Why I Walk Early, and (Blog) Hopping into Spring

fallenRobin's eggI love my walks, so often crammed in before work hours or weekend errands. I love it when creatures become more prolific with the warmer temperatures and start to cross my path again in greater numbers. So many are busy making new families now. Soon flowers will be easier to find just by following my nose, and moths of every size and shape will crowd the front porch, greeting me when I first step out in the morning.

Mary Oliver wrote a stunning poem called Why I Wake Early, and that ran through my mind the other day before work, as I watched a rabbit’s white tail hop away into the brush, looked for fallen eggshells, and snapped photos of mourning doves and a red-winged blackbird in the branches. Why I walk early also merits an ode. Although I could wax wordily on about it, I’m keeping my explanation here mostly in the form of pictures for a change.

After the pictures comes my participation in a blog hop interview–my nomination was bestowed by my writing group friend Laurie Baxter, and it gives me a chance to say a little bit about my burgeoning book and my writing life. Laurie is a prolific writer, and I’ve enjoyed every play and story that she’s shared with me, as well as her boundless enthusiasm for words and life, generally. Most recently I indulged in her Kindle Veronica Mars novella–a fun and engaging read that brought me back to my guilty pleasure watching the series on Netflix. I’d love to be as spunky and clever as Veronica, or as Laurie, for that matter! I think this blog hop is mostly for fiction writers, so am honored that my mostly nature writing self has been welcomed in. (You know how that goes, though–now I am letting other nature-centric writers into the party!) Interview after the pictures, along with nominations for the next blog hoppers!

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Early spring visitors.

Pratt Cove. I spotted a vulture on a nest. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me that's what it was!

Pratt Cove. I spotted a large bird on a far-off nest, flapping its wings. The birders lining the railroad tracks told me it was a vulture!

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird. iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Can you spot the red-winged blackbird? iPhone shot requires use of squinting and imagination

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird.

Mourning dove couple, next door neighbors to the blackbird. I have plans to buy a camera with a decent zoom lens, but nonetheless treasure these silhouettes against the bright blue sky.

Can't swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads--they seemed awfully big to me.

Can’t swear that these are bona fide fiddleheads, as in good eating–they seem awfully big to me.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Cabinet of Curiosity: Talismans from New England Rambles. I’ve also written and self-published Harriet’s Voice: A Writing Mother’s Journey and Things My Mother Told Me (more below about the self-publishing experience). I have participated in an anthology called Get Satisfied: How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of EnoughThis link leads to a lot of my published articles, essays, and poems. There are a bunch of links here on the blog, too.

Where did the idea come from for these books?

The germ of the Cabinet idea came when my son Gavin was still quite young, and I was (as I still am now) working as a medical writer and writing creatively on the side. I carried an acorn home with the idea that I’d bring something home from each walk and use it as a writing prompt. Many years later, Gavin and I started a shoebox full of specimens we’d gathered during time in nature, a real-life Cabinet of Curiosity. It’s a tangible representation of the experiences and revelations I work to convey in the book.

These days, I am at least 80% focused on nature writing, and the essence of the Cabinet book and my piece in the anthology springs from the powerful experience of connection I have when spending time in nature. But my other works, come to think of it, have been about powerful connections, too. I seem to be always connecting dots in my writing (or trying to).

What genre do your books fall under?

The Cabinet book is definitely nature writing, with some essence of memoir blended in. Harriet’s Voice  is part memoir, part self-help for writing mothers. Get Satisfied = nature-oriented/reflective essay. BTW I think the essay form is totally underrated!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My dog Molly is key in the Cabinet book and can be quite girly but also gritty and down to earth–Meryl Streep?? My son gets a lot of mentions, too–can’t recall any 13-year-old actors who could do Gavin justice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

OK–excellent marketing practice for me. Have to do it in third person, imagining I am a gushing but sincere blurb writer featured on the back of the book (PS also breaking the rules and writing 2 sentences. I am more Wolfe than Hemingway): Each walk-inspired essay from Katherine Hauswirth hands you a significant talisman from nature that you can turn over thoughtfully in your palm. Her meditative reveries reflect on the deep connections between what we experience outdoors and our day-to-day existence as humans.   

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency, for sure. Know any good agents??

