Workshop + Cabin Diablo: Writing the Unloved




This package includes a 4-night stay in cabin Diablo, registration for Writing the Unloved: A Hands-On Literary Exploration of Great Basin Reptilesand some meals as listed in the workshop description below.

Choose “single” for one workshop registration, including meals, and single cabin occupancy.

Choose “double” for two workshop registrations, including meals, and double cabin occupancy.

This live/work townhouse cabin has a loft bedroom with full-size bed upstairs and a full size futon downstairs. This cabin is one of the two townhouses closest to the Commons with views of the pond and the playa beyond. It comes with a kitchenette which includes a counter top hotplate and convection oven, a dorm-sized refrigerator, a private bathroom with shower, a small living & dining area that opens up to an attached work studio. There is no application to participate in a self-directed residency and we welcome anyone craving time and space to focus on a creative or scientific project. There is is limited cell service at PLAYA and no internet or tv in the cabins to help provide an environment of focused support. There is internet and a landline in a common work space

Arrival begins Thursday, July 21 at 2:00 pm

Departure is Monday, July 25 by 12:00 pm.


This 5-day guided residency will provide a hands-on opportunity to experience the biology of Summer Lake reptiles and learn to write deeply about your relationship with reptiles, as well as expand this literary exploration to the “others” that lie outside our zone of comfortable familiarity.

Reptiles, and especially snakes, often inspire deeply negative feelings in humans. This negativity might be spawned from an acute sense of other that these animals embody: they are without hair or feathers, they “slither”, they are “cold-blooded”, they “stare”, and they have an “evil-looking tongue.” Psychologists have shown that this human sense of otherness can be profoundly embedded. However, those same studies have also demonstrated that this repulsion is reduced by familiarity. Reptiles inhabiting the Summer Lake Basin provide a unique opportunity to explore and understand the biology of all perceived aliens in our midst.

In the residency Writing the Unloved,” we will launch a literary exploration of reptiles and the human experience of fear that they inspire. How does one engage positively with a being that might arouse dread? What can reptiles teach us about our deeply-held stereotypes? Is there a common thread that links our sense of the alien that we might harbor for reptiles with similar feelings we hold toward our fellow humans?

The goals of “Writing the Unloved” are threefold.

1) Establish a science-based foundation for understanding the biology of reptiles, specifically those in the Summer Lake Basin. We will develop an understanding of the biological basis for those reptilian attributes that cause many people to loathe them. We will also explore conservation issues that impact reptile populations in the northern Great Basin, including grazing, farming, and climate change.

2) Provide a hands-on opportunity to experience the biology of Summer Lake reptiles. We will encounter the animals in their native habitat. Residents will gain experience in the safe capture and handling of reptiles and have ample opportunities for photography. Each resident will develop a detailed field journal for documenting the natural history of the animals we find, and include personal observations and feelings that can be used for later creative opportunities.

3) Using these experiential inputs together with supplemental readings, we will write deeply about our personal relationship with reptiles. Residents are encouraged to expand these literary meditations on reptiles to include all of the “others” that lie outside their zone of comfortable familiarity. These writings will encourage future creative exploration of any beings, human or other-than-human, who inspire irrational fear.


  • Day 1: Thursday, July 21: Arrival | Group meal provided by PLAYA | Evening walks, reading, and journaling on your own
  • Day 2: Friday, July 22: 11:00 am Slide presentation introducing Great Basin reptiles, including identification, natural history, and conservation | Afternoon and evening journaling, reading, and exploration of the local area on your own
  • Day 3: Saturday, July 23: 8:30 a.m. Depart for a two-hour field excursion to Paisley Caves to observe, photograph, and ooh-ah over lizards and snakes. This trip will include a brief overview of the archeology of Paisley Caves, with special attention given to a 12,000-year-old lizard mummy excavated from the site | Afternoon on your own
  • Day 4: Sunday, July 24: 10 a.m-12 p.m. Facilitated writing workshop (both poems and prose are encouraged!). Read from Kathleen Dean Moore’s essay “The Solace of Snakes” (Wild Comfort, 2010). Prompts and Suggestions | Afternoon on your own
  • Day 5: Monday, July 25: 10 a.m. (or TBA). Closing share of thoughts, feelings, and writing | Depart by noon


Materials/Equipment to bring: 

  • Walking shoes
  • Day pack, journal
  • Personal water bottle (at least 1 liter—I’ll provide a refill jug),
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Insect repellent
  • Hat
  • A long-sleeved shirt and bandana are recommended for additional sun protection


  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • The field guide Reptiles of the Northwest (second edition), by Alan St. John.

Instructor Bio:

Tom Titus is a biologist, author, runner, forager, father, grandfather, and free-range philosopher who writes at the messy interface of human experience and the natural world. Miraculously, he corralled divergent paths in music, education, and biology into a Ph.D. and subsequent career in evolutionary genetics. For 24 years he has taught the University of Oregon course “Amphibians and Reptiles of Oregon.” His teaching and a 2016 PLAYA residency were pivotal for a feature article entitled “Lizard Tales,” which appeared in Oregon Quarterly Magazine. His most recent book, Dancing with an Apocalypse, is a collection of musings in response to the social and environmental upheavals in the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. Tom loves coffee he can spread on toast and writing that makes him laugh and cry, preferably at the same time. He blogs when he feels like it at https://tomtitus.substack.com/

COVID Safety:

* Proof of covid vaccination, or certified medical exemption with negative covid test, will be required to participate in all 2022 programming at PLAYA.  Meals will be served outdoors on the patio or packaged to enjoy back in your cabins. All programming will be conducted outdoors as much as possible. Masks will be required for any in-door programming with 6’ distances between participants. Some indoor spaces on campus may be closed to visitors.

*No pets allowed.


Additional information

Single | Double

Single, Double