Today was my last day at Mojave Desert Land Trust as I prepare for some final summer trips and the return to school in August. Moonlighting in the environmental conservation sector has long been something I was interested in pursuing so this was an experience that I have appreciated on many levels.

I liked that it allowed me to contribute to preservation and conservation during such a tumultuous time for the environment. I liked that I got to network with so many local and like-minded individuals. I especially liked the relationships I was able to cultivate during my time here. I’m looking forward to continued interactions; my work “framily” and I are planning to attend weekly trivia nights. Spoiler alert: we’ll slay.

I also liked that working for MDLT gave my summer vacation a purpose. Through the years I’ve noticed a trend wherein I invest a lot of time looking forward to break, go extremely hard in the first week accomplishing all the things I’ve wanted, am forced to nurse assorted wounds from said “going hard” during week two, the allure wears off in the third week, and by the fourth I’m in a full-blown existential meltdown. What’s my purpose? How am I contributing to the better good? Is this the life I should be living? What is life? Where all da people at? etc. Finding a summer job has completely alleviated this dynamic.

Clocking out today for the final time was therefore bittersweet. Summer vacation can begin in earnest, on one hand. On the other, my days spent fighting on behalf of public lands have come to an end, and that’s something I’ve really come to embrace as part of my identity. The sun may have set today on my time as a Desert Defender, but tomorrow the sun will rise on my first day of summer vacation.

Let’s do all the things! 

“We were victims of unsynchronized passion. Those times when I was out of love, the Kraut was deep in some romantic tribulation, and on those occasions when Dietrich was on the surface and swimming about with those marvelously seeking eyes, I was submerged.” –Ernest Hemingway

Where I Needed to Be

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” –Douglas Adams


In many ways, I have achieved much of what I imagined for myself as an adult. I live on the boundary of a national park and every evening, the shadow of the mountains blankets my house as the sun sets and the stars rise. Coyote howls come in the open windows on the wind. I’m moonlighting at a conservation agency partnered with organizations like Patagonia and The Sierra Club. Last week I conversed with an author of desert literature I’ve long admired, whose canon of non-fiction books dot my shelves. Today I met the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. Next month my contract begins at the junior high, where I’ve been hired as the 7/8 English teacher and entrusted with a new curriculum developed with the help of the History and Bio channels. I maintain an active, healthy lifestyle characterized by travel and new experience. I just spent my first weekend home since April. I have seen every sunrise (thanks for that, Scout). I have made work friends to brighten my days and dog park friends to fill my evenings. Sometimes they even overlap. What more did I want for myself than these things?


I am humbly grateful for this life. It is not what I expected; it is not what I could have imagined, but it is what I needed. I am unaware of the long-term plan shaping my life, but I see it evidenced at each stop along the way.  If I didn’t move to these new places periodically, I would have missed out on meeting these people, seeing these sights, learning these things, sharing these insights, and being shaped by these elements.


Your gifts are not given to you for you. They’re given to you to share with others. This experience is not what I would have chosen for myself, but it allows me to share my gifts with those who either need or appreciate them. I am thankful to be such a vessel. It is fortunate that while being able to share my gifts, I am also able to fulfill so many of my own desires.

Night Hike

Today I am hurting.

Buttered bread and water are my silent company.

It was worth it.

My coworkers and I–a group we’ve begun calling ‘our framily’ for we are all orphaned here alone together–went on a boozy night hike on some of our preserve land under the gilding glow of a full moon. Temperatures were still in the high 90’s after a day of record breaking heat (take that, 131-year-old record!) but the breeze was steady and strong in the boulder-strewn foothills outside JTNP. The moon emerged from a band of high cirrocumulus clouds as we reached the trailhead and cast everything in silver. Joshua trees and creosote bushes threw eerie shadows as their limbs whipped in the gusts. Scout trotted ahead in the lead at an alert crouch, her blinking pink collar interrupting the otherwise bluegraywhite landscape. In our hands, cold cans condensated. Conversation flowed easily in the group, as it does between those of similar minds and educations, carried by the wind between individuals then lost in the chaparral. We reached the top of a rise and were able to look out over the Joshuas into the Morongo Basin below. Across the valley, a summer storm performed above the opposite mountains. Golden lightning bolts snaked to the ground and flashed between higher altitude clouds. The storm was fast moving; it scuttled away on its electric legs as we continued onward. Even as it left the area, golden flashes continued to interrupt our silver-gilded evening for nearly another hour. Drinks were finished, crushed cans were exchanged for fresh counterparts in packs, and fresh stories and perspectives were shared as we continued winding our way through the blue Mojave night. We lost and found trails, toiled in the deep sands of washes, got generally yanked around by Scout, and had a wonderful, tipsy time. She and I got home just before 2 in the morning, the moon now lost in an overcast sky. It was a perfect evening, as far as desert evenings go.

Today though, I am hurting.

It was worth it.

