Every so often I get a nudge from the universe, a bump of ripple effect that is so unexpected, so startling, so overwhelming that I don’t know what to do with it except to hold it as tight as I would a life-saving talisman. You see, you throw these nets of words into the vortex of human civilization, that chaotic mass of stuff, that truly immense whirlpool jostling with both the profound and the mundane, and for the most part you never hear anything back. There it goes, swallowed in the maelstrom, frail and insubstantial as a dream or a spider’s web. That’s that, I think, and move on.

Then one day in May, at a permitted river launch along the Green River in Utah, a river ranger approaches. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he says, smiling. I assume I’ve broached some bureaucratic rule on my permit, but instead, he goes on. “Your book changed my life,” he tells me. “I’ve been waiting a long time to shake your hand. I was so inspired by your first book, the one about paddling across Canada, that I ended a terrible marriage, quit a job I hated, and left a city I despised. I’ve been a happy river ranger ever since, and I was hoping I’d get to meet you one day. About time your name came up on a permit!”

Or once when the phone rang. It was an airline pilot calling from the local airport. He was reading one of my books, realized I lived in a town he regularly flew to. He looked me up in the phone book and called to say how much he enjoyed the story. Or the character in one of my books whose name and life details I purposely changed to avoid any conflict, only to have him figure it out, call me up, and order a dozen signed copies for his family. That kind of thing. Doesn’t happen all the time. But then, out of nowhere, I’ll be ambushed.

Some time back I got a long letter from a stranger. He wrote me after the tragic, too-early death of his brother. “My brother read everything you wrote,” he told me. “He talked about your books. After he died, I was cleaning out his garage and came across one of your earlier books. I’ve read it now, and it makes me feel like I know my brother in a new and deeper way. And, oddly, that I know you, too.”

These are not things for my resume. And yet, what Pulitzer could compare?

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