Photo: State Library Victoria Collections

Women We Read This Week

Eva Holland’s “Unclimbable” in SB Nation

A good story takes you somewhere. In “Unclimbable,” Holland takes us into the remote sub-Arctic mountains on a camping trip in Canada’s Yukon Territory. To get there, she travels down a road until the pavement turns to gravel, then to where the road ends, then to a weathered dock on a lake where a five-seater floatplane swoops her up and flies over a landscape of “toothy gray mountains, glaciers peeking around the sharp edges of the spires.” (The pilot of her little plane “cheerily” announces to her and the passengers that “any mistake out here will result in all of your deaths.”) Once landed, we follow Holland and her crew of hikers into Canada’s Nahanni National Park Reserve. They climb up a trail and emerge “into a wide, grassy meadow strewn with house-sized granite boulders, the valley circumscribed by sheer rock walls climbing to ragged mountain peaks…”

This place, Holland announces,

is the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a remote, isolated ring of mountains that’s sacred to serious rock climbers but rarely visited by anyone else. And this, here below those steep gray Mordor walls, is Fairy Meadows, a place whose name you thought was cheesy as hell until you got here, footsore and tired and covered in the fine white powder of your own dried sweat, and laid down in the cool green grass to rest.

As I read this story, I actually felt bad about myself. I felt bad about my mundane life, my tame New England neighborhood. Why, I asked myself, are you not in a remote wilderness somewhere? My life suddenly lacked such beauty, such a raw and glorious landscape that Holland so deliciously describes. I wanted to be where she was, camped beneath a rock overhang in the shadows of towering rock spires. Why was I not in this place called Fairy Meadows, with its open field and quick cold stream, its disgorged boulders and roaming marmots?

And yet, to feel inadequate would miss the story’s point. It’s a story about this remarkable wilderness, yes, and the people who go there to camp and to rock climb, but there’s a Zen twist. It’s also about understanding, and accepting, one’s capabilities. While camping, Holland meets three young women from Colorado who have come to climb Lotus Flower Tower, one of the spires in the Cirque of Unclimbables (and one of North America’s most famous climbs). The three women are on a mission–to scatter the ashes of a friend who died in a climbing accident in Peru. But they confront challenges much harder than they’d expected. Holland, subdued by a knee injury that had nearly kept her from making the trip at all, hunkers down at camp while the friends she’s with hike throughout the days, and while the three women take on the Lotus Flower Tower. She watches wistfully. She feels “inert,” wishing she could join in, be less cautious. It’s a story of limits.

However, it’s clear that Holland was not inert during her time in Fairy Meadows–she was hungrily soaking up her surroundings and avidly reporting. She deftly weaves the backstory of three women with a suspenseful rendering of the events of the climbers. Just as I was transported to Fairy Meadows, her careful recording of the climbers’ adventures transported me to the ropes on Lotus Flower Tower. In a way, I was there, too, on the rock face with the climbers, feeling the rock crumble beneath my fingers, the exhaustion of my limbs, watching the dark clouds roll in from a distance.


Brooke Jarvis’ “17 Shots in Pasco” in Seattle Met

Brooke Jarvis’ latest feature looks at the fatal shooting, by police, of an unarmed Mexican farm laborer in Washington state’s orchard country. It’s a complex story, carefully reported and compellingly written. I won’t say too much more, but here’s Jarvis introducing the piece in her own words:

In the days and weeks that followed, the cell phone video would be watched over two million times. The running man would be identified as Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an unemployed, unarmed, 35-year-old orchard worker from Michoacán, Mexico, who had lived in the area for 10 years, and Pasco residents trying to make sense of his life and his death would accuse each other of unfairly casting him as either a saint or a villain.

Hundreds of people—many of whom either also worked in “el field,” like Zambrano-Montes, or whose family members had once crossed the border to work there—would fill the streets of Pasco, the seat of Franklin County, which is a magnet for seasonal farmworkers, especially from Mexico, and which in 2006 became the first county in the Northwest to become more than half Latino: a “minority majority,” as people here often say.

The shooting would draw international media coverage, the condemnation of Mexico’s president, and the involvement of a federal mediator from the Department of Justice. Zambrano-Montes’s family would retain the same attorney who represented the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice. The New York Times, pointing out the underrepresentation of Latinos on the city’s police force, school board, and city council, would call what happened a “ ‘Ferguson’ moment for Hispanics.” In Pasco and the surrounding region, people would heatedly debate what they might have in common with a Missouri town they’d never been to and what the shooting and its victim revealed—if anything—about their own city.


Melissa del Bosque’s “Q&A with Dawn Paley, Author of Drug War Capitalism” in The Texas Observer

Melissa del Bosque’s interview with Dawn Paley about her book, Drug War Capitalism, covers a lot of important territory. Paley discussed how militarization, both in the Mexico and the U.S., has benefitted the private sector, something that seems obvious but that is rarely discussed in mainstream media discourse. She also makes the connection between extreme violence in Mexico and the militarization of extractive projects, which makes the tired old conversation about all violence being tied to drug cartels fighting for territory much more complex. While the mainstream media is distracting us with the “drug war” narrative, Mexican politicians and their armies are carrying out mass displacement in areas of the country that they want to open up for fracking. Paley explains why it is so difficult to change the dominant media story:

I feel like as a journalist there is this idea that if you’re not writing about the drug cartels and the battles and not chasing ambulances then you aren’t really covering the drug war, you’re covering something else. The dominant discourse in the media is so restrained and the language that they use is about Cartel X and Cartel Y fighting each other and the amount of drugs, and there are these sets of things that you have to say… the body counts. And what the police say and what the government is doing about it. Going outside of those boundaries is something that could be risky for people’s careers. There is very little space in the mainstream media for telling other versions or for challenging that official version. People have built their careers on that version of events. I think that’s another part of it: There’s analysts, there’s journalists, there’s police officers, DEA officers there are all of these segments of society that depend on that official version. Challenges to that version of events could undermine the legitimacy.



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