"Where the Crooked River Rises" Reviewed in Carmel Magazine

Many thanks to Melanie Bishop for her review of my essay collection, Where the Crooked River Rises: A High Desert Home, in the Holiday 2014 issue of Carmel Magazine. She writes, "I love a book that leaves me altered - that sidles up to my own experience via a terrain and occupation completely foreign to me. After reading such a book, I understand my own life better." Click on the link above to read the complete article starting on page 84 of the current issue.

Writing Down the Baja, Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico Writing Retreat

Most of what you need to know about the Writing Ranch Todos Santos retreat is on this website. However, pay close attention to the guest presenters as they are confirmed. See below for some already confirmed and being considered for Writing Down the Baja 2015. Very exciting! More to come!

  • Bruce Berger, author of Almost An Island and one of the founders of Niparaja
  • Memorist Gordon Chaplin, author of Dark Wind and Full Fathom Five: Ocean Warming and Father's Legacy
  • Baja vaquero poet - more details soon!

Waterston Desert Writing Prize

Stay tuned for the official launch of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize in October 2014. The submission period will be from January through March 15 of 2015, with an award announcement in June 2015. When I moved from New England to a ranch in the high desert of Oregon in 1973, I found my muse in this landscape and, inspired by the Ellen Meloy Desert Writing Prize (www.ellenmeloy.com), the goal is that another award specific to nonfiction writing about the desert will increase desert literature and awareness of these beautiful and fragile landscapes and their inhabitants. The Waterston Desert Writing Prize will, like the Meloy, recognize writing that "demonstrates an engaging individual voice, literary sensibility, imagination and intellectual rigor to bring new perspectives and deeper meaning to the body of desert literature." Applications will be evaluated using a peer review process.

Considerations in the selection process will be:

  • the writing sample's artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy
  • the proposal's strength
  • the author biography's ability to demonstrate a history and future of writing and desert experience

Emerging, mid-career or established writers in the field of literary nonfiction are encouraged to apply. Financial and other kinds of need, the body of past work, geographic location of the applicant, academic career, professional reputation, etcetera, are not criteria for receipt of this award.

In addition to the 2015 cash prize of $1,000 (this will grow as the endowment grows), the award includes a reading and reception at the High Desert Museum of Bend, Oregon, and a residency at Playa at Summer Lake. The award funds are generated by an endowment established while I was the founder/director of The Nature of Words. After over a decade at the helm, I passed the baton in 2012. Sadly, the organization closed its doors in the spring of 2014. However, the very good news is the endowment will live on. More details will be posted soon.

Help grow the prize! Donations to the endowment can be made to Waterston Desert Writing Prize, P.O. Box 640, Bend, OR 97709. The Waterston Writing Prize is a 501 (c) 3. Contributions are tax deductible.

High Road and the Oregon Natural Desert Association Conference

Photo: Oregon Desert Trail by John Lasseter, courtesy of ONDA

Photo: Oregon Desert Trail by John Lasseter, courtesy of ONDA

While at Playa I worked on High Road, the working title for my new nonfiction manuscript. For a preview of some of the themes this book will embrace, come to the Oregon Natural Desert Association conference on September 19 and 20 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I am honored to be included on a slate with Dr. Robert Nash, Professor John Leshy, and author and poet Jarold Ramsey. My keynote on Saturday morning, September 20, will give you a glimpse into this new project which I am very excited about. Visit www.onda.org.

"Now we're left to manage, protect, preserve what's left. Mediated wilderness. The zoo-ing of the wild. The safari-ing of the pristine. Enough access in a variety of forms to keep us inmates on this crowded planet from starving or rioting, enough opportunity to sip the nectar that contact with wild places provides our psyches, but not so much that what is left of the primeval is utterly devastated." -- from High Road (working title) by Ellen Waterston

Playa at Summer Lake Residency

Thank you, thank you Playa at Summer Lake, Oregon for inviting me to luxuriate in two weeks of uninterrupted writing at one of the most well appointed artists’ retreat centers in the country and located in one of the most daunting and prepossessing landscapes found anywhere. Check out the Playa web site www.playasummerlake.org to get some inkling, as well as photographer Terri Warpinski’s beautiful images of this seasonal lake which can be found at www.terriwarpinski.com. In addition to Terri, I was joined by photographers Michael Light and Bea Nettles, visual artist Sandra dal Poggetto, geologist Steve Kuehn and crew, and just missed overlapping the creative team of Roger Asay and Rebecca Davis whose breathtaking rock installation on the lake bed you can see on Playa’s web site. Playa Director Deb Ford arrived last November and the effect of her energy, experience and passion on Playa is evident everywhere. Plan a trip through Oregon’s Outback and time it so you can attend Playa Presents, which concludes each residency period. Great readings and studio tours await! The Summer Lake Hot Springs and the charming town of Paisley are just down the road.  Sage Rooms in Paisley is where I recommend you stay if tent or car camping isn’t your plan.