In Support of Public Lands

I have submitted comments in support of National Monuments through many platforms. I have written comments specific to a single Monument and comments encompassing many Monuments. I have not used the same comment twice. I hope you’ve taken the last 60-day period to do the same.


Public lands belong to you. They are a gift to you and your children from administrations that have had the foresight to preserve and protect areas of cultural, historical, ecological, or environmental significance. They provide recreational, educational, and economical benefits to the communities that surround them and, more broadly, are a treasure for all who choose to embrace the gift of public lands.


The comment period comes to a close this weekend. If Bears Ears National Monument (which received a much shorter comment window and much attention from parties supporting continued protection as well as those calling Monuments a ‘federal land grab’) is any indication, public support will swing heavily in favor of continued protections. Corporate interests, especially those involved in resource extraction, will argue otherwise. Will the lowly public’s voice be enough? Time will tell. Regardless, be on the right side of this moment in history.


If public lands for the sake of public lands aren’t your specific cup of tea, here’s another perspective: Stand up for the Monuments to advocate for continued protections for our natural resources. Money matters. Wealth and the fluctuating economy are huge motivators in this argument for/against these lands.


Like the National Forests, public lands are a federal reserve of valuable natural resources. At some point in time, we may need the bounty these lands contain. Now is not that time. Federal resources would be better allocated developing long-term management plans for these renewable (and non-) resources than jumping immediately to the conclusion in 2017, the year that America Became Great Again, that we are in need of harvesting these fruits of preservation. That mindset is short-sighted and frankly irresponsible.



For more information about which Monuments are being reviewed, what it means for you as well as for America, and what you can do, Modern Hiker has a helpful write-up:


To submit comments, REI has an interface available: (as does nearly every other organization with outdoor interests, my workplace included)



Here is an example of one of mine, adjusted because I know how works and I assume the government has the foresight to make sure they aren’t receiving copied comments.


 Dear Secretary Zinke,

I stand in firm support of the California National Monuments. Though I have advocated for those across the nation, the locations here in ‘the Golden State’–Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and the San Gabriel Mountains–are of the most immediate geographic significance to me and my community. … These Monuments provide the obvious benefits of open space, fresh air, wild ecosystems, recreational opportunities, and wildlife viewing but they also serve a larger purpose. … Reducing the size of our Monuments at this time is presumptuous and over-zealous. These resources should continue being protected in perpetuity until America is truly in need of the wealth contained therein. In the meantime, federal resources can be better allocated to protecting these places, developing long term management plans that allow for sustainable harvest, and continuing to allow the American people to enjoy their birthright–our public lands. … For these reasons, I stand in support of America’s National Monuments.

Why these? Let me explain the impression the casual first time visitor might leave with. Berryessa Snow Mountain has breath-taking views of sparkling blue lakes, wildflower covered hillsides, and elusive tule elk. Carrizo Plain boasts California Poppy populations that will dazzle your eyes and delight your senses. Giant Sequoia protects a band of rare and ancient namesake trees who grow in very few coastal locations.  Mojave Trails encompases unique Joshua trees and desert tortoise habitat amidst fiery desert sunsets and vast mountain vistas. Sand to Snow contains part of the legendary PCT and allows visitors the chance to travel from arid desert elevations into the snowy heights of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, only minutes from the heat of Palm Springs. San Gabriel Mountains provides authentic forest wilderness to the myriad residents of the concrete Los Angeles basin. These Monuments are each unique spaces that provide entirely different experiences for the fortunate visitor. The visitor spends money in the surrounding communities on fuel, food, lodging, or sundries, and returns home where friends and neighbors are told of what was seen, heard, and felt. They make time to visit as well, also supporting the local economies. In a ripple effect, these Monuments have impacts so much larger than their initial footprint implies. Preserve this opportunity for continued human experience and continued economic growth; at the same time the resources protected within can be perpetuated and sustained until such as time as America deems responsibly necessary. … 

As individuals, we are small and our voices are soft. As a movement, this is large and loud. People care. Don’t assume that you aren’t significant enough as one person to make a difference. Like sticks in a bundle or droplets in a river, we are powerful together. Make a comment. Raise your voice. Stand up for your public lands. Support National Monuments.

In Dog We Trust

I am undeserving of Dog.


She wakes with the desert sun. Our windows face the dawn and she stretches into the orange rays of early light- bowing low with her front legs, lithe body elongated, tail straight, yawning mouth agape, tongue curled daintily. She finishes her dinner, maybe gets a sip of water. She peeks into the bedroom at sleeping Human. Human should wake up and see this sunrise, Dog may think.

Dog carefully and critically uses paws and nose to rifle through her toy basket for just the right one. Which one will Human most like? Which will make Human happiest?

She selects one. Puts it back. Chooses another. Grabs two. Settles for a squishy ball.

Human is laying on her side on the edge of the bed. Hair obscures face but soft breathing is encouragement enough for Dog to intervene. Dog places Toy on the face of Human. Here, I brought you a thing. It is my favorite thing and I brought it for you. Wake, let’s play! I love you. Here is this thing for us.

