Unpath’d Waters

Unpath’d Waters: a series of books about leaving our precedented world.


As the presidency of Donald Trump and the recent record-breaking heat waves demonstrate, we live in unprecedented times. I experienced it first-hand on the afternoon of July 25th, 2019, while traveling on a train from Berlin to Prague on a day that obliterated heat records across Europe. By the end of the overheated trip, I realized that the world had crossed a threshold from the ‘precedented’ one that I had lived in all my life into the ‘unprecedented future’ that a forest ecology friend of mine always said was coming.


It wasn’t just a theory anymore, it was here.


This series was sparked by an anguished question from our eight-year old daughter over breakfast one day in late 2007. Listening to a report on the radio about climate change, she asked: Are all the polar bears going to die? We reassured her they wouldn’t and she trooped off to school. Her anguish sank into me, however. What if the polar bears did die off? What if she never got to see one in the wild, ever? Worse, how do you explain to your children what we’ve done to the planet – their planet – over the past sixty years as a consequence of our hard partying? How do you explain to them not only our actions but our inaction as well? Children can see the trouble coming for themselves. When they ask, what do we say?


As a parent and a writer, the anguish embedded in these questions created a strong desire to do something. At the very least, I wanted to document what I was witnessing so our children and their cohort could get a sense of why we did what we did – or didn’t do – as a society. Hopefully, I would be documenting how we managed to solve our problems and turn things around. If we failed, however, I was certain that future generations would ask their own anguished (and angry) questions. So, on Earth Day, 2008, I began a journey of essay writing, blending headlines with observation, travel and research into chronological installments which I posted on my web site.


In 2015, Counterpoint Press published a selection of these essays along with others I had written about collaborative conservation and progressive ranching (part of my day job) in a book titled The Age of Consequences: A Chronicle of Concern and Hope.


My journey continued. I resolved to find hopeful answers to anguished questions about food, water, and climate change. In 2010, I discovered a very hopeful answer involving soil carbon. This became Grass, Soil, Hope: a Journey Into Carbon Country published by Chelsea Green Press. My voyage kept going. In 2012, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere surpassed 400 ppm (parts-per-million) for the first in time in three million years – longer than humans have been on earth. Scientists warned that crossing this symbolic but critical threshold would lead to unprecedented conditions and limit our ability to maintain a habitable climate. In late 2015, just as the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris was taking place, we crossed the 400 ppm threshold. This crossing is recounted in The Threshold: Leaving Our Precedented Past (to be written).


Next, I wrote Consilience, a novel set shortly after The Threshold, followed by the first installment of the Sun Ranch Saga, a mystery series (set in 2008-09).


All of these books examine the transition from the ‘precedented’ world that I grew up in to the very uncertain and perilous future now taking shape.


In The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last plays, nobleman Camillo warns young lovers Florizel and Perdita against recklessly pursuing “unpath’d waters, undream’d shores.” They should stick close to home instead, he insists, and play it safe – advice the lovers accept. We didn’t play it safe, however. We have chosen to sail directly into our unprecedented future. That’s why I’ve decided to group these books under a series title: Unpath’d Waters.


I don’t know where we are going – no one does really – and I don’t know what we will find ultimately in this unprecedented new world, but I suspect my experiences during this time as well as hopeful practices and strategies that I discovered along the way would be useful to readers (for more see ACTION). To that end, I’ve arranged the books chronologically and I would encourage readers to follow their path for a full expression of this important transition.


I took photographs too. They are documented under the title This Moment In Time.

(volume 1: The Sun)


A Mystery Series.                        set: 2008-09


Without warning, Dr. Bryce Miller, a young doctor in Boston, inherits a historic cattle ranch in northern New Mexico from a wealthy uncle she barely knew. She flies out to sell The Sun to the highest bidder, but things get complicated when a body is found murdered. She must choose among suitors who want to turn the large ranch into either: an upscale housing development, an oil-and-gas field, a nature preserve, a casino resort, the underground home for a doomsday cult, or the plaything of a shadowy business mogul. Each is willing to pay a large sum of money – and maybe do anything – to get the property. She has seven days to decide.


The Sun Ranch Saga is a contemporary mystery series centered on a working ranch near the fictional town of Alameda, New Mexico. The books in the series take place during the tumultuous years of 2008-9 and explore various national issues still churning today. The murders happen against a backdrop of conflicts over cattle and wildlife, the impacts of changing technology, Wall Street collapse, an acrimonious presidential campaign, rising cultural and economic divisions, and a possible Sasquatch sighting!


The series is organized into four-book cycles separated by an ‘interlude’ book. The first four-book cycle is set during the summer of 2008 (The Sun, Sun Down, Sun and Moon, Sun Rise) and focus on Bryce’s struggle to save her ranch in face of mounting odds. The second book cycle (Full Sun, et al) takes place in the fall and explores the destructive consequences of Wall Street’s collapse. The third cycle takes place in the first half of 2009 and chronicles the rise of the Tea Party, rural discontent, and early efforts at political healing.


