Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR’s National Desk, where he focuses on environmental issues and the American West. A graduate of the University of Montana, Rott’s varied resume includes wildland firefighting, commercial fishing, children’s theater teaching, and professional snow-shoveling for the United States Antarctic Program. Before moderating a Zócalo/Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West event that asked “How Can Humans Coexist With Monster Wildfires,” Rott stopped by the virtual Green Room to talk about the many ways he procrastinates, the scourge of putting the cover on a down comforter, and embracing the California transplant life.
What do you wake up to?
Generally, an 85-pound black Lab staring expectantly at me, waiting to be called to the bed so he can get his morning snuggle. His name is Charley. He is just smart enough to know what the rules are and just dumb enough to act like he doesn’t. But he’s an old boy—he’s about 11 years old—so I have to cut him some slack.
What’s your hidden talent?
I used to wood carve. I don’t know if I’d be much good at it anymore. I haven’t done it in a while.
Did you have a particularly memorable carving?
A captain of a boat. I got all of these neat planks from a garage sale. One of them looked like a person. So I decided to make it into a captain, and I gave it to a buddy of mine, who was a commercial fisherman in Alaska. A good luck token. He sold his boat, unfortunately, a couple of years ago, but he still has the carving. I see it at his house in video chats during the pandemic.
What’s your favorite household chore?
I have a least favorite household chore. There’s nothing I hate more than putting the cover on a down comforter. It’s impossible. Every time it just leaves me so frustrated and angry to the point where I’m like, maybe I don’t need to change it.
If I had to choose a favorite… I like vacuuming. That feels very satisfying.
Where do you go to be alone?
With the dog it’s dang near impossible. But really my escape living in Los Angeles is surfing. Unfortunately, it’s an escape for about 10,000 of my closest friends, too. So you’re never quite alone out there. But I’m in my car alone when I’m driving out to go surfing, and that’s always a nice “me” time. I used to be better about going backpacking and doing trips on my own.
How do you procrastinate?
Oh god. I don’t have enough fingers to count. If I went in, like, a ten-block radius and used every digit of every person I saw, I still wouldn’t have enough. I default to looking at the phone. And I just read tons of articles that don’t ever stick. It’s just like one of those fountains in the backyard; the water just keeps circulating around and around and around. What else do I do? I could keep going.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
That I’m still in Los Angeles. As a person born in Montana, I was raised to hate California and everything about it, and, you know, I’ve actually grown to love it. I still love Montana. But I’m surprised, I’ve been here for seven years, and I haven’t become a homicidal maniac on a roadway or anything like that.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
An old boss of mine when I did wildland firefighting, he was kind of this old salty dog. He called me Nasty. It was my nickname. And he said: “Nasty, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
I always think of the first deadline I ever had at a major publication. I was frantically trying to interview and write and conceptualize the story all at the same time. And then I stopped and remembered, Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
I’m a big fan of Bon Jovi, “Wanted Dead or Alive.” You know, “I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride … ”