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  September/October 1999 Features:
Cancer, Inc.
Rachel's Daughter
The Estrogen Connection
Signs of the Wild
Manta Dance
 
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Sierra Magazine
Inside Sierra: Stalking the Wild

By Editor-in-chief Joan Hamilton

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 courses."

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 unentangled."

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.


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