EPA Inspector General Finds no Bias in Pebble Assessment

The EPA's Office of the Inspector General on Wednesday released its long awaited report evaluating the EPA's controversial assessment of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The mine's developers have alleged a biased EPA process was aimed at shutting the mine down pre-emptively, but the report disagreed. "Based on available information, we found no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted its assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, or that the EPA predetermined the assessment outcome."

The Pebble Partnership, of course, disagrred, and quickly issued a release that accused the Inspector General of whitewashing the agency's "serious bias." Pebble CEO Tom Collier called the report an "embarrassing failure," but took solace in the fact that he expected congressional investigations in the EPA's actions to continue.

And, indeed, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Science Committee, promised as much, issuing a statement assailing the report for drawing "misleading conclusions without having all the facts." "The Science Committee will continue to investigate the actions of the EPA," he said. The Committee held a hearing in November to review the EPA's actions on Pebble, and a planned follow up hearing has yet to be scheduled.

The Longest Cosplay Weekend Ever

There has been plenty written on the gang of malcontents playing a dangerous game of dress-up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, much of it dismissive or satirical--and really, it's hard not to; this whole thing is farce bordering on slapstick--but some of it very good, including this account of how closely the refuge has worked with local ranchers on land use issues, and this one on the ideological path leading from the sagebrush rebellion and "wise use" exponents to this blundering and intellectually confused "occupation" of a bird sanctuary.

But I think we give this group too much credit when we treat their ignorance as ideology and their temper tantrum as a political action. Travis Longcore, a professor at USC, has a great post up on Medium highlighting a particular strain of ignorance at work in the occupation: its antagonism towards the scientists who work at our National Wildlife Refuges and the science that they do.

The Bundy brothers have commandeered the office of biologist Linda Sue Beck as their personal flophouse, somehow construing her work on fish as infringing upon their rights. As Longacre writes:

The occupiers of the refuge poke fun at Beck, her research on fish, and the normal trappings of a research station, including a dried bird in a storage area. They incredulously claim that the bird is “what they’re going to kill people over.” Presumably “they” is the federal government, and they mean to convey that Nature — the birds, the fish, the land — has no use or value.


The armed takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is, therefore, not just an attack on a federal property. It cuts deeper than that. It is an attack on the modern science-based approach to land management and it is an attack on the value and worth of science and scientists in the United States.


When the occupiers blithely talk of putting the land “to use” again (as if scientific research, recreation, hunting, fishing, education, and all manner of public access were not “use”), the CNN reporter mindlessly repeats the trope, implying that the occupiers have a legitimate demand in wanting to work the land, as if it were some sort of de Tocquevillian tragedy that one of the most productive migratory bird stopover sites on the Pacific flyway was not being overrun with cattle by the ranchers from Utah. No, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge does not need to be worked, and CNN should have reporters that know better than to take the claim at face value.

I encourage you to read the whole thing here. Also very good for understanding the impulses driving the occupiers: this piece in Mother Jones on the economics of small scale cattle ranching and the impact of beefpacking monopolies.

Under the Sea, with Trevor Paglen and the NSA

An undersea cable off Miami. (Photo courtesy Trevor Paglen and Metro Pictures Gallery)

When I spent a day with Trevor Paglen in September for a NewYorker.com article, we talked a lot about his most recent work, a series of underwater photographs focused on the undersea fiber optic cables that form the backbone of the global internet.  These eerie seascapes featured all of the usual ocean floor detritus--sand, coral, fish--as well as those cables.

Paglen has long made art focusing on the architecture and infrastructure of the NSA's surveillance state, and his focus on the undersea cables was no different: every cable he photographed had been revealed, thanks to the Snowden leaks, to be tapped by the NSA.

When we met, he'd mentioned his intention to take a group of people on a dive at one of the cable sites during Art Basel, and writer Brian Boucher, from ArtNet News, was part of a group that he described as "mostly well-heeled, art-loving participants [who] paid $500 each to join the artist. Among them [were] a San Francisco art dealer, a Sotheby's specialist who's in town from Asia, and a Los Angeles curator." As for the cable itself:

It doesn't look like much, as you might expect. I had somehow anticipated a pristine white plastic tube, but in fact it looks crusty, like it's covered with sand-hued barnacles. Plants that look like purple pipe cleaners are either growing around it or actually stemming from its surface. I'm not sure which, because I don't get quite close enough to tell, since Paglen has warned us, “Don't touch it."

Of course, one of my fellow divers promptly touches it. You might as well get your money's worth, I suppose.

At that moment, we've achieved what we've come here to do.

We swim along the cable for a few minutes, as all the information—all of it—courses along beneath our fins. All the emails coming from European dealers to their colleagues at Miami's twenty art fairs all happening at once, for example, and all the bank transfers from art buyers visiting from Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, going to those dealers in London and Paris. All running through that wire.

Read Boucher's full report, and see more photos, at ArtNet.

Felony Plea for Polluting Mine Operator

James Slade, former operator of the XS Platinum mine in Alaska, agreed to a felony plea deal in November for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The Platinum Creek Mine along the Salmon River near Goodnews Bay. (Photo Mark Lisac, ADN)

The Platinum Creek Mine along the Salmon River near Goodnews Bay. (Photo Mark Lisac, ADN)

As I reported previously, Slade and other XS Platinum executives were accused of five felony counts centered on a conspiracy to knowingly dump mine waste into Southwest Alaska's Salmon River.

Further, according to the indictment, they deliberately misled regulators and submitted false statements to hide the pollution that they knew was occurring. The indictment is also noteworthy because XSP marketed itself as a "sustainable" mine that would get its platinum from mining waste rather than fresh excavation, and, as such, signed a contract with Tiffany & Co, which has positioned itself as a leader in responsible mining by signing on to a "No Dirty Gold" campaign directed at another Alaska mine.

It was the first time in Alaskan history that a mining company faced criminal charges for a Clean Water Act violation. The Canadian Slade, who served as the mine's Chief Operating Officer, was left to take the fall after the two other executives indicted with him, Bruce Butcher and Mark Balfour, fled back to their native Australia.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Slade could face up to a year in prison and fines of up to $250,000. A hearing on the plea deal is expected in January.

Publication Day: Conversations with James Salter

Yesterday was the official publication date for Conversations with James Salter, edited by Jennifer Levasseur and Kevin Rabalais, and I am honored to have an interview included in it. Salter has long been one of my favorite authors and a personal hero, and when I had the opportunity to interview him over lunch in 2011, it was truly a career highlight. I was nervous and bumbling; he was gracious and witty and wise.

Our conversation appeared in a very abridged form in Outside, so I was happy to have a chance to go back to the full transcript and put together a much longer version for this collection. While it was being edited, Salter passed away suddenly, in June of this year at age 90, but I had discussed the collection, and my entry in it, with him and he seemed pleased at the prospect.

I've yet to get my hands on a copy, so I haven't seen the other entries, but I can't wait. And while it's a book that's sure to appeal to academics and Salter-philes of the highest order, I hope it will find a slightly wider audience as well, though for cost reasons, perhaps I should pin those hopes on the Kindle version ($14.99) rather than the hardcover ($55).


Along The Umpqua: Roseburg After the Shooting

Roseburg, Oregon, is one of my favorite places in the world. It's where my grandparents lived most of their lives, where my father and my uncles grew up, and where I got married this past August. So news of the shooting at Umpqua Community College was shocking, surreal, and deeply saddening. It was difficult to imagine that sort of thing happening in that place. In such a small-town idyll, it has left people feeling, as one local friend of mine put it, that “we have all lost a bit of our innocence.”

I had the opportunity to put down a few thoughts for Harper's about the place, its rivers, and its people as a way of trying to communicate something about it to a wider audience who might only know it now through its association with a senseless tragedy.

The piece also discusses Larry Levine, the professor who was killed with his students. Larry was also a long time fishing guide on the North Umpqua who I was lucky enough to fish with a couple times.

Read the rest of the piece at Harpers.org, and if you'd like to support the survivors and families of the victims, please visit the UCC Strong site, where the Douglas County United Way is coordinating giving.

