My mom, Katherine Tait, died suddenly from a stroke in late July. This is what I read at her memorial service this past weekend.

I never really thought of my mother as an authority figure. I suppose she would probably have disagreed, but during the 11 years that we lived just the two of us, from when I was 8 to when I was 19, in a sequence of three different apartments on the same block of First Avenue, I thought of us more as roommates – family, but also friends.

We did everything together: grocery shopping; taking our laundry to the laundromat/restaurant/bar around the corner; watching Saturday Night at the Movies or NYPD Blue. We ordered pizza when we didn’t feel like cooking, and went out for Indian food when either one of us had something to celebrate. We stayed up too late talking on weeknights, and often slept in late on weekends.

Later, as an adult, I understood that those were probably lonely and isolating years for my mom. But at the time, it didn’t occur to me that as a thirty-something or early forty-something she might have wanted to be doing something else on New Year’s Eve besides re-watching Mary Poppins with me. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.

When I left for university in Halifax, I worried that I was abandoning her – I didn’t know what she’d do without me. But she’d met Tom by then, and in my first semester away it seemed like more often than not I called home from school and got the answering machine because she was out for a dinner or a party. I guessed I didn’t need to worry after all.

We never lived in the same city again, not for more than a few months at a time anyway. After Halifax I went on to England to do my Masters degree, and outside of school I traveled more and more and further and further. But we always kept in close touch. I called her from Australia and India, Malaysia and Barbados, England and Italy and Utah and Alaska. In the six years since I moved to Whitehorse, we’ve talked on the phone two, three, four, sometimes five times a week. I would tell her about the stories I was working on, which invoices were overdue, or about the ideas I had for my next round of pitches to editors. She would tell me what she was reading lately, and what she and Tom were up to, whether in Kingston or Phoenix.

This past spring, she called me one Saturday morning and told me that it had been 50 years to the day since her mother, Janet, died of colon cancer. I didn’t really know what to say. Janet’s death has sometimes seemed to me like the central fact of my mom’s life: she never fully recovered from it, I don’t think, and it often cast a shadow over her. I’ve been aware of that shadow for as long as I can remember, but her grief wasn’t something I could really understand.

I hoped and expected to have another two or three decades left before I began to understand it, but here we are.

No matter what else was going on in her life, my mom was relentlessly supportive. Even in her worst times, she was unselfish and warm, and she never allowed the shadow that followed her around to fall on me. She was always the first person I wanted to talk to, with good news or bad. I’m not sure what I’m going to do without her.

MORE New Stories

First up, a new feature for Up Here – Seeking Klondike Gold, With Drones.

Second, an essay for Deadspin about the intersection of hockey, fighting, and substance abuse: What Happens to Enforcers When Hockey Uses Them Up?

My most recent Pacific Standard column is about GROLAR BEARS!

And finally, a really fun-to-research piece for Grantland about a forgotten winter sport: The Rise and Fall of Ski Ballet.

New stories!

It’s been a busy few weeks. I came back from Ottawa late in January, and less than two weeks later I hit the road again to follow the Yukon Quest sled dog race to Fairbanks (by car, not by trail). I’ve been home for a little over a week now, catching up on sleep, email, etc.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a few new pieces published.

My story about surfing in Tofino is in the latest issue of AFAR. It’s available online, but pick up the print version if you can – the photo spread/layout they put together is gorgeous.

For Longreads, I wrote about how The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates built a unique and important corner of the internet – in his comments section. It’s Yours: A Short History of The Horde.

My story about the 2015 Yukon Quest, with wonderful photos by Katie Orlinsky, is up online at National Geographic: Survival is the Ultimate Goal in World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race.

Alaska will no longer have bars on its state ferries. I wrote an obituary for them over at Hazlitt.

And my biweekly column for Pacific Standard is now through its second month. They’re all collected here.

New Story, New Gigs

Happy New Year!

I’ve had a busy start to 2015. I launched a biweekly reported column for Pacific Standard, Dispatches From a Changing Arctic, about environmental issues in the North – I’m excited to work on it throughout the year. I also have a new story in the January issue of Up Here: Cold Hard Competition is about the athletes who run for hundreds of miles through the frozen Yukon backcountry in the annual Yukon Arctic Ultra.

Speaking of Up Here, there have been some big changes there. Sister mag Up Here Business has been merged with Up Here, and the new incarnation of the magazine will come out monthly, instead of 8 times a year. I’m now on contract as the Yukon Correspondent, and will be contributing regularly to future issues.

