You think you know, in advance...


Art & Poetry

E. McKenzie

the mountain was watching
when we built a wall
flooded a whole valley
to make a lake

the mountain was watching
when we half-drained it
to water different plants
somewhere else

the mountain will watch
long after water projects

our permanent empire

just a day in the life


How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives.[1]

A collage essay by C. Hudak

1. One of my favorite places to walk and think is Deadhorse Canyon.

Deadhorse Canyon, Summer 2020

Because it is a small, strange, forested place at the edge of my city, I began reading about the canyon.

The first white man to own Deadhorse Canyon was called George Kinnear. George was born in Pickaway County, Ohio. He spent his early adult years in Indiana, then moved to Seattle in midlife. By the time he was 64, George lived in a mansion in what is, today, a very wealthy part of town. During the prior two decades, George had acquired vast tracts of land all over Seattle, including Deadhorse Canyon.

Nearing the end of his very full life, George felt compelled to set a story straight regarding some riots in Seattle that he’d had a hand in as a younger man.

Describing the mood that generated the riots, George wrote:

A general unrest existed all over the country, business was depressed, times were stringent, men were out of employment, the usual distress that goes with such periods prevailed, making it easy for designing men to organize discontented forces to attack some real or imaginary cause of their troubles…. In the early fall of 1885, agitators began to hold meetings here.[2]

135 years before this pandemic autumn, the agitators came to the Pacific Northwest. The imaginary cause of these particular agitators’ troubles? Immigrants.

Anti-Chinese violence that began in California arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 1885. In early November, a group of Chinese fieldworkers were murdered several miles east of Seattle. At trial, the accused were acquitted, and tension rose. In Tacoma, 33 miles to Seattle’s south, Chinese residents were forced to purchase their own train tickets out of town. Those who could not afford tickets were (literally) death-marched along the tracks. Government and business leaders of Tacoma looted the homes and shops of their Chinese neighbors, and then burned the buildings to the ground.

When the thugs arrived in Seattle, the owner of Deadhorse Canyon was among those who became involved.

2. “The enemy is a mode of seeing which thinks it knows in advance what is worth looking at, and what is not.” -Norman Bryson, in his book, Looking at the Overlooked.

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, Juan Sánchez Cotán, 1602

“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.” -John Berger, in his essay, Ways of Seeing.

3. Chidi Anagonye recently introduced me to the philosophy of Judith Shklar.

The Good Place was a show about the people, demons, judges, and other community members of the afterlife. As the final season opens, Chidi, a philosophy professor, has recently been revived and asked to save humanity. Game for the task, Chidi requests supplies, including Judith Shklar’s book, Ordinary Vices.

To save humanity, Chidi and Shklar say we must call cruelty the worst of society’s failings, and take action to eradicate it. In her essay, Putting Cruelty First, Shklar described prioritization of cruelty as “rare,” “threatening,” emotionally and socially “risky,” “zany,” and the singular and necessary “rampart against mutual destruction.”

Keeping Montaigne and Montesquieu as her guides, Shklar considered cruelty in contexts including:

  • religion—“To hate cruelty more than any other evil involves a radical rejection of both religious and political conventions;”

  • politics—“The usual excuse for our most unspeakable [cruel] public acts is that they are necessary. …Once necessity has been mapped and grasped, it is just a matter of plotting and executing;” and

  • individual morality—“What is moral cruelty? It is not just a matter of hurting someone’s feelings. It is deliberate and persistent humiliation, so that the victim can eventually trust neither himself nor anyone else.”

Throughout history, we have often saved our most vicious cruelty for those we deem different. As Shklar puts it, “…the most spectacular public brutalities are usually visited upon alien peoples….” Shklar describes the ways Montesquieu and Montaigne each took time to elucidate the diversity of ways, throughout history, we have created false divisions. These false divisions (and they are always false) are “necessary” to justify our cruelties. They’re also a grotesque (and futile) attempt to inoculate ourselves against the inevitable pain our inhumanities cause us.

Consider, for a moment, our spectacular brutalities, from our genocides and death marches to our incests, rapes, and banishments. Think, too, of the starter violences and cruelties that clear paths for the more spectacular: mockings, shunnings, belittlements, threats.

4. A decade ago, I was in Edison, Washington at a paella party at a shop called Slough Food. I was with a man I eventually married, and my daughter. The three of us were happy—chatting, eating paella, watching the light on Edison Slough.

A woman approached and asked if I was Courtney Hudak. Her question, superficially innocent, interrupted the sun and filled me with dread.

When I was 8 or 9, walking home from school along Prospect Street, an old woman stood in her yard behind a low, iron fence, watching a passel of us kids pass her by.

“Are you a Hudak?” she demanded, pointing at me.

The sound of the woman’s voice and the sight of her eyes overwhelmed me with a bodily terror I can still feel. I wanted to lie to her but I could not.

