“You don’t realize how much you hear of yourself,” said Job, 33, a dark-haired beanpole in a brownish T-shirt and olive cargo shorts. “Your breathing, your clothes moving, your joints popping, the sound of you swallowing.” Only by staying quiet — melt-into-the-forest quiet, hear-twigs-snap-and-insects-buzz quiet — could we find the distinctive trill that had so far eluded him: Troglodytes pacificus, the Pacific wren.
Job works for the National Park Service and Colorado State University as part of a small team that experiences nature not through granite peaks and stunning vistas, but through soundscapes. His back seat was hidden beneath a heap of fuzzy microphones, one so large that a passer-by mistook it for a dog. He’d spent months hauling them deep into the park’s thicket of ponderosa pines and Douglas firs to capture the geologic, animal, and man-made mixtape that can signal whether and how an ecosystem is changing.
Listen when we’re out there, he told me. Really listen.
Newspapers across the country have been dealing with unprecedented turmoil for most of this century, but Post staffers can be excused for feeling like the past year has been exceptional for the pain they have had to endure. In addition to buyouts and layoffs and a substantial newsroom restructuring, this past March journalists at the Post saw their beloved editor, Gregory L. Moore, abruptly resign amid rumors he refused corporate orders to cut more jobs from an already gutted staff. Moore, who’d reached near-iconic status in his 14 years leading the paper, picked the newsroom to announce he was leaving, rather than the first-floor auditorium where big news—and frequently bad news—was often delivered. Though he’d soon be gone, Moore didn’t want his staff thinking they would be, too.
During his announcement, Moore said he’d recently looked at a staff photo from 2013. It was taken right after the Post won a Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for its coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, the ninth Pulitzer in the paper’s history and the fourth under Moore. “I realized there are more than 50 people in that photo who aren’t here anymore,” Moore told his staff. It was a somber recognition that resonated within the newsroom.
From the moment he spoke, I knew I was screwed. On the surface, the guy wasn’t particularly fearsome—pudgy, late thirties, polo shirt, plaid shorts, baseball cap, dad sneakers—but he looked completely at ease. One hand in his pocket, the other holding the microphone loosely, like a torch singer doing crowd work. And when he finally began talking, it was with an assurance that belied the fact that he was basically spewing nonsense.
“I hate all people named John,” he said with surprising bravado. “Yeah, that’s right, that was a John diss!” The crowd roared. John-diss. Jaundice. A glorious, groan-inducing precision strike of a pun.
Welp, I thought. It was fun while it lasted.
Teddy Wayne holds up the Ivy White Male card as the ultimate trump. He means to slap awake a country that glorifies wealth; deifies men; objectifies women; and treats victims of sexual assault like sluts, kooks, and gold-diggers. The story barely qualifies as fiction, and it arrives on our shelves just in time.