school’s middle school class) that starts tomorrow, read the upcoming books for our next segment of study (Brian Doyle’s Mink River, Jonathan Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis, and Christian Smith’s Moral, Believing Animals.

In this new, exciting time, I enjoy the work. I do. This is the best job I could possibly imagine (living in intentional community with students and colleagues, chopping firewood, reading books and talking about them, mentoring students and giving individual feedback on papers, hiking and camping with students). Yet at that same time, I miss the people from my past who have helped to give order and meaning to my life. Amidst the new thoughts swirling around in my brain, images of you flutter and float, breaking my heart and healing it again, energizing me for the work ahead.

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The Mystery of Domesticity

photo by Steven David Johnson

Today I composed a new poem to submit to Numéro Cinq‘s 2nd Annual Villanelle Contest.

Mystery of Domesticity

There’s nothing like the myst’ry of domesticity,
to shock one late or betimes,
like laundry charged with static electricity.

Sheets on clotheslines wave in simplicity;
a sinkful of dishes soak in grime:
there’s nothing like the myst’ry of domesticity.

Rarely free are we from adversity–
spouses, sisters fight: love’s petty crimes.
But laundry’s charged with static electricity.

An herb-lined path offers benedicite—
parsley, sage, rosemary and Time:
fragrant myst’ry of domesticity.

Meals prepared with heteroscedacity:
smoothies, wine, tomato, and limes
stain laundry charged with static electricity.

Two sisters sneak treats in complicity
before the cast iron dinner bell chimes:
behold the myst’ry of domesticity,
like laundry charged with static electricity.

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The Sisters of Cootes Store in Newfound Journal

Steven and I collaborated on another photo-essay about Cootes Store, this time about our daughters’ relationship to place.  We’re excited that the essay found a good home at the online journal, Newfound: An Inquiry of Place.

The Sisters of Cootes Store

The Sisters of Cootes Store
Steven David Johnson & Anna Maria Johnson

Magdalena and Eliza, our daughters, are untroubled by the mixture of natural and human-made materials in their environment. When Eliza was very small, perhaps two or three, she casually mentioned that fingernails were made of plastic. At nine, she now knows about keratin, but mixes real and artificial flowers into a bouquet without feeling a need to separate them. Likewise, her sister, Maggie, sees no inconsistency in crafting a “Queen of the Nature” costume that includes PVC pipe.

Read more at Sisters of Cootes Store


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Two photo-essays, from Steven and me

Steven and I collaborated on two photo-essays recently, which are both published online at Numéro Cinq.  Enjoy!

by Steven David Johnson

Riffing on Whirlpools

What It’s Like Living Here

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Erasure Poem

An interesting contemporary form of making poetry is to take a page of text from a source (say, an out-of-print book, for example), and carefully select some of the words to make a new poem or story.  The remaining words are crossed out, painted over, or covered with collages.

This is a simple attempt of mine, prompted by an online contest through the website Numero Cinq.

The original text is a page from a how-to manual on sword-fighting.  After my changes, the remaining text says something about persistence, and could be applied to sword-fighting, the writing craft, a relationship, or anything you have to set your mind to and work at, despite the feeling that you’re hitting a wall.

If the text is hard to read at this size, click on the picture to open a larger image.

Parry the Wall

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Meditation on Mary, for Advent

On Sunday I preached my first full-length sermon. In celebration of Advent, Community Mennonite Church asked me to speak about Mary the mother of Jesus. The texts were from Luke 1: 26-56 and Micah 5:2-5a.
Continue reading

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