“Yes. I am a Hudak.”[3]

“I am your great aunt. On your father’s side. You don’t see him very often, do you?”

Of the other children heading home, only my kid brother stood by me while I withstood the woman.

“I do not,” was all I could think to say.

“Well, you and I are family,” the woman announced. She gazed at me with hostility. I gazed at her with fear. We stood there, silently, staring.

“Go home now,” the woman finally said, when she (apparently) had taken in enough of her view of me. “Tell your mother you saw your Aunt Louise.”

I went home, but I did not tell my mother.

Thirty years later, three thousand miles away, faced again with an unfamiliar person asking me whether I am who I am, my childhood fear re-collected.

I was seated; the stranger was standing. I blinked up at her while I gathered my strength for whatever might come.

“I recognized your voice,” the woman said. “We went to college together,” she said. “We studied poetry together.”

Physical relief rushed through me. Poetry. The woman’s gentle face buoyed up in my memory. She had been very quiet, in college.

We spent a few moments catching up. She was a librarian now, in the Midwest, which seemed true to how I remembered her. She was back in Washington that Sunday afternoon visiting family.

Before she left, she asked me, “are you still writing?”

I felt shame. “I am not.”

“You should be writing,” the woman said. “I still remember your writing. You should be writing.”

There is a story, involving cruelty and men, about why I was not writing, then. The story about why I am writing, now, begins with a quiet woman in Edison recognizing my voice.

5. It was February before the mob came for Seattle. George’s recollection describes chaos—people being forced from their homes by marauding gangs, volunteer militia members shooting and killing people. George says the police were with the mob, but the fire department “performed valuable service.” He describes political disarray, military intervention, judicial activism, and months of fighting in the streets—racists versus a coalition of others that included a group of volunteers known as the “Home Guard.” The Home Guard committed themselves to protecting the rights of all of Seattle’s citizens against encroachment by any thugs.

George wrote:

"The deplorable situation and the cause of all our trouble was—too few men were willing to throw themselves into the breech to defend the right at any cost, and too many were afraid to do anything to check the tide of lawlessness.”

George Kinnear, one of Seattle’s original rich white men, led the Home Guard. Given his time and place, George likely held racist views. And he also believed Seattle and all its inhabitants had a right to peace and safety. George was among those “too few… willing to throw themselves into the breech to defend the right at any cost.”

6. Thirty years before my first walks there, Deadhorse Canyon was an eroding trash heap where not much but invasive species thrived. Set in a mouldering, dark back corner of the the edge of the city, no one appeared to care.

Until, one day, someone did. I don’t know who the first person was. I don’t know whether their intentions were large or small. Others joined the first person’s efforts. A group of them, eventually known as Friends of Deadhorse Canyon, gathered trash, pulled ivy, and replanted the canyon with native plants.

Someone applied for a little grant, to keep the work going. Someone gave them the grant. Someone gathered more neighbors and other volunteers. Eventually, the county noticed there was an important stream in this increasingly beautiful park, and someone suggested that Deadhorse Canyon might be of use to the salmon.

Someone else had already been working to save the salmon. Others had been working to regain the fishing rights to which local Natives were entitled, but which had been stripped from them, over time, by bad policy, bad people, and bad infrastructure.

Some of those working to save the salmon made legal and policy progress. Those working for Native fishing rights won some important cases in court. The neighbors kept coming to Deadhorse Canyon, cleaning and caring.

Deadhorse Canyon, November 2020

“To look is an act of choice,” and we think we know, in advance, what is worth seeing. With time, our choices gather, like stones, in erosion, protection, foundation.

 [1] From Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life
[3] Somewhere along the way I learned that Hudak means peasant. This was confirmed one Christmas when I was unexpectedly celebrating with an elegant old Hungarian man who asked where my grandfather was from. When I told him the village, he delightedly declared, “that is where my peasants were from!”


Whoa, whoa, whoa - turn around! …We gotta go look at it!” This week, Utah Department of Public Safety workers out counting bighorn sheep discovered an unlikely stainless steel monolith in a remote southern Utah desert.

Joshua Tree National Park landscape by O. Skyrus.

Quaternary Surficial Deposits Accumulated 
Found Poem, Geology of Joshua Tree National Park geodatabase

in alluvial washes 
and playas and lakes 
along valley floors; 

in alluvial fans and sheetwash
aprons, along piedmonts 
flanking the mountain ranges; 

and in eolian dunes, 
and sand sheets 
spanning the transition

from valley floor 
to piedmont slope. Sequences 
of Quaternary pediments

are planed into piedmonts 
flanking valley-
floor and upland basins, 

each pediment
in turn 

by successively younger
residual and alluvial 
surficial deposits.

Make art and/or writing. Send it to [email protected]. We will publish submissions in this ezine or in our first limited edition hand-bound chapbook. 

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