Everest: Survivor Interviews

The infamous, tragic events of the 1996 climbing season on Everest have been the subject of dozens of articles, documentaries, and books, including, of course, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

An now, finally, inevitably, that story has made its way to the big screen, though in a version based more on the other accounts--notably those of Beck Weathers and Anatoli Boukreev--than on Krakauer's. The multiple accounts that came out of the tragedy offer conflicting characterizations of the events, with many other climbers seeking to correct what they saw as Krakauer's errors.

I haven't yet seen the film, but the clips I have seen are astounding in their portrait of the mountain itself. The cast, however A-list they may be, inevitably must take a back seat to the peak and capital-N Nature. (Much of the high-altitude footage benefited from the skills of cinematographer Kent Harvey, who I had the pleasure of climbing Aconcagua with in 2009.)

And perhaps that's for the best: there are simply too many characters and too many conflicting narratives of what happened there on May 10th and 11th, 1996, to squeeze into a two hour Hollywood feature. From a narrative perspective, one of the tragedy's main lessons was that memory, particularly at altitude, is unreliable, and that's perhaps too subtle a point for a film of this magnitude. 

Everest is an evergreen topic for Outside Magazine, and over the years I've written about it a number of times. The most memorable was when I tracked down and interviewed many of the 1996 survivors for a 2006 piece timed to the tenth anniversary of the disaster. Some highlights:

Charlotte Fox: "Everybody tried to do the right thing by speaking their feelings from the get-go, and a lot of them were misrepresented..."

Ken Kamler: "Right away, coming off the mountain," he says, "everyone had different ideas about what happened and who did what. Everybody saw things and remembered things their own way."

Lou Kasischke: "But it goes back to the fact that each of us saw and experienced the event from a different perspective. We each sat in a different seat in the stadium of Everest."

Ang Dorjee: "So many people have the same questions again and again," he says. "Also, it makes me sad."

Pete Athans: "There was this perception out there that we were raking in record profits from our hapless clients and flouting the environment," he says. "Nothing could have been more untrue."

Beck Weathers: "Like a good hobbit, I'm trying not to have adventures..."

Read the rest here.

Trevor Paglen Plumbs the Internet

When I started looking into the network of undersea fiber-optic cables that carries 99 percent of global internet traffic, I had many resources at my disposal, including a couple of very good books and an amazingly comprehensive interactive map. There are two realizations you come to quickly when you start looking into the subject: first, the infrastructure of our wireless world is incredibly physical, dependent on earth-bound plumbing much more than satellites; and second, that the entire system has been turned into an incredibly efficient surveillance tool by the NSA and others.

When I came across artist Trevor Paglen's work, it seemed to perfectly embody both of those points, with his investigations of the hidden elements of the NSA surveillance state forcing viewers to reckon with both the tangible internet and their own lack of privacy while using it. A piece I just published on NewYorker.com looks at the cables through the lens of Paglen's latest show, up now at Metro Pictures gallery in New York.

(Read my full piece at NewYorker.com. Paglen's show runs through October 24 at Metro Pictures, 519 West 24th St.)

On Newstands: Michigan Extreme Skiing

My story on skiing Mount Bohemia, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is in the October issue of Skiing Magazine. It's online here, but it also just hit newsstands and here's the opening spread:

Doesn't that make you want to go out and buy a hard copy? For old time's sake?

Great photos by Keri Bascetta and stunt skiing by Marcus Caston (thanks guys!) to help illustrate what it's like to ski "the Midwest's only extreme terrain" way out on a peninsula in the middle of Lake Superior. Truly unlike anywhere else I have ever skied.

Now go pick up a copy.

Dillingham, the President, and the Pebble Mine

President Obama’s recent tour through Alaska was, by most counts, a resounding success. He was received warmly (mostly); delivered two powerful speeches focused on addressing the challenges of climate change and a thawing Arctic; and even managed to have some fun, carrying himself throughout the trip with the sort of smile and awe typical of a first-time Alaskan tourist. He went on a glacier hike, ate ice cream, played with puppies (behind the scenes details on that here), and traded in his suit and tie for a windbreaker-and-hiking-boots look that one observer characterized as "outdoorsy dad." In his vacation photo album--which is way better than yours--you can practically feel his sense of relief at having escaped DC.

