I am grateful for 3 literary and personal friendships with individuals whose names begin with the letter E.: Robert Euler, Karla Elling, and Lorraine Eiler.
Bob Euler was one of my anthropology professors at Prescott College, but also a broad-based scholar of the Grand Canyon. One of his lectures to us on the history of early descriptions of the Grand Canyon was a show stopper for me. He read excerpts from the journals of Franciscan explorer Francisco Garces and geologist John Wesley Powell, and then said, “But after World War 2, scientists began to write in a stuffy, cramped way about even the most beautiful and intriguing places and cultures in the world, without the grace of Garces and Powell. We need to put an end to all that crap. Having your own writing match the mountains and the canyons.”
That was it for me: a free coupon to explore scientific writing that didn’t bore the crap out of everyone. Bob co-wrote one or two articles with me later on, introduced me to Stewart Udall and to Native American families that offered me hospitality and hope. Thanks Bob.
Karla Elling hosted me at Arizona State University’s creative writing program when I guest-taught for a semester while poet Alberto Rios was on sabbatical. Her great gift to me and a dozen others was helping to organize and facilitate a workshop called Writing the Lives of Plants and Animals with the likes of Richard Nelson, Hannah Hinchman, Alison Deming, Bill Kittredge, Harley Shaw, and other seasoned writer-naturalists.
Many partnerships evolved out of those three days together. She also elaborated hand-made paper out of Arizona and Oregon wildflowers for a broadside of two poems that Kim Stafford and I were commissioned to write on the topic of endangered plants, which set in type on a letter press. It won a Western States Book Award for Karla, and a copy still dons my office wall.
Lorraine Eiler is a Hid C-Ed O’odham elder, retired health care professional, and among the founders of both the International Sonoran Desert Alliance and the Hid C-Ed O’odham Alliance. A stunningly articulate, beautiful, and brilliant woman elder of the border, she has collaborated with both me and my grade school buddy Adrianne Rankin on the ethnobotany and ehtnohistory of The Sand People’s of the Pinacate and Gran Desierto.
This last year, we prayed, traveled and wrote together a lot about border wall injustices to traditional cultural properties and sacred sites along the border. I can’t tell you how many times her storytelling about border injustices have left me with tears, only to find myself laughing at other absurdities that have happened in the zona fronteriza. She is a key voice in a new film soon to be out regarding transborder tribes. I feel honored to be in her presence every time I see her.