About Taking Bearings

Taking Bearings by Adam M. Sowards explores our place on earth using history as a tool of reckoning, focusing on a variety of topics related to land, conservation, and the culture of nature, especially in the US West and most often the Pacific Northwest. A few wild cards are thrown in for good measure.

Why the title, Taking Bearings?

If you are out on the land or water and don’t know your location, you take a bearing. With tools—a map and compass—you can figure out where you are, where you want to go, and devise a plan to get there. But taking bearings is not only limited to figuring out our physical location. We can take bearings to figure out our temporal location—that is, our place in time. That means history can be a tool to take our bearings, too. 

How did history bring us to this point? What might the past teach us about the present? How can its lessons point us toward the future we desire?

Taking Bearings explores time with the conviction that we live richer and better lives—and create a more meaningful world—when we consider how the past produced the present in the places where we live. 

What to expect with Taking Bearings.

Once a week, you’ll receive an email straight to your inbox. But you can also read the newsletter anytime on the website or via the Substack app. When all goes right, the issue will drop into your inbox at Noon (Pacific) on Wednesdays. Each week, a new theme will focus the newsletter.

Read Taking Bearings in the Substack app
Available for iOS and Android

The themes rotate:

The Classroom

I taught college students for a quarter century, and most of the time when I sit down to write, I attempt to explain something. I am a teacher at heart. So, one week’s feature is called The Classroom. I’ll offer some historical lesson. I hope you’ll learn something.

The Field Trip

Over the years, my sense of place and time have deepened when I’ve spent time outside the archives and my office. So I plan on regular field trips to see interesting things or beautiful places. Sometimes they will be places new to me; sometimes I’ll revisit a favorite place from my past. I might report on a place I went yesterday, or a place I went three years ago. I hope The Field Trip reports inspire you to go to places and to think about them, especially considering time as a factor. 

The Library

I read a lot. Most of the books and essays are not related to what I’m aiming to do with Taking Bearings. But some are. So, I will read and reflect on various texts, especially some older pieces, which will allow me to reflect not only the texts themselves but the contexts in which they were produced. I hope these trips to The Library will introduce you to writers and ideas in a new light and help show how history enters our cultures and enriches our world. 

The Wild Card

Once every four weeks, I’ll do something else. Who knows what it will be? That’s why it’s The Wild Card. Probably each time, I’ll offer something new. Perhaps it will be a reflection on current events. Maybe I’ll report on some ongoing research I’m doing, giving you access to a work-in-progress. It’s possible I’ll share some recommendations. You can count on it being connected to the main themes in my thinking and activities through the rest of the weeks. Maybe.

Closing Words

At the end of each issue, I’ll close with some latest writing of mine or revisit a piece that is relevant to the week’s theme. These closing words are a way to keep in touch with me and what I’ve been working on.

Paid Subscription Option

After six months of writing Taking Bearings, I decided to offer a paid subscription option for people wanting to support my work. My weekly newsletters on place, history, and writing will remain free. If you find it interesting or provocative or insightful and wish to support my work, please consider subscribing for $6 per month or $55 per year. Paid subscribers will receive occasional additional posts. Starting in September 2023, I began publishing interviews with other people who work on place or history or writing (or all of the above), and they are available to paid subscribers. And if you decide to become a Founding Member (for $200), I’ll send you a signed copy of one of my books.

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About the Author

That’s me, trying to get my bearings, the Skagit River flowing behind me.

I am an award-winning writer and historian who focuses on the environment in the American West. I have written or edited five books and dozens and dozens of articles and features and columns (with an occasional opinion piece when I get riled up). Most of that work has investigated and explained the history of conservation (broadly defined), especially wilderness and public lands. But my curiosity rambles across the historical landscape in all sorts of interesting corners. 

I have always lived in the American West (except for two months in western Pennsylvania I try to forget). Currently, I call Washington State’s Skagit Valley home. 

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Reflecting on Place, History, and Writing


Adam M. Sowards is an award-winning writer and historian (and former professor) whose work explores people and place across time.