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.

Dream of the Blue Turtles

Courtesy of Seney Natural History Association on Flickr

Snapping Turtle Courtesy of Seney Natural History Association on Flickr

If you are part of my generation you probably remember that my blog’s title is borrowed from the title of Sting’s first solo album.(If you are too young to know who Sting is, go ask The Police . They’ll tell you.)

Anyway, I just learned that the album’s title was inspired by an actual dream. Sting recalled:

I turned to see the head of an enormous turtle emerging from the darkness, followed by four or five others. They were not only the size of a man, they were also blue and had an air of being immensely cool.

I haven’t had any turtle dreams lately, but I’ve had some cool turtle encounters and conversations! For starters, part of the writing sample that helped me win the 2015 Edwin Way Teale Artist-in-Residence opportunity (joyfully awaiting details on my week devoted to nature writing this summer!)  has a snapping turtle in a starring role! Of course, it also reveals that I have a lot to learn.

Had we been a more educated bunch, we might have guessed that this was highly likely to be a female en route to (or from) an egg-laying venture, a mission in which she would dig a hole and deposit her clutch of up to 40 eggs. But I still have the smart phone video footage to prove how clueless we all were. It records us gleefully naming the snapper Phil, after considering Bob and Joe. The only smarts we had consisted of our hands-off policy with “Phil” the fertile female, fearing a sharp and lightning fast removal of our digits. But we adored her from just a little way off, thrilled when she moved her flipper a bit, a sign of life to counter her stoic, stone-like affect in the presence of swarming gnats and humans.

Sea Turtles coverI’ve also been talking with Melissa Gaskill, an expert on sea turtles who has written A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles and also happens to be a member of my online nature writing group. It’s rare to find sea turtles in Connecticut, but I am considering a side trip to the New England Aquarium to see Myrtle! She’s been living there since I was just 3 years old!

It’s clear that these creatures—like so many sea creatures right now—need our help and vigilance, and Melissa explains what we can do. Here’s my interview with her. You can see that her passion and expertise started with a simple act of interest and citizen science, with her kids along for the ride!

How and when did you first get interested in sea turtles?

I had my first encounter with sea turtles when spending a summer in Baja California Sur with my three kids. We volunteered to patrol a stretch of beach on the East Cape for an organization that protected nesting sea turtles there. We found and reported a new nest that we later learned contained 87 eggs. After that, I started writing about sea turtles and was fortunate to attend a hatchling release at Padre Island National Seashore, see a Kemp’s ridley nest hatching out in the wild in Mexico, snorkel with green sea turtles in the US Virgin Islands, and dive with them in the Caribbean. After I had the idea of writing a book about all the places you can see these animals and support their conservation at the same time, I’ve volunteered with sea turtle research in Cuba and Mexico and sea turtle conservation in the Yucatan and Guatemala.

Kemp's ridley hatchling

Kemp’s ridley hatchling


Do you know when and where we can find sea turtles in Connecticut?

Connecticut isn’t the most likely place to find sea turtles, unfortunately. You can see a green sea turtle, Myrtle, at the New England Aquarium in Boston. A resident since 1970, she currently lives in the Giant Ocean Tank. The closest place for Connecticut residents to observe nesting turtles or hatchlings would be North Carolina. Of course, there are many places around the world where to see them!

 What can we do/where can we go to learn more about them?

A number of zoos and aquariums have sea turtle residents and educational programs, and there are many conservation organizations working around the world to protect these endangered reptiles. If you’ll allow a shameless plug, I literally wrote the book on places where you can visit or volunteer with responsible conservation programs, and it has a chapter on captive encounters (places that keep only sea turtles unable to survive in the wild, for educational purposes and not profit) and one on organizations working with sea turtles. You can learn a lot from the websites of these organizations.

As you continue to learn about sea turtles, what fact(s) have surprised you most?

One is the astonishing distances some species can travel. Tagging studies have tracked loggerheads swimming from Japan to Baja California, a journey of some 15,000 miles. Leatherbacks can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds and dive up to 3,000 feet deep. Female sea turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field and other cues to return to the beach where they were born to lay their own nest, some 20 or so years later after traveling far from the place to grow up. Each species of sea turtle has a distinctive diet; for example, leatherbacks eat jellyfish and have spines in their throats that help them swallow these slippery creatures; hawksbills eat coral, using their hawk-like beaks to chomp off bits; and green sea turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtles, feeding on algae and seagrass.

What are the biggest environmental concerns affecting sea turtles?

The main threats to sea turtle survival include fishing activity (they become caught in nets or on longlines and drown), direct take of adults for meat and eggs, marine debris (sea turtles die from ingesting plastic, for example, and are injured or drowned from entanglement in old fishing nets and debris), shoreline armoring (seawalls and bulkheads that prevent females from reaching the beach to nest), artificial lighting (it draws hatchlings away from the water and they die from dehydration, exhaustion, predators, or traffic), and climate change (sea level rise inundates nesting beaches, and changes in ocean temperatures and currents is affecting migration and food sources).

What can we do to help with these concerns?

A lot! People can choose sustainable seafood (find regional guides at seafood.org), refuse to purchase products made from sea turtles when traveling abroad, avoid single-use plastics, participate in beach clean-ups, use night-friendly lighting (see darksky.org for guidelines), and reduce their carbon footprint. In addition, when you travel you can support responsible eco-tourism such as beach walks; this makes sea turtles worth more alive than dead.

A hatchling parade

A hatchling parade

Anything else you’d like to share?

Sea turtles have been around for 100 million years – longer than the dinosaurs – yet human behavior has almost wiped them out in the space of a few decades. On the positive side, a large and dedicated group of people work around the world to save them, and we’ve seen a lot of progress. You can be part of this success story!