Libby’s New Leaf

31 Aug
Hotel Libby

You can check out, but you can never leave.

Libby, Montana, is a small, picturesque town in the northwest corner of the state, surrounded by wilderness and wildlife, with an ice-green river running through it. By all measures, it should be one of Montana’s most popular tourist hotspots. But it has some baggage–an asbestos contamination that the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The toxic mineral once filled the town’s playgrounds, homes, and schools. Living there was deadly. But now, after almost two decades of cleanup, Libby wants you to know that it’s safe, beautiful, and open for business. How does a town undo its tainted history before vanishing altogether? I wrote about Libby, and other towns like it, for Outside.

Kootenai Falls

Leonardo DiCaprio’s stuntman swam through these falls in “The Revenant.”

Getting Away With Murder

4 Aug
Zone of Death

Image by: Annie Vainshtein

In 2005 a Michigan law professor stumbled upon a jurisdictional grey area in Yellowstone National Park where a Constitutional loophole could allow someone to get away with murder. In the last 11 years, Congress has done nothing to fix it. I wrote a piece for VICE about the uninhabited 50-square-mile Idaho portion of the park where it would be impossible to form a jury and a crime could go unpunished. There are some caveats, though, so don’t do anything rash. The story is online here.

The Fastest Man in Rugby

20 Jul
Carlin Isles

Photo: Harry How/Getty

Rugby will return to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924. The United States, believe it or not, is the reigning world champion. If Team USA has success in Rio this year, it will likely be thanks to the feet of Carlin Isles, the fastest man in the sport. Isles grew up in a foster home in Ohio. He was a football player and a star sprinter before he found rugby in 2012. In just four years of play, he’s already become a standout player. I wrote about him for Outside magazine.

Lily Gladstone

13 Jun

Lily Gladstone cover
I profiled a rising star recently for Montanan magazine. Lily Gladstone is a Blackfeet actor who co-stars with Kristen Stewart in the new independent film “Certain Women.” Critics sang her praises when the film premiered at Sundance–Variety said a sustained closeup of Gladstone’s subtly expressive face was the “best single minute of acting this critic saw all festival.”

Despite her recent successes, Gladstone is grounded and humble. She enjoys teaching children to make movies as much as she does acting in major roles like in “Winter in the Blood,” or across Benicio del Toro in “Jimmy P.” Wherever she goes from here, Montana will be watching, and so will the rest of the world.

Sigma Delta Chi Award

20 May

Ricky Jackson, four months after leaving prison, where he served 39 years for a murder he didn’t commit. (Photo: Ann Hermes)

I found out recently that a story I wrote last year for the Christian Science Monitor won a Sigma Delta Chi award for feature reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. I’m happy to see this piece recognized; it was my favorite one from 2015. I was lucky to have met Ricky Jackson, who walked out of almost four decades in prison without bitterness, and with the ability to forgive the man whose lie put him there. He’s a remarkable man, and I’m happy to tell some of his story. My article is available online here.

Beachcombing Capital

20 May

A morning’s haul from the beaches of Texel, Holland. Gloves are called “hand shoes” in Dutch. There are a lot of them.

Last August my wife, our one-year-old son, and I boarded a plane for Holland. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we took a train to the coast, and then a ferry to Texel, a low-lying island in the North Sea that has green fields full of sheep, sunny, laid-back locals, and beaches full of treasure. Because of tides, wind currents, and shipping lanes, Texel is the beachcombing capital of the world. Anything adrift in the waters near Northern Europe has a good chance of landing on Texel. The island has two museums commemorating the most unusual finds. I had an assignment to write about Texel’s beachcombing scene, so I spent my early mornings scavenging the sand. All that looking paid off on the last day, when I found the best treasure of all: a message in a bottle. My story about the trip is in the May issue of Coastal Living, and it’s also online.

Message in a bottle

Eureka! I found this message in a bottle from a 10-year-old German girl on a sailing trip in the Wadden Sea.

Flight of the Salmonfly

2 May
Rock Creek 2015

Fish on! Floating down Rock Creek in May 2015. (Photo by Brad Torchia)

Last May I spent a three days trying to hit the legendary Rock Creek salmonfly hatch just right. I had some help from Patrick Little, a guide at The Ranch at Rock Creek, who was monitoring the bugs’ journey upstream. We scheduled a float for the time and place where the bugs should have been most prolific. But like fishing in general, the salmonfly hatch is never a sure bet. We were rained on, catapulted downstream on a runoff current, and waited in vain for the bugs to swarm. But we caught some fish. And we marveled in the incredible life journey of a prehistoric insect. Photographer Brad Torchia captured the experience with his beautiful photography. The story is in the May issue of Rhapsody, United Airlines’ first-class inflight magazine. If you fly coach, like me, you can read the story online.