Sally Gracie TwispBy Sally Gracie

The indefatigable teacher, environmentalist, author and climate change activist Bill McKibben spoke to a packed audience at The Barn on May 18. He began his remarks by presenting the scientific evidence that climate change is taking place and that it is happening primarily because of our reliance upon fossil fuels. He then cataloged the changes to our world that are taking place now, adding a fact that I hadn’t read about: A ‘bowl’ under Antarctica is filling with the warmer ocean water. Even that inhospitable continent is changing.

McKibben and, the international movement he co-founded, are David to the fossil fuel industry’s Goliath, and he wants us to join him in the effort to slow down climate change.  As deleterious change continues — more and more infrared radiation is being trapped in the atmosphere every day — McKibben says it is already too late to do more than keep further change from occurring.

McKibben somehow finds the strength to continue to tilt at the windmills of the fossil fuel industry and all its resources as well as a U.S. Congress that refuses to enact legislation. Calling on his audience at The Barn to join him in taking action for the cause, he asked, “How do we stop [climate change] before it overwhelms every beautiful thing in this valley?”

He holds some hope still for places like his home in Vermont and the Methow Valley, where he “can tell people take care of things.”

Jess Walter is the author of 11 books. His most recent novel, Beautiful Ruins, received universal acclaim; his most recent book is a collection of short stories, We Live in Water. As keynote speaker for the Write on the River conference in Wenatchee on May 16, he proved himself to be as entertaining a speaker as he is a writer.

Walter began by poking fun at writers who read from their books, recalling his father’s comment when he learned that his son was going on a book tour to do “book talks.”

“You wrote the damn thing,” his father said to the writer, “do you have to read it to them, too?”

Although his talk was organized around “Three Rules for Writers,” Walter developed the subject by making clear that he himself violated some of them.

“Write what you know,” is the one rule that Walter certainly follows. He grew up in Spokane and still lives there. His book Citizen Vince, which won the 2005 Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year, depicts the gritty side of the eastern Washington city and the working class people that were Walter’s own roots. He read his “Song of Spokane,” a funny poem that describes the city’s recent efforts to raise its image in lines like this one: “We will only be happy when we get our own Whole Foods.”

I recently read Walter’s Financial Lives of the Poets, and I guarantee that when you’ve finished this novel, you’ll laugh every time you pass a 7-11 convenience store. I’m still laughing at the main character’s failed web startup called, a business site written in verse.

Each of the four Walter books I’ve read is very different, though all his central characters are sympathetic. When a member of the audience asked if he would develop a series from one particularly interesting character, he said he probably wouldn’t continue with any character beyond one book.

Jess Walter currently tops my personal list of contemporary writers.