The milt heard round the world: When an excited spawning salmon made a mess on the president's shoes, the world heard about it.

In the Bristol Bay fishing hub of Dillingham (pop. 2,400), one of two small communities the president visited, he really let his hair down, visiting with fishermen on the beach--where an overexcited pink salmon milted on him (see above)--before participating in a traditional Yup'ik dance with local kids at the high school. On his way out of town, he made an unplanned stop at the supermarket, where he befriended a local baby.

But there was one big issue that went unremarked, at least directly, from the president’s side during his visit to "salmon country": the proposed Pebble Mine, a massive copper and gold mine that Dillingham locals see as perhaps the greatest threat to their salmon-centric way of life. The mine would sit amid prime salmon habitat, and has become a hugely contentious issue, pitting those who would welcome the mine's jobs and economic impact against the majority of Bristol Bay residents who fear that it could prove catastrophic for the salmon runs that their economy relies on. 

The Obama Administration has been an active participant in the fight to protect Bristol Bay, blocking offshore oil and gas exploration and backing the EPA's involvement. The EPA began studying the mine in 2010 at the request of local tribes and in early 2014 took steps to initiate a process that would block or severely curtail the mine's development. That process is currently tied up in litigation, following multiple lawsuits brought by the Pebble Limited Partnership against the EPA.

There were a number of rumors swirling in the weeks leading up to the president's visit, but given the legal limbo, and his focus on climate issues, it was extremely unlikely that he would address the Pebble issue directly. But his decision to visit Dillingham, the center of the anti-Pebble movement, where he had to know that every news shot would include an anti-Pebble sign, seemed to many to be an implicit gesture of support for the EPA's action against the mine.

Locals made sure that the president would know what was on their minds, lining the roads from the airport and through town with anti-Pebble signs and banners and telling every reporter who asked that salmon and Pebble were their top issues. Perhaps more important was his carpool companion on the short ride from the Dillingham airport to nearby Kanakanak Beach: Robin Samuelsen, the chairman of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and a key figure in the fight against Pebble.

"I was sitting there talking with the president of the United States in Dillingham, Alaska, riding down my own street saying ‘this is unbelievable,'" Samuelsen told the Alaska Dispatch News. But despite the excitement, he stayed on message, talking to the president about the region's remarkable sockeye salmon run and bringing up Pebble, which the president said he could not discuss because of the ongoing litigation.

The president touring a traditional fish-drying rack. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But during his salmon-handling beach visit, the president talked about Bristol Bay to the pool reporters nearby, and his remarks made it clear that he'd been listening (emphasis added):

THE PRESIDENT: Even though we’ve got a cloudy day, I think everybody has a sense of how beautiful this place is.  And the scale of fish that come through here is remarkable.  If you catch -- or if you've eaten wild salmon, it’s likely to have come from here.  And this has some of the biggest salmon runs, sockeye, in the world.  And it’s part of the reason why it’s so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource, not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it, but for the entire country.  About 40 percent of the wild-caught seafood in America is caught right here on Bristol Bay. 

And it represents not just a critical way of life that has to be preserved, but it also represents one of the most important natural resources that the United States has.  This is one of the reasons why we have shut off oil and gas exploration in this region.  It is too fragile, and it is too important --

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  -- for us to be able to endanger it in any sort of way.  And this is something that obviously has strong support for the people whose livelihoods depend on it and for the people of Alaska. 

But there are other threats to this environment that we’ve always got to be alert to.  And hopefully by us coming here, we’re highlighting the need for us to keep this pristine and make sure that this is there for the children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren of all these wonderful fishermen.

The "other threats to this environment" line seemed like a clear reference to Pebble, and not everyone was happy. Some Pebble supporters who flew in from the village of Iliamna, near the potential mine site, held signs that said "For Pebble" and were disappointed not to be able to meet with the president. As Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, told reporters in Dillingham, "Our view is that if the president is interested in the issue he should try to hear from all perspectives about it including those closest to Pebble who would like the jobs Pebble may provide."

In what remains of the Obama presidency, we'll certainly be hearing more about climate change and Alaskan Natives, and likely also about Pebble. Back in DC, the president continued his mix of positivity and purpose as he came down from the high of the trip. "I think that everybody who has a chance to come up here will marvel at the incredible natural beauty of the state of Alaska," he said in a post-trip video posted to Twitter, "but the reason we're here in particular is to describe in real concrete terms what's happening with climate change."

(This piece was republished on Medium.com)

Obama in Alaska: A Recap

President Obama's recently concluded visit to Alaska made some history--he was the first sitting President to venture north of the Arctic Circle, and certainly the first to hike a glacier with TV survivalist Bear Grylls. But it was his engagement with the place, its people, and Arctic issues that led to an overwhelmingly positive response from Alaskans. I wrote about the reactions for Outside.

The visit generated a ton of goodwill in a state that might not always be considered friendly to a liberal President. The reaction from Alaskans was positive verging on giddy. In a state where even the biggest city, Anchorage, can feel like a small town, and where most Presidents only ever stop over to refuel, it was the sheer momentousness of the occasion, the sense of history, that won most people over.

That, and the fact that Obama was so obviously enjoying himself, whether dancing with Native children or accidentally getting milted on by a ready-to-spawn pink salmon.

Read the piece here.

Final WTC BASE Jumper Sentenced

The last of the three WTC BASE jumpers, Marko Markovich, was sentenced today to 300 hours of community service for the jump, which took place nearly two years ago.

Judge Juan Merchan gave Markovich a stiffer sentence than his co-defendants--Brady got 250 hours and Rossig 200 hours--because, according to the NY Post, he felt Markovich was the least remorseful. "Of the three defendants," Justice Merchan said to Markovich's lawyer, "none have shown more contempt for the process than your client.”

For my background on the case, see my feature at Outside online here.

President Obama: It's Denali.

On the eve of his historic trip to Alaska, President Obama announced the official reversion of the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley, to its Athabascan name. From now on, the mountain, like the National Park it sits within, will be known as Denali, and our 25th President, William McKinley, will slip further into obscurity.

With the President's approval, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed an order Friday to officially change the name, with the announcement coming Sunday, 24 hours before the President's arrival in Anchorage. Functionally, the name change makes little difference in Alaska, where the peak is widely called Denali--meaning "the high one" or "the great one" already--but it is seen as a symbolically important step and a sign of respect to Native Alaskans, whose cultures revere the mountain.

The move was greeted with widespread praise in Alaska, where it's been a popular topic of conversation since Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill to change the name in January. The primary dissenting voices seem to be coming from Ohio's Congressional delegation, who see the move as an insult to Ohio native McKinley, despite the fact that McKinley never set foot in Alaska and that the peak was named on an explorer's whim in 1896 as a sign of political support as McKinley mounted his bid for the presidency. (For an alternate take on how it got the name, see here.) Ohio has found a predictable ally for its cause:

I was on Take Two on Los Angeles NPR station KPCC this morning to discuss the name change and Denali’s history. My segment starts at about the eight and a half minute mark in the audio player here.

Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Get Fine, Community Service

Two of the three men who BASE jumped from the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan in September 2013 were sentenced yesterday by Justice Juan M. Merchan in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. James Brady and Andrew Rossig were fined $2,000 each, along with 250 hours of community service for Brady and 200 hours for Rossig. The third jumper, Marko Markovich, will be sentenced August 17.

(Illustration by Erin Wilson for Outside Magazine)

(Illustration by Erin Wilson for Outside Magazine)

In June, a jury acquitted the men on a felony burglary charge but found them guilty of two counts of reckless endangerment as well as of violating the city ordinance prohibiting BASE jumping, all misdemeanors.

In spite of the dismissal of the felony charge, the Manhattan DA's office argued that the jump constituted a serious crime and had pressed the judge to sentence the men to 60 days in jail to deter those who would consider such a stunt in the future. Justice Merchan denied the request for jail time,  but, according to the New York Times, he made his disapproval clear:

“They made a very poor decision,” Justice Merchan said, calling the tower “an iconic building constructed on hallowed ground.”

“These defendants tarnished the building before it even opened,” the judge added, “and sullied the memories of those who jumped on 9/11 not for sport, but because they had to.”

For the full story of the jump, the NYPD investigation, and the legal and political wrangling surrounding the trial, check out my story at Outside.


Graveyard Point Goes Mainstream

I haven't always been the most forthcoming with details about Graveyard Point, the squatters' community of commercial salmon fishermen in which I have lived and worked over the past half-dozen summers. It's a quirkily unique place with an attraction that can be difficult to explain to people who value things like hot showers and sleep. More than the difficulty of explanation, there was also a protectiveness to my reticence: those of us lucky enough to have earned a place in that community have viewed it as something almost secret, a unique place to be shielded from the influences of the outside world, lest it become corrupted and lose its potency as an antidote to civilization.

Typical fishermen's gathering on the Schrier crew's porch. Photo (c) Corey Arnold 2013.

Typical fishermen's gathering on the Schrier crew's porch. Photo (c) Corey Arnold 2013.

To that end, we have kept reality TV producers and other vultures at bay, but who are we kidding? I've written about the place, and my co-conspirator up there, Corey Arnold, has photographed it extensively, and as cell phone service has gradually improved in rural Alaska, and as cameras and even smartphones have proliferated around camp, it was only a matter of time before the world learned of our little secret.

The most comprehensive outsider's perspective on it to date is this snapshot of the place and its denizens published in the Alaska Dispatch News over the weekend. It features a great selection of Corey's photos from Graveyard years past, a video interview with him and another video focused on the great people behind the Iliamna Fish Co, and offers a small window into our world up there and the many characters I am proud to call my friends and colleagues.

Having just returned from a quick trip to fish the peak of this year's salmon run, this piece only heightened the nostalgia that always bubbles up soon after leaving Graveyard. Sometimes it seems a year is too long to wait to return. There is truly no place like it.

As for this new exposure, I'm not too worried. Graveyard is a place that's constantly in flux: the cast of characters changes slightly each year, as does the shape of the gradually eroding banks along Kvichak Bay, the integrity of the gradually rotting boardwalks and buildings, the course of the channel in Graveyard Creek, the wind and the weather, and the timing and force of the salmon run itself.

Change is inevitable, and I'm not by nature an optimist, but I'm hopeful that some of the things we most value about Graveyard--the community, the solitude, the clarity, the work, the fish, even our decrepit cabins--will survive whatever changes are ahead.

And, fortunately, it remains a very difficult place to get to.


Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Cleared on Burglary Charge

The jury in the trial of the three men who BASE jumped off the new World Trade Center tower in lower Manhattan returned a verdict yesterday: not guilty on the top count of burglary, guilty on the lesser counts of reckless endangerment and violating the city's BASE jumping prohibition. 

BASE Jumpers Markovich, Rossig, and Brady (L to R). (Photo: Steven Hirsch / NY Post)

BASE Jumpers Markovich, Rossig, and Brady (L to R). (Photo: Steven Hirsch / NY Post)

The three defendants, Marko Markovich, Andrew Rossig, and James Brady, jumped off the tower in September 2013 and were arrested in March 2014. From the time of their arrest, the jumpers' attorneys had argued that the felony burglary count was an over-charge, an overzealous response by the DA's office to a security lapse that was an embarrassment to the city, the Port Authority, and the NYPD.

"This verdict is the same as the plea we would have taken a year ago," lead defense attorney Timothy Parlatore told the Daily News, criticizing the resources that were wasted on the investigation and trial. "The main issue in the case was the district attonrey's office taking a misdemeanor and trying to turn it into a felony.... They probably wasted half a million dollars on this case."

During the two-week trial, the defense had argued that the burglary charge did not apply, while the prosecution contended that it was appropriate and warranted in this case. Manhattan DA Cy Vance issued a statement focusing on the conviction for the lesser charges rather than the dismissal of the top charge.