Summer Lake

Ellen Waterston

 Look, now this fleeting lake’s a shimmering silver platter.

What a kaleidoscope of changing patterns, flight and color.

Sweeps of blue, green, slate. Now brown and pitted by rain’s incessant yammer.

Plover, willet, swallow, gull—dart and hover,

scavenge the seasonal mollusk, bug and brine—

that is until this Summer Lake’s sudden, petulant winds scatter the birds to shelter,

or her mischievous gusts conjure alkaline

dancers—veiled strumpets of chalk dust spinning helter-skelter.

This temporal tarn has no choice but to indulge her every mood,

adore her shallow reflection, succumb to each ephemeral whim.

For she knows she has little time—neither for the enduring mountains that brood

along her edges, harvesting wind and color from the thin

clouds that provision her evaporating palette; nor time

for the petering poet scanning the lake’s drying alkali flats and chimeric chorus lines

               for too late meaning and too little rhyme.

Two new readings of Vía Láctea, A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino scheduled for 2014

Ellen Waterston will be reading from her verse novel Vía Láctea, A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino at the following locations:

Third Thursday Poets, 5:30 p.m., Thursday, August 21, 2014, Mainstage at TheCHURCH, 4660 Portland Road NE, Salem, Oregon

First Draft Writers’ Series, 7:00 p.m., Thursday, November 20, 2014 Pendleton Center for the Arts, 214 N. Main St., Pendleton, Oregon

TEDxBend 2014 video is live!

Image courtesy of  TEDxBend

Image courtesy of TEDxBend

Your speech was powerful, personal, polished, and poetic. You took a subject that most of us choose not to examine and made it okay to look at, in fact to celebrate. I love looking at the rest of my life in a completely different light now, thanks to you.
— Motivational speaker Ken Streater is the author of The Gift of Courage


Literary muse Waterston brings a powerful voice to arts and humanities in Central Oregon. An award-winning author and poet, she teaches and inspires emerging writers of all ages. As founder and former director of the local nonprofit The Nature of Words, she has opened hearts and minds through creative writing classes and an annual literary festival.

Ellen Waterston to speak at Oregon Natural Desert Association Conference

A hiker traverses the West Little Owyhee River Canyon.    Photo: Tim Neville, courtesy of ONDA

A hiker traverses the West Little Owyhee River Canyon. 
Photo: Tim Neville, courtesy of ONDA

"The Desert Conference brings together, inspires and educates over 200 attendees who care about the high desert of the Great Basin and beyond. We’ll focus on the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act and its future promise with two days filled with compelling panel discussions & presentations, hikes and keynote speakers." - ONDA

For more information on the Oregon Natural Desert Association's Desert Conference registration, keynotes, panelists, and schedule, please visit this link

The Making of Vía Láctea

In Ellen Waterston’s verse novel Vía Lactéa: A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, launched November 15, 2013 by Atelier 6000, the reader joins peregrina (pilgrim) as she walks her way to unexpected answers to many of life’s questions along the ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. In this fictionalized accounting, the peregrina finds herself not only in conflict with herself, but also implicated in a battle between a caricature of the Catholic church and Camino Woman. The many real and imagined characters met along the Way, the variety of voices, poetic styles and forms, make this collection a provocative and lively promenade. 

And just who is Camino Woman?

Waterston states: “It was never my intention to write about my experience, but when I got back to Oregon and was sorting through brochures and mementos of the trip, I stumbled on a map of the ten Camino routes that converge in Santiago. What jumped out at me, looking at that small map, was the stick figure outline of a woman leaping. In that moment Camino Woman was born in my imagination and she wouldn’t let me go. She insisted on being written. Fleshing out her fictional character, as the embodiment of all holy women marginalized by patriarchal religions, allowed me to then create and incorporate other characters.”

And the origin of the title?

The Camino de Santiago is sometimes referred to as the Vía Lactéa, a reference to the fact that the Milky Way is always overhead when walking the Camino. This observation by early day pilgrims inspired the legend that the Milky Way was formed by the dust kicked up by pilgrims’ feet.

The Creation of the Art Book

The collaboration between writer, artist, typographers and book designers has resulted in an elegant, limited edition art book of Vía Láctea featuring 15 original hand‐pulled engravings by artist/illustrator Ron Schultz.

Ron Schultz’s engravings, lithographs and etchings have been exhibited extensively in California and Oregon and are included in many private collections. He has also worked as a book illustrator, landscape designer, technical illustrator, and graphic artist. In earlier years, he was involved in the many aspects of the book business, from publishing to retail. He currently instructs printmaking at Atelier 6000 in Bend.

