This month UCS and Penguin Classics met with Chavawn Kelley, author of "A Million and a Half Acres." This essay, selected for inclusion in Thoreau's Legacy, examines the destruction of the pine bark beetle in the context of the Kelley family's love of the Rocky Mountains.
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Where do you live?
I live in Laramie, Wyoming. The town was established in 1869 when the Union Pacific Railroad came across the country. I live not far from the railroad tracks and enjoy watching and hearing the trains, especially at sunset in the summer from the railroad pedestrian bridge. I've been settled in Wyoming 18 years, after a peripatetic childhood. Wyoming is now at the epicenter of an energy boom. Coal, oil, natural gas, coalbed methane, wind. This is not unrelated, I think, to the theme of the Thoreau's Legacy book project.
What do you do for a living?
I'm the corporate communications manager for Western Research Institute. At WRI, I work with scientists and engineers who are developing alternative energy technologies, as well as environmental technologies for the cleanup and "greener-ment" of traditional energy sources. For the Federal Highway Administration we're studying ways to use recycled asphalt and warm-mix asphalt technologies to "green" our highways.
Have you always worked in the energy field?
No. Before WRI, I worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School—sometimes known as "the Harvard of outdoor education"—as publications manager. My husband and I lived at the foot of the Wind River Range, and he was an instructor. We moved to Laramie so he could pursue his formal music education at the University of Wyoming.
Feel free to give a shout out for his band.
Thanks! He's the bass player for the Jalan Crossland Band out of Ten Sleep, Wyoming. They play alt-country Americana music.
It's clear from your essay that you have a strong connection to the outdoors.
When I was growing up, my family took a lot of vacations to national parks. That instilled in me a love of nature. Plus, I ran around in the woods a lot. When I was a teenager, we lived in Atlantic Beach, Florida. I loved being attuned to the ocean's moods and rhythms. Even then, though, I knew someday I'd live where the horizon was jagged with mountains.
My family and I enjoy time in the Medicine Bow National Forest, particularly at Vedauwoo Recreation Area and the aptly name Snowy Range. I am an avid gardener, though it is challenging at 7,200 feet.
Tell us about your interest in writing and literature.
I've always earned my living by my (metaphorical) pen. My first job was as a junior copywriter for a general merchandise catalog. I produced some very memorable lines!
Only in the last few years have I written for myself. Living in Wyoming, I identify strongly with the history, culture, and environment of the Rocky Mountain West. Because my writing time is limited, I tend to produce shorter pieces, like short stories and essays. I've been published in literary journals, and my essays will be included in three other anthologies this year.
Of course reading is important to me. These days I might read Closing the Innovation Gap [by Judy Estrin] for work and Last Child in the Woods [by Richard Louv] during those last moments before bed. At home I have all my Penguin Classics—Ron Carlson, Jack Kerouac, Wallace Stegner, William Trevor—lined up in a row on the bookshelf. I love those orange spines. That sounds like a plug, but it's true.
Congratulations on your success, and for being selected for our book as well.