Each book covers a week, opening with a mysterious death and closing with its resolution. Each four-book cycle resolves a larger mystery, although two or three ‘big picture’ mysteries don’t get fully resolved until the end of the series. The two ‘interlude’ books are Whodunits set in the past, near the ranch, and provide important background to the Saga. The first, Prisoner of Doubt, is set in the frontier mining town of Dunraven during 1890. In this story, the sheriff’s wife comes to believe that a string of deaths among women in town is not accidental. However, the men who make up Dunraven’s leadership remain stubbornly skeptical – almost until too late.


The stories in the Sun Ranch Saga reflect the author’s personal experience over two decades at building common ground among conflicting groups in the American West while exploring global issues, including food, water, and climate change challenges. The series is intended to be hopeful, thoughtful, and fun!

The Age of Consequences: a Chronicle of Concern and Hope


A Collection of Essays.                   2008-2011


This is a book about questions and answers.


We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history,” meaning we live at a decisive moment of action. The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light shining in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences – a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite hard, raising difficult and anguished questions.


How do you explain to your children, for example, what we’ve done to the planet – to their planet? How do you explain to them not only our actions but our inaction as well? It’s not enough simply to say that adults behave in complex, confusing, and often contradictory ways because children today can see the warning light in Civilization’s dashboard for themselves. When they point, what do we say?


As a parent and as a writer, this anguished question created a strong desire to document the sequence of events that I was witnessing as well as attempt to explain our behavior as a society. Hopefully, we would manage to turn off the warning light in the dashboard, but if we did not I was certain that future generations would want an accounting of our behavior. So, in 2008 I began to write, blending headlines with narrative and observation, travel and research into chronological installments, crossing my fingers.


Meanwhile, my work with the nonprofit Quivira Coalition provided hopeful answers to various Age of Consequences concerns, including many ‘low-tech’ solutions involving sunlight, grass, dirt, creeks and animals. These answers included ecological restoration, grassfed beef production, local food systems and carbon sequestration in soils, all part of what is being called a ‘new agrarianism.’ We saw it as connected – cattle, soil, grass, water, food, people – all working in nature’s image of health and regeneration.


Eventually, I viewed these anguished questions and hopeful answers as two sides of the same coin and pulled them together into this book. Answers exist if we’re willing to work together and try new ideas (and some old ones). While there’s much to worry about these days, there’s also a lot that we can do together at the grassroots – beginning literally with the grass and the roots.


Grass, Soil, Hope: a Journey through Carbon Country


A book.                               2010-2012


I sat down one morning at my dining room table and began sketching on a sheet of paper. I drew every joyous, sustainable, resilient, regenerative, land-healing, relationship-building, climate-mitigating, local food-producing activity I could pull from my experience, putting them into a single mythical landscape. I sketched (badly) cattle-herding ranchers, weed-eating goats, bat-friendly water tanks, creek-restoring volunteers, land health-monitoring crews, fish-friendly wetlands, grassfed beef businesses, no-till farms, and on-site renewable energy projects. Then I added cities, schools, farms, beavers, wolves, birdwatchers, kitchen gardens, wildlife corridors, compost piles, and more.


I intentionally left out boundaries, including property lines, political divisions, and geographical separations. There was no distinction on my map between public and private land, or between wild country and non-wild. It was all one map – all one vision in which wolves, cattle, bats, organic farmers, biologists, artists, foxes, fish, cities, and ranchers all worked together and got along.


When I was done, I sat back and studied my map. I knew this place. It was the land I had been exploring for years – except it wasn’t. I hadn’t considered it from a carbon perspective before. It felt like a new country, ripe for further exploration. But where would I go? What would I discover? Were there actual on-the-ground solutions to the rising challenges of the 21st century? If so, was there an answer to an increasingly anguished question being asked Americans of all stripes: what can I do to help? I knew a few things going in:


Carbon is key. It’s the soil beneath our feet, the plants that grow, the land we walk, the wildlife we watch, the livestock we raise, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the air we breathe. Carbon is the essential element of life. Without it we die; with too much we suffer; with the just right amounts we thrive. A highly efficient carbon cycle captures, stores, releases, and recaptures biochemical energy, making everything go and grow from the soil up. In the last century or so, however, the carbon cycle has broken down at critical points, most importantly among our soils, which have had their fertility eroded, depleted, and baked out of them by poor stewardship. Worse, carbon has become a source of woe to the planet and its inhabitants as excess amounts of it accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans. It’s all carbon. Climate change is carbon, hunger is carbon, money is carbon, land is carbon, we are carbon.