The book artist draws from a wide range of book structures including scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas or loose items contained in a box, as well as bound books and re-purposed books known as altered books. Combining literature with book sculpture, taking a book and retranslating the pages into form, morphing the traditional outward appearance expands the tradition of the handmade book.

In addition to Ron Schultz’s outstanding print work, the elaborate faux leather book binding and the design and hand set typography by Thomas Osborne of Bend and Sandy Tilcock of Eugene, Oregon make the limited edition of Vía Láctea an exquisite example of the book as fine art.

Atelier 6000 is a nonprofit working studio specializing in original prints and books arts. Located in Bend, Oregon’s Old Mill District, Atelier 6000 has been in operation since 2007. The studio is dedicated to advancing printmaking and book arts as contemporary art forms. Support from private foundations, corporate giving programs, government programs, and generous individuals helps make the publication of Atelier 6000’s books possible.

Praise for Vía Láctea

Many pilgrims who walk the Camino reach some form of new understanding of their life and its direction. A fair proportion of these wish to share their insights but words don’t lend themselves easily to describe the inner workings of the soul. Great sensitivity is required and this is where Vía Láctea bridges the gap so skillfully between the sacred and the mundane. Vía Láctea should be in everyone’s backpack, or at least on their bookshelf.
— John Brierley, author of premier guides to the Camino including A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago
I greatly valued you before, having read [Then There Was] No Mountain with its searing honesty. I love you now, having read Vía Láctea. Why? I can only offer a meager account: I know a real person; I know a real journey; and I know the raggedy tangle-tango dance with the joy and horror of it all when I see it. So how can I not?
— James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author of numerous titles including What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life
I’ve just read Vía Láctea and wanted to send you a Brava! I was immersed in the story, on all its levels, and delighted by the poetry. I love the way you have combined the droll, the wondrous, the profound and the daily. I appreciated the variety of formal structure and the brazen feminism that runs through it, neither common these days.
— Ruth Gundle, Professor, Department of English Literature & Writing, Marylhurst University; Former Director, Soapstone writing retreat; Co-founder, Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops
Ellen Waterston is our guide, our pilgrim, our compass through these beautiful and human poems. One feels as if you are walking next to the poet, your heart full— the sky all starlight.”
— Matthew Dickman, the author of All-American Poem, Mayakovsky's Revolver, and co-author of 50 American Plays
‘We all walk endlessly,’ states the peregrina, the seeker whose voice begins and ends this Chaucerian tale told in an impressive array of forms. Ellen Waterston calls on many voices to recount a Camino pilgrimage—voices that offer wit and satire, voices that prickle with gritty observation, voices profane and sacred. One is the embodiment of the female principle. In place of the archetypal Cosmic Man who contains all men, the poet gives her readers Camino Woman, an entity composed from countless women pilgrims—those too long discounted by patriarchal orthodoxy. Another notable voice, the compassionate hospitalero, urges the peregrina to “…listen to the language of your prayers.” And the peregrina—in Vía Láctea’s final poem— responds: “Asking/help from a distant deity/is a waste of time. Prayer/is a reporting, a telling…” Indeed, Waterston tells her tale eloquently by speaking to us in the language of poems.
— Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate and author of Understory
This book is a story told through a number of poetic forms that seamlessly carried me along the Camino de Santiago. The narrative pulls readers along, yet the poetry insists that they linger with the music of words and the often-surprising images. In a time when paths and “old ways” are the subject of much writing, Ellen Waterston has found an entirely new way to record her footsteps as they seek out a new direction in her modern life, even while following old traditions. A free-thinker, she is respectful but independent of the Catholicism all around her; honest about her own lack of clarity, she is able to find humor as well as pain in the sometimes grueling task of putting one blistered foot in front of the other. Those who don’t usually seek out poetry will find this a compelling read, while those who do will appreciate the craft and creative innovation.
— Judith Barrington, author of three volumes of poetry. A fourth, The Conversation, is forthcoming in 2015
In this original and mesmerizing work, we join with author and poet Ellen Waterston in a dance chiaroscuro, spiraling heavenward, stirring the dust of the pilgrim’s path on the Camino de Santiago. This stunning collection of poetic forms rhythmically and lyrically, give movement to this fine work of art and reflection of a seeker for whom there is no cure except to walk. By embarking on this literary and spiritual path before you, the Vía Lactéa, you too consent to undergo the three stages of the camino itself: exhilaration, pain, surrender. With enviable and original skill Waterston articulates in image and form, shade and light, insight and honesty a way that itself is a means of ”illuminating the raven abyss.” Her journey at once destined and random is “exposed to more and more light”; so is the way when we walk in time with our life.
— Marianne Borg, a retired Episcopal priest and founding director of The Center for Spiritual Development, an outreach educational ministry of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland Oregon. After 18 years at the Cathedral she recently retired to Central Oregon where she continues her ministry of spiritual formation, teaching, leading retreats and pilgrimage