“In the nearly two years since this BASE jump occurred, the three men who parachuted off One World Trade Center have yet to acknowledge the dangerousness or cost of their actions,” said District Attorney Vance in a statement. “The defendants took pride in their perceived accomplishment, and seemed to relish evasion of authorities. Today, a jury found their stunt to be reckless and illegal.”

The jury, which began deliberations last Wednesday afternoon, seemed at a deadlock when they submitted a note to Judge Juan Merchan earlier Monday, according to the Daily News, but came to a decision later in the day.

Sentencing will be on July 10th.

(For more background on the case, see my feature at Outside here.)

Large Things Evoked by Small: RIP James Salter

Though he was 90, it still seems too soon for us to be without James Salter's voice. A giant, a master, and a man I count myself fortunate to have met, interviewed, and lunched with. "We are all poor in the end," Salter wrote in his 1997 memoir, Burning the Days. "The lines have been spoken. The stage is empty and bare. Before that, however, is the performance." And what a performance: New Yorker, West Pointer, fighter pilot, skier, climber, raconteur, and one of the finest prose stylists you'll ever read.

After years of admiring Salter and reading him obsessively, an assignment for Outside in 2011 finally gave me the excuse I'd been looking for to meet him. I set up an overly elaborate lunch at Eleven Madison Park, and we talked and ate and drank a glass of wine each while I tried to keep myself together. All the while, in my head, all I could think was, "I'm having lunch with James Salter. I'm having lunch with James Salter. I'm having lunch with James Salter. Don't fuck this up!"

I must not have fucked it up too badly, because we remained in touch afterwards, as he completed his final novel, All That Is, which I reviewed for GQ when it was published in 2013. The novel's epigraph reads, "There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real." And it was in some ways a valedictory. From my review:

Over the course of three hundred pages, All That Is progresses through the rooms of a well-furnished life, tracing Phillip Bowman's adulthood from his time as a young man in the Navy up through his career as a book editor in New York. He is no adventurer, but he is solitary and ambitious, a priest to publishing, though by no means celibate. ... In addition to sex and the relations between men and women, the book contains many of Salter's other long-time themes: action, honor, loyalty, and friendship; the devotion to a life well-lived, and the gulf between our imagined lives and our actual existences; and the recognition that the sublime and the sad, the highs and lows of life, are hopelessly intertwined. What's changed most from his earlier work is the vantage point.

There is a moment early in the book when an aging man—Bowman's wife's grandfather—confronts his flailing son and takes stock of his own life. "He could hardly construct how he had gotten from there to here," Salter writes, and that, as much as anything, is the explanation of this book: reconstructing the "there to here," plotting the waypoints of a life—war, college, sex, love, marriage, divorce, death, heartbreak, joy, illness, betrayal, redemption—and drawing the reader along for the ride. This is the view from the summit of life's hill rather than midway up its flanks. It is a story told by someone looking backwards with the benefit of a lifetime of accumulated knowledge.

The last time I spoke with him was late last year, while reworking our lunchtime interview for inclusion in the forthcoming book Conversations with James Salter, set for release this fall. He was delivering some lectures at UVA at the time, and sent back a subtly edited draft of our interviews--cutting out, in his words, tk--interspersed with some Faulkner quotes. I remember at the time thinking back to this passage from Burning the Days, all the more appropriate now:

"Somewhere the ancient clerks, amid stacks of faint interest to them, are sorting literary reputations. The work goes on endlessly and without haste. There are names passed over and names revered, names of heroes and of those long thought to be, names of every sort and level of importance."

He was speaking then of a friend, but I think it applies here. He was a hero of the highest order, and his name, his reputation, and his work will continue to be revered.

Jury's Out in Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Case

Since the two-week trial of the World Trade Center BASE jumpers concluded early Wednesday afternoon, the jury has been deliberating. Defendants James Brady, 33, Andrew Rossig, 34, and Marko Markovich, 28, can only wait while the jury debates the four charges against them, including one felony burglary count and three misdemeanor counts, two for reckless endangerment and one for violating the actual BASE jumping statute.

Closing arguments last Wednesday saw both the defense and the prosecution attempting to hammer home their own narratives surrounding the jumps, which took place in September 2013 and were recorded by the jumpers on helmet-mounted GoPro cameras. To the defense, the charges were overzealous; to the prosecutor, they were warranted.