My first self-published book, Things My Mother Told Me , was almost forced upon me–I won an essay contest and the prize was a self-publishing contract. I see it primarily as a family keepsake, although it was a fortuitous exercise that taught me I actually CAN write a book. Harriet’s Voice is a love letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe and a letter of encouragement to writing mothers. I sometimes wonder if I should have held out for traditional publishing but after some positive feedback and false starts with publishers/agents was antsy to get the book out of my system. Self-publishing Harriet allowed me to move on to Cabinet! But I respect the traditional publishing world and the quality that it (often) demands. I want to join that club!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Cabinet is still in progress. It’s been nearly 2 years and  I have, thankfully, picked up speed. I recently won the honor of Edwin Way Teale Artist in Residence, and I await details on which summer week  I will get to live where the incomparable Teale did, and write without interruption in such an inspiring setting. I expect to be wildly prolific during this heavenly interlude!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That question is always a tall order. Dare I say it might be in the vein of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, if Pilgrim were written in fits and starts by a busy, distracted, sandwich-generation, insomniac, working mom who was nearly obsessively jealous of Annie Dillard’s time by herself at the creek?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My shelves are crammed with nature books, and I’d be hard pressed to pick one or two volumes that spoke to me most. I consider each one a precious gift–so many meaningful voices have come before me. What inspires me most, actually, are the many walks I take. When they are long enough, and when I am in a deeply listening frame of mind, ideas roll in like welcome waves.

Thanks again to Laurie Baxter for this excuse to expound! For the next leaps and bounds in the blog hop, I nominate Shawndra Miller, and Jean and Gabe of PocketMouse Publishing. I reserve the right to later invite more hopping good writers.

Going to Seed

By Slack12 in Guilford, CT

By Slack12 in Guilford, CT

It is a gift to discover a new and inspiring place, especially when it’s right in your own backyard and especially on a stunning autumn day. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge—the Salt Meadow Unit —is a short drive away in Westbrook, and our family was treated to a talk on fall foliage and a walking tour along the loop trail by the park rangers last Sunday. It was past peak, but the talk on what makes leaves green (chlorophyll) orange (carotenoids), brown (tannins), and red (sugars), and on the trees’ wise practice of conserving their resources for the winter gave me a newfound appreciation for the many autumns I have watched come and go.

In many cases, the bright green chlorophyll of the growing season is actually masking what the tree’s true, inherent leaf colors are. In other words, the beauty that’s been masked emerges as the leaves near death. This concept had me thinking about how this can often be true for humans, too–our “bests” do not necessarily appear when we are young and occupied with the business of growing and reproducing.

I cherished the rich scents of salt and mud and plant life wafting up to the viewing platform over the marsh, and I marveled at the mix of trees and their colored flags of surrender to winter. I became fascinated by the lives of the two women who had bequeathed the land so that it could be preserved. They ate at a grand stone table in a clearing overlooking the water; they even had an outdoor icebox nearby so they could linger outside longer.

As our varied group of families, couples, and singles stood in the sunshine within a tunnel-like walkway through tangles of low brush, the ranger explained that this shrubland was an endangered habitat, one that is being carefully managed and monitored. Years ago the natives burned swaths of land for clearing and other purposes, and after that farms had their own clearing effect, removing shade so that shorter plants could thrive. But now, in New England, much of the former farmland has been developed for housing or industry, and that means less shrubland overall. Diminished shrubland means less food and less cover for a variety of animals, like the declining American Woodcock and the endangered New England Cottontail.

From the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

From the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

There’s something to be said for letting things “go to seed.” The idiom has a connotation of negativity, perhaps especially in New England when clearing land meant labor-intensive walls of heavy stone. UsingEnglish.com says “if someone has gone to seed, they have declined in quality or appearance.” But in the case of shrubland and in defiance of this judgmental idiom, species can thrive if completely cleared land is allowed to return to its more natural state—at least for a time. And the tangles, twists, berries, and bugs that emerge have a subtle but seductive beauty of their own. Those of us with our own yards can pitch in, too, creating and/or preserving our own small shrubland patches.

I’ve been reading Living at the End of Time: Two Years in a Tiny House by John Hanson Mitchell, and I savored his account of encouraging a new shrubland after he had some trees cleared and their stumps bulldozed. How reassuring the relentless march of life can be:

I let the area grow up again. First to return were the poison ivy shoots and the blackberries, which, although ground down to nothing on the surface, had their roots deeply set in the topsoil. But this time other species came along as well, and….toward the end of that summer I counted the number of species in my first informal ecological survey. In subsequent years in the meadow I found brown snakes, red-bellied snakes, garter snakes, and milk snakes. I saw leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, wood frogs and toads, red-backed salamanders, katydids, meadow crickets, long-horned grasshoppers and uncountable species of beetles. Foxes and skunks regularly crossed the meadow; deer grazed there…Robins and flickers were abundant; flycatchers darted from the trees along the edges to snap up the field insects flying above the ground; swallows coursed the clearing by day, followed by bats at night. There was light and air; stars, wind, and sky; life had returned.