Human awakens. An eager brown muzzle topped with butterscotch eyes greets her with gentle bumps, Toy squishing between the two faces. Human  is amused–her sleepy eyes reflect love and humor–but is not as willing to capitulate as Dog wishes. I do this every morning. Why doesn’t she understand yet? I must need to continue training Human, Dog thinks.

Dog wanders away with Toy, pleased with herself if not her latent Human. She entertains herself as the sun creeps higher and the rabbits emerge outside. A lifetime passes. The sun is now a whisker above the horizon. This is not okay. Human needs another reminder, Dog decides.

The empty bowl is always a sure bet. Dog lightly picks up her empty dish and carries it in to Human. Human is facing away from her now though so Dog deftly leaps onto the bed and deposits the bowl on Human. Human’s eyes stay closed but her mouth shifts into a smile with teeth. “Hi little baby,” she mumbles in sing-song. Dog recognizes this greeting. It means Human is up. Human is happy. Human is ready to play! Dog vaults from the bed and out of the room. Human tosses back the ensconcing sheet and shuffles out to the garage for a scoop of breakfast. Dog prances about her legs, eager for pets and mumbles of affirmation. The bowl, now filled, is placed in the kitchen. Human stumbles back into her room and collapses on the bed. Dog stares with perked ears and tilted head for a moment, then focuses her energy on her breakfast. I will resume training Human after Food.

I am undeserving of Dog. Her enthusiasm for life is unrivalled and her love for me, her untrained Human, is implicit. She periodically goes missing on our morning runs or rides through the desert chaparral. I panic the same every time. She returns at her leisure, panting and foaming, eyes sparkling; the same every time. She is training me good, if not quite at her pace.

I picked her up at the airport on the evening of June 25th. She had flown from Colorado on two flights, yet her crate was still tidy and her outlook undimmed. In the year since then, Scout has grown from a 15-lb wiggleworm into a graceful (yet gawky) 50-lb fox. She is cunning, fast (AF), and loving.

She and I spent a lot of our first months in frustrated tears due to the other’s incomprehensible behaviors. Since then we have reached an unspoken understanding of one another. Patterns are predictable. Routines are established.

Scout has learned about bikes, stairs, roadtrips, lakes, rivers, pools, salt water, harnesses, life vests, campgrounds, high altitudes, higher temperatures, dog parks, dog sitters, dog kennels, and ‘dogcations.’

She has cost an arm and a leg in surprises, both good and bad. She recognizes her BarkBox when it arrives each month, full of new things to shred apart. She has a bumpy scar on her ribcage from stitches received after a dog attack.

She has seen me at my best and she has been by me during the worst.

Scout is not what I expected and nothing like I imagined, but she’s mine and I’m so happy to wake up with her muzzle in my face every morning. I am undeserving of such a dog.

Video: A Year with Scout


A Dream Realized

“As it happened I did not grow up to be the kind of woman who is the heroine in a Western, and although the men I have known have had many virtues and have taken me to live in many places I have come to love, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow.

– Joan Didion


Since I read these lines of Joan Didion’s in college, I have been looking for my ‘bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow.’ For a host of reasons, Yuba City has been the closest I can imagine coming to this ideal. A mile from my tidy gray stucco home, the Feather river curves gently around Shanghai Bend on its winding journey towards the Sacramento. As in all river bottoms, the cottonwoods are thick. During spring and early summer, they send forth their seeds in tiny cottony rafts which are then borne by the evening breeze to every shrub and lawn in spitting distance. I have loved living amidst this soft summer snow and see why Joan would have idealized it so.

But what about John Wayne? I have found him here too, though not in the way Joan probably imagined. My tidy gray stucco home with its lawn coated in cottonwood seeds, you see, rests on John Wayne Drive. Was the address a determining factor in choosing this house? For me, having sought so literally an interpretation of Didion’s work, it was essential. Living on John Wayne Drive within sight of the bend in the river where the cottonwood grow has been the culmination of a dream I have carried for years. It was a dream realized. 


Dwellings Past

Over the last year I’ve had to say goodbye to my two favorite homes. Each was heartbreaking, but for different reasons. When my parents sold our childhood home, it was hard because we had to part ways with a place full of our history. So many Harmon stories were written inside its walls. It was our library of memories. Leaving the home in Yuba City was also challenging. This time, rather than parting with what was, we had to say goodbye to everything that could have been. It was a story unfinished; it was a promise unfulfilled; it was friendships unrealized; it was a life unlived. In the end, they are both simply structures. They will hold many more stories for many other families. For me though, these endings were the hardest of goodbyes.


YC House

She Returneth

We have some catching up to do; bear with me as we wade together through the scattered constellations of thoughts and experiences I’ve collected on receipts, notepads, scratch paper, and memos since last we spoke.