Some writers are defined by their topics. But author and Harper's contributing
editor Sallie Tisdale can't be. She has ranged too widely among food, sex, salt,
medicine, logging, friendship, motherhood. Her fans don't know and don't care
what will come next. What they love is her ability to capture the small personal
moments that illuminate life. "I'm an anachronistic advocate of the essay," she
says. "I live in the glorious past."
Tisdale also describes herself as a radical conservationist. "Human beings are
fools to throw away what they have been given," she told me. "The lack of
foresight never ceases to amaze me." In her 1991 book Stepping Westward, Tisdale
chronicled the disappearance of the wild heritage of the Pacific Northwest. "I
want the reader to keep reading seamlessly on, learning about trees-and yet I
have to point," she wrote. "I have to say, Look! Where forest once ranged for
hundreds of miles, there are no trees. Where giant firs and pines used to grow in
great variety, there are only unbroken tree farms as even and ordinary as golf
Before Tisdale went to Kona to scuba dive with manta rays last winter, she
imagined writing a tale of pure, blissful adventure. "Manta Dance," turned out to be
more complicated than that, however, a look at both
the light and the shadows of underwater recreation. "The best divers realize they
have an impact," Tisdale says. "It's minuscule compared to that of industry,
development, and commercial fishing, but it is an impact. We're never
No such moral dilemmas faced novice wolf-tracker Dashka Slater in Signs of the Wild.
A staff writer for the Express, a weekly newspaper in San
Francisco's East Bay, Slater occasionally takes to the wild on Sierra's behalf.
In our May/June 1995 issue she wrote about sea kayaking off the Georgia Coast
(just about the time a hurricane hit). In March/April 1996 she climbed Mauna Loa,
and a year later she floated the Rogue River.
Of all her assignments, the
territory she roamed this time in the sky islands of Arizona is the most remote
and unpeopled. "Twice we came across beautiful little campsites, adjacent to
running steams, that had trees growing out of the fire rings-an indication that
it had been several years since they were last used," she reports. While Tisdale
worried about too much human contact with wildlife, Slater had to work hard to
make any contact at all. Dancing with wolves? It was not to be. But by the end of
the trip Slater had begun to learn something just as valuable-thinking like them.