We don’t have to invent anything. Over the past thirty years, all manner of new ideas and methods that put carbon back into the soil and reduce carbon footprints have been field-tested and proven to be practical and profitable. We already know how to graze livestock sustainably, grow organic food, create a local food system, fix creeks, produce local renewable energy, improve water cycles, grow grass on bare soil, coexist with wildlife, and generally build resilience on the land and in our lives.


It’s mostly low-tech. It’s sunlight, green plants, animals, rocks, mud, shovels, hiking shoes, windmills, trees, compost and creeks. Some of the work requires specialized knowledge, such as herding livestock or designing an erosion-control structure in a creek, and some of it has high-tech components, such as solar panels or wind turbines, but most of Carbon Country can be easily navigated by anyone.


Lastly, you’re on the map too. Everyone is, whether you live in a city, go to school, graze cattle, enjoy wildlife, grow vegetables, hike, fish, count grasses, draw, make music, restore creeks, or eat food – you’re on the map. You live in Carbon Country. We all do. It’s not a mythical land; it exists. Here’s what I discovered.

The Threshold


A book.                 2012-2015   (Prologue: 2019)             to be written


This is book focuses on the years 2012-2015 when the world crossed a critical physical threshold for the first time in human history.


Threshold: (1) the sill of a doorway; the entrance to a house or building; (2) the point at which a psychological or physiological effect begins to be produced; the starting point of an adventure or experience; (3) the maximum point or upper limit at which a state or condition transitions into another state, usually permanently.     – Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary


As the presidency of Donald Trump and the record-breaking heat waves this summer demonstrate, we live in unprecedented times. I experienced it first-hand on the afternoon of July 25th, 2019, while traveling on a train from Berlin to Prague on a day that obliterated heat records across Europe. By the end of the overheated trip, I realized that the world had crossed a threshold from the ‘precedented’ one that I had lived in all my life into the ‘unprecedented future’ that a forest ecology friend of mine always said was coming. It wasn’t just a theory anymore, it was here. This is a book about crossing the Threshold.


Part travelogue, part reflection, The Threshold takes readers to a progressive farm in Costa Rica, science conferences in Europe, Monarch butterfly reserves in Mexico, and an imperial palace in smog-choked China. I took my daughter to a cattle grazing conference in London and my son to a massive climate change protest in New York City. I explored the mysterious paintings in Cro-Magnon caves of France and the consequences of the Allied bombing of Germany during World War II. I pondered wilderness in northern Minnesota, and Mozart at his home in Salzburg. In Paris, my quest reached closure at the United Nations climate summit, including an emotional visit to the sites of a terrorist attack.


The journeys reminded me that despite our destructive behavior we are an ingenious, creative, and soulful species, capable of marvelous feats of imagination and caring – qualities we will need as we move deeper into our unprecedented future.




A time travel novel.                               set in 2016   (written, looking for a publisher)


To find answers we must look at the world with fresh eyes.


Daniel notices a young woman behaving oddly in an upscale grocery store where she marvels at the bounty of food for sale. Thinking she must be a spy for a foreign government because of the high-tech watch she wears, he strikes up a conversation with her that changes his life utterly. Jo is a spy, but not the usual kind. She is a time traveler on a one-way mission to record information desperately needed in the future, employing technology – and special powers – that don’t exist yet, as Daniel discovers.


Though Jo won’t divulge details, things have gone badly wrong in the future, including politically. She needs his help to complete five Tasks and as they work together, Daniel begins to see our world very differently. Meanwhile, a shadowy group known as The Chasers pursues them as Jo attempts to complete her assignments before her time runs out. Danger and urgency bring Daniel and Jo closer until they fall in­ love despite the impossibility of their situation. After a brief parting, they become inseparable.


The story takes Jo and Daniel to places we take for granted: a grocery store (Chapter One), a mall, a zoo, a road, a farm, a high school, a suburb, a ranch, a theater, and a national park, among others. It asks questions on the minds of many young people today: where are we going as a society? Will we have our current bounty of food forever? What happens if the climate changes for the worse? Can we relax our vigilance over democracy?


This Moment In Time: Photographs 2005-2015


A Fine Art Photography Project (color)         2005-2015


As we entered what I came to call The Age of Consequences, I wondered: what did it look like? What was normal now? Would be look back proudly? Regretfully? Nostalgically?


The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina changed the focus of my work and made me confront the urgency of climate change. I suspected we were entering a critical period for action. Desiring to capture the mood of the times, I purchased my first digital camera began to take photographs as I traveled. My goal was to shoot images  that were “time dependent” rather than “timeless” in an attempt to interpret this important period of time.


The project ran until the Climate Summit in Paris in 2015, which I attended. At that point, a critical climate threshold (400 ppm) had been permanently crossed and I considered my project to be complete. I selected images based on their artistic and ethnographic qualities in documenting the decade between Katrina and Paris and collected them in a portfolio that I posted on Zenfolio in 2016.