The defense team hit on the same points it had since the arraignment: yes, these are the guys who BASE jumped off the tower, but they are highly skilled experts who endangered nobody but themselves and are being overcharged because they embarrassed the Port Authority and the NYPD by exposing security lapses at the site. Timothy Parlatore, the lead defense attorney, representing Andrew Rossig, went first.

“In this case, most of the facts are not in dispute: these are the men who climbed to the top of the Freedom Tower and jumped off,” Parlatore said. “On your shoulders today rests the all important decision of whether to permanently label these defendants as criminals.”

Much of his argument centered on the most serious charge, for felony third degree burglary. The core of the defense argument hinges on the wording of the burglary statute, which applies to breaking into a building with intent to commit a crime “therein.” They argued that because the crime was committed outside—they jumped from the communication rings atop the tower’s roof—the burglary charge does not apply but that, because “they did what they did in a manner that embarrassed city and state government officials,” they are being made an example of.

“What I told you on the very first day of this trial remains the same,” Parlatore said. “Was the jump committed safely? And where did they jump from? Was it inside, or outside?”

The trial itself had been contentious, and featured a couple surprises. Defendant Markovich took the stand in his own defense, but the biggest surprise was the testimony of Kyle Hartwell, who was initially charged with the three jumpers for serving as an accomplice, driver, and lookout. Shortly before the trial started, he took a plea deal to avoid a felony conviction and jail time. It was the same sort of deal that the defense had sought for the jumpers, admitting the crime but avoiding the life-altering implications of a felony conviction.

(Hartwell’s testimony probably won’t change much in the jury’s mind, but it did clarify a couple points I’d gotten wrong in my earlier article. The jumpers had told me that they had carried their gear in with them on the night of the jump, and that Markovich’s pilot chute had gotten caught on something and damaged while climbing the stairs. In fact, Brady had stashed their parachutes and other gear on site the day before, and the pilot chute had been gnawed to shreds by rats by the time the three men retrieved it the next day.)

Attorney Joseph Carozzo, representing Marko Markovich, made clear that he felt Hartwell had been coerced into cooperation. “He had to cooperate,” Carozzo said in his closing. “That’s what he had to do to be treated fairly. Nobody’s mad at Kyle Hartwell.”

Carozzo, like the others, spent a good deal of time arguing against the idea that there was any substantial risk in this jump to anyone but the jumpers themselves. They are experts, he said, professionals whose “only objective in this jump was to jump off successfully and land successful. There were no tricks in this jump,” he said, before trying to underscore how little danger there was to anyone on the ground. “This is a great New York story, that three people jump off the Freedom Tower and there’s only one 911 call.”

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Giovannetti disagreed, of course, sticking close to what his office has argued all along: that these three men are selfish thrill-seekers who knowingly disregarded public safety and flouted the law for their own kicks. In their view, the communication rings on the roof are part of the building, and therefore the burglary charge is appropriate.

“You heard them crowing and bragging about what they did [on the podcast], giving a blow by blow account of their crimes,” argued Giovannetti. These men, he said, are criminals. “Don’t let the defense confuse you about this,” he continued. “What the defense is trying to do is confuse you by mixing up the words indoors and inside.” Giovannetti went through a series of analogies ranging from the jury box to a boxing ring to Central Park to Derek Jeter standing in the batter’s box to try to show that to be “inside” doesn’t necessarily require a roof overhead.

Giovannetti did not mince words, and he accused the defense of twisting the law, coaching witnesses, and mispresenting the potential jail time faced by their clients. One of the most entertaining moments came when he quoted back from an occasionally profane podcast of the defendants describing their jump, which surely involved more F-bombs than he was comfortable with.

“Don’t let the defendants pull the wool over your eyes or talk you into not being able to see the forest for the trees,” he concluded. “The defendants put their enjoyment above the law.”

It’s now in the hands of the jury. “This is the hardest part,” Parlatore told me after the jury was sent off on Wednesday. “They could come back in five minutes, they could come back in a week. All we can do is wait.”