What I Read in 2014

I managed to read a heap of good stuff this year, nearly all of it narrative nonfiction. I burned through Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers back in January, and I still can’t quite comprehend how she transformed her years of reporting into such a seamless story. I picked up John Jeremiah Sullivan’s instant-classic essay collection, Pulphead, during a trip to Boulder in March, and have been working my way through it ever since. Later that same month I read two fascinating books by writer pals of mine during a three-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington, to Southeast Alaska: The Oil Man and the Sea, Arno Kopecky’s chronicle of a sailing trip through the proposed tanker route for a controversial pipeline, and The Footloose American, about a young Hunter S. Thompson in South America, by Brian Kevin.

In the spring I read two wonderful books by Mike Paterniti: Driving Mr. Albert, about a cross-country road trip with Einstein’s brain, and The Telling Room, a complicated and thoughtful story about a famous Spanish cheese. Over the summer and fall I read three very different books, but each one in a single sitting or close to it: Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls, the story of a group of young women who were murdered – presumably by one uncaught killer – on Long Island; The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko, about an illegal speed run through a flooded Grand Canyon in a tiny wooden boat; and John Branch’s Boy On Ice, about the life and early death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard.

In terms of shorter stuff, I tried my best to keep up with the wonderful stories published by The Atavist all year. I managed to get to Love and Ruin, James Verini’s tale of romance in Cold War Afghanistan, and Charles Homans’ taxidermy heist story, The Dead Zoo Gang. I read A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite, about a casino extortion scheme, and The Trials of White Boy Rick, about a young white crime kingpin in Detroit, and 52 Blue, Leslie Jamison’s sad, thoughtful story about a lone whale and loneliness.

Some other stories that stuck out for me this year: my friend Lauren Quinn’s excellent The Ism and the Alcohol, on addiction and recovery narratives; Landays: Cries of the Pashtun Women, Eliza Griswold’s look at the short rebellious poems shared among women on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; Jon Mooallem’s Lest Ye Be Judged, about a pastor who ministers to major league baseball umpires; Outside Magazine’s 1997 classic on the fine details of freezing to death; Remote Control, Sarah Marshall’s look back at Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan; the very smart Greg Howard on Ferguson: America Is Not For Black People; Brian Phillips’ lovely, haunting sumo epic, Sea of Crises; and finally, The Case For Reparations, an eye-opener from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

New Story!

I’m thrilled to have a short feature in the January issue of Smithsonian Magazine. It’s about dinosaurs, and what a visit to Alberta can teach us about their extinction.

The reporting trip for this story offered a quasi-fulfilment of my childhood dream of becoming a paleontologist. A lot of the field work I tagged along on got cut from the story, but here’s a shot of me helping to wrap newly uncovered fossils in plaster-and-burlap jackets for transport to the lab:


Catching Up

All year I’ve had an item sitting on my To Do list, woefully un-crossed-off: “update website.” So, here goes! Some highlights from 2014:

Way back in January I published a fun story on SB Nation Longform: Wilderness Women, in which I competed to be named “Alaska Wilderness Woman 2013” and earn myself an Alaskan bachelor. In March and early April, Pacific Standard ran a week-long series of pieces I wrote about “opting out” of society in one form or another; the series was anchored by a narrative feature called The Peacemaker, about an Alaskan militia leader accused of conspiring to murder federal officials.

In early May I attempted Canada’s national standardized fitness test for wildland firefighters, and wrote about it for the Yukon News. In June, SB Nation Longform published Why We Play, a piece on risk-taking and sports that is part-personal essay and part-reporting about a remarkable local athlete, Darryl Tait. Birth of a Birder, a World Hum story about my April 2013 trip to the Galapagos, was published in June too. And in July my story about the little-known WWII internment of the Aleuts, from the Spring 2014 issue of Maisonneuve, went online.

I’ve continued to contribute regularly to Up Here and Up Here Business magazines. I wrote two pieces for Up Here’s history column, “Looking Back”: one on the notorious Chilkoot Trail avalanche that killed dozens of gold-seekers, and one on the sad story of Bruce Johnson, Canada’s first Yukon Quest champion. I profiled Chief Mathieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation for Up Here Business. I also put a lot of work into a feature about the mystery of a dead German hiker:
A Cold and Deadly Place.

SKYE on AOL, the website that originally published my story about the “McCandless pilgrims,” has gone offline – I republished the story using Creatavist: Chasing Alexander Supertramp. I’m also thrilled to announce that the story has been included in an anthology that was just released: The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 10.

What else? I appeared on Gangrey: The Podcast, which was really fun. I traveled to new-to-me places in Alaska, the Yukon, NWT, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Lower 48. I landed some big story contracts at big publications, and I’m excited to share those pieces when they’re published. I’ve been working very part-time at a local radio station, reading the news and sports live on air.

I guess I can’t expect to jam a year’s worth of updates into one post, so I’ll stop here. More soon.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,592 other followers