THE WOODSHOP: Ana Maria Spagna

Ana Maria Spagna's workspace. Photo courtesy of the author CutBank continues its new online feature, The Woodshop, with this submission from Ana Maria Spagna, whose story "Low Ground and High Ground" appears in CutBank 79. Review our submission guidelines here, then submit your own Woodshop to Order CutBank 79 here.

Where do you do your work?

I work at a desk built by Joe McLean in Twisp, Washington, in 1935. It’s a small, plain desk made of plywood with 22 shallow hand-nailed tin drawers—eleven per side—each with a card catalog-style label-and-pull.

For decades the desk sat at High Bridge Ranger Station four miles from where it sits now in my house.  When I showed up in this remote valley 20 years ago to work for the National Park Service I lived at High Bridge. The place had no running water, no electricity, but a river ran past fast and cold through a deep gorge—over which the namesake bridge spanned—and I had a roommate I’d fall in love with and build this house with and eventually marry. Everything that summer seemed magic.  I hardly noticed the desk.  A relic, it sat in the corner.

One day a decade later, after I’d quit the Park Service to give writing a serious go, friends arrived at our house in a pickup with this desk.  It’d been slated for the dump, and they thought I might want it.  When we took it apart we found a signature on an inner wall where the top right draw slides in. He had signed in pencil in cursive: Joe McLean, Twisp, Washington, April 17, 1935.  We moved it in, and now that’s where I sit and write.

What do you eat/drink while you work?

With coffee, always coffee.

What’s your view like?

The view is of the sky and treetops—maples, firs, cottonwoods—and not the mossy ground or the dusty road, which seems about right.  Aim high. Don’t look down. I’ve surrounded myself with posters from research or book fests, dorm room-style, to make me feel less alone and maybe younger, and with shelves of books. But the desk dictates my approach. I try to make do with humble tools, like Jack MacLean with his tin and nails and sliding paper files. Nothing fancy.

I write true stories about people and places I know, and sometimes venture out to learn about other people’s lives and come back here to sit and type.  Come early afternoon I’m out of steam, almost always, sick of sitting and stewing.  So I go outside to split firewood or walk by the river.  If I walk far enough I can reach High Bridge.  If I walk farther I can reach Twisp, Washington—about 40 miles by trail.  Nothing’s out of reach.

Share a recent line/sentence written in this space

“The weight of a chainsaw in your hands—a familiar saw, say a Stihl 026—feels like a toddler, and you hold it like a toddler too: firm but not tight, cautious and attentive and sometimes playful, always in motion; you must triangulate your own body movement with that of the power head and the tree you will cut.”


Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes in a remote community in the North Cascades accessible only by boat or foot.  She’s the author of two essay collections, Now Go Home and Potluck, and the history/memoir Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, winner of the River Teeth literary nonfiction prize.  For more about her writing on nature, work, politics, and life in a small mountain town visit: