Friday, October 13, 2017

Nature Journaling ~ Event Mapping

An Event Map is a visual depiction of your time out exploring nature. Using words, simple drawings, and mapping symbols you recreate on paper the world around you—both elements of the landscape, like trees or mountains, and things that happen, like a visit from a chickadee or a dragonfly that zooms across your path. Usually an Event Map will trace your route through the landscape as you hike, wander, or explore, but you could also make an event map while sitting still. Event Mapping slows you down and helps you pay attention to and record little details; it gets you out of your mind and into the world that surrounds you.

I'll be teaching a workshop on Event Mapping at Viles Arboretum in Augusta on Saturday, October 28, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. $35 members/$45 non-members. Call the Arboretum at 207-626-7989 to register.

This workshop will be a little different from my other Nature Journaling classes in that we'll spend less time indoors working on drawing techniques and more time out in the field exploring. After a brief introduction to Event Mapping and a few quick drawing skills, we'll wander the Arboretum's trails and create our own Event Maps. Through noticing and recording the sights, sounds, and moments in nature that draw our attention, we'll sharpen our observation skills and deepen our connection to the natural world.

Please bring: a journal, notebook, or blank paper and clipboard; simple drawing tools (pen or pencil with sharpener); snacks, water, and lunch; and a backpack to carry everything in. You may also bring binoculars, a hand lens, and field guides if you would like, though this workshop will be less about identifying and more about observing and experiencing. Please dress for the weather and wear sturdy shoes, a hat, and sunscreen or bug repellant if needed.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Monarch Summers II

In late summer, my children and I search for caterpillars. The milkweed is thigh-high at this time, with fragrant mauve flower clusters swelling into rotund seed pods. When we see leaves that are missing great chunks of green flesh, we peer underneath of them, hoping to find a fat yellow-, black-, and white-striped caterpillar hiding there. When we do find one, we bring it home and place it, along with a good handful of its milkweed host, in our butterfly jar, a bulbous vase of blown glass, to complete its cycle of eating and growing and transforming into a monarch butterfly.

So begins my essay "Monarch Summers" which was published last fall in the journal Snowy Egret. JUST in case you didn't order a copy of that print-only journal, you can now read the piece at the website Nature Writing. I'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, October 9, 2017

September Reads

A monthly recap of books I've read. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads  
June Reads
July Reads
August Reads 

I wasn't going to take any fun reading with me for my week at the artist colony, but I gave in at the last moment and packed the last installment of the Amelia Peabody mystery series by Elizabeth Peters (about which I've been regaling you since May) and I'm so glad I did. Reading it was the perfect way to wind down in my cottage after a day of focusing on my own writing, and this book, a satisfying, happy ending to the 20-book series was the perfect choice. After returning home, I read The Tale of Hilltop, which is the first in a series of Beatrix Potter mysteries by Susan Witting Albert. You can see I'm in the mystery mood these days; they're such soothing escapism. And this one in particular is the coziest of cozies (barely even a dead body at all). It was a little slow to ramp up, with a lot of different characters to outline, but ended up being pretty entertaining. I have a fascination with Victorian and Edwardian era women naturalists, and the book brought in a lot of personal and historical detail about Potter's life.

One of the boys' grandmothers started reading A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly to them while we were at camp over Labor Day weekend, and I brought it home and finished. The movie Lion is based on this story, about the little boy in India who accidentally ends up on a train to Calcutta, 1600 miles away from his home. Two, book and movie, complement complement each other wonderfully. The book gives a lot more details about what life was like for Saroo as a boy in India, how he adjusted to life in Australia, and how he managed to remember enough details to get him back home. And the move has such wonderful visuals, it really makes the book come alive. By the end, I was only reading to E (Z prefers to go and do his own thing) and then he and I watched Lion together. He was very concerned with the discrepancies between book and movie, and got a bit bored with grown-up Saroo (and fell asleep).

While on my writing retreat, I read two books to help me get into the long-distance hiking chronicle mode: Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and Scraping Heaven by Cindy Ross. I'd read both of these before, and in fact Ross's book, about hiking the Continental Divide Trail over five summers with two little kids, helped plant the seed of a big trip, way back when the twins were little. The only thing I remembered about Bryson's book was that it was funny, but I'd forgotten just how funny. Actual laugh-out-loud. But he also incorporates a lot of information while being funny. I had originally thought my book would be humorous, but the reality of the depressing environmental stuff I want to address in it didn't seem to lend to humor. Yet Bryson somehow manages to be funny even about the destruction of the world and he's inspired me to at least try to inject some humor, even though I know I could never be a tiny fraction as funny as he.

I picked up The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich at a conference a few years ago, but hadn't read it yet because it seemed like such a tome that would involve a huge commitment of time. Then I was talking to a friend about it a while ago and she told me "It's a page-turner," so I gave it a go and she was right. I tore through it in a week! The book tells the story of Heinrich's father, a naturalist of the late 19th and early to mid-twentieth century, who had an obsession with ichneumon wasps. I know that doesn't sound like a page-turner, but after reading through several of the elder Heinrich's brushes with death, as a pilot in World War I and II, while collecting specimens in far-flung jungles, and escaping Poland ahead of the Red Army, you won't be able to put it down. The book then follows young Bernd through his childhood in Germany and Maine (where his parents placed him and his sister in a boarding school while they went to Africa on collecting trips). Though fewer brushes with death occur, it continues to hold interest. Bernd struggles to differentiate himself from his father (studying honeybees rather than wasps) and as biological sciences evolve from taxonomy to research, son further distances himself from father. Yet, even as Bernd analyzes his father's motives and behaviors, he fails to bring awareness to the way he recapitulates his father's utter selfishness, particularly with regard to wives (yes, plural) and children. It's a fascinating read from the standpoint of the evolution of the natural sciences, the history of Central Europe in the era leading up to the first world war through the immediate aftermath of the second, and family dynamics in a very unusual family. And it's a page-turner.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October Newsletter

My October Common Ground newsletter went out yesterday. If you don't already have a subscription, you can check it out here and subscribe here. If you've already subscribed but didn't receive your copy, check your spam folder and "promotions" tab. And if you try to subscribe, but it doesn't work (I've heard this from several people—has something to do with span settings and whatnot), send me a message using the blog contact form at right and I'll sign you up manually!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Pugnacious Beasts

I don't have any photos of snapping turtles, but here's a tiny little painted.

One morning I held a snapping turtle in my hands. Her shell was the size of a dinner plate, oblong and slick with a coating of greenish-black algae. Although she wasn’t the biggest turtle I had seen over the previous few days, her smooth carapace indicated she was an old one, lacking the ridges and keels that corrugate younger turtles’ upper shells.

Please click here read more of my essay "Pugnacious Beasts," which appears on Zoomorphic today.

I was a little hesitant to put up a self-promotion post today, the day after yet another national tragedy, riding on the heels of other tragedies. But as this is an essay about the vagaries of life and death and about doing something even when you know, in the big picture, it's probably pointless, it seems fitting, or at least not too callous. As long as our world is held in a stranglehold by those who make a lot of money off weapons of war and fossil fuels, we're as helpless as a turtle in the road, humanity—and all of life on earth—overridden by greed and violence.

Friday, September 29, 2017

One Week in Fairyland

Earlier this month, I had the great good fortune of spending a whole entire week away from home at an artist colony on a lake in Western Maine.

I had the most charming little cottage all to myself.

I shared the property with four other artists (including our hostess), each of whom had her own cottage, spaced far enough apart from each other that we only saw each other when we wanted to.

Each cottage was sweet and unique, and I'm quite sure each of us believed she had the very best one (but in my case it was true).

Mine was named Viking Court, and I'm pretty sure The Three Bears moved back in after I swept it out and went on my way.

Inside it had the most amazing array of patterns—tile and wallpaper and linoleum and window panes. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the intersections of light and pattern.

Even the giant spider webs under the eaves made beautiful patterns.

I also painted wildflowers and mushrooms and visited the big chestnut tree and went on a tramp with a friend who led a group of land trust docents and swam in the lake every day. I was extra-lucky to have been awarded a week of beautiful sunny weather sandwiched between two rainy weeks.

I got some work done, too—a full revision of my entire manuscript (handwritten changes on a very thick printout). A lot of work remains to be done (I filled seven pages with notes of things to research), but I feel good about what I accomplished and ready to move on to the next step.

Every day I had a moment where I thought, "E and Z's bus will be here soon…" or "I have to go pick up M from cross country…" or "Is there a soccer game today…" or "It's time to start dinner…" and then I realized…no. I don't have to do anything or go anywhere. I'm not responsible for anyone.

Two weeks have gone by since I left and I'm having trouble believing I ever really was there.

I hope the Three Bears are happy to have it back.

Friday, September 8, 2017

August Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads  
June Reads
July Reads

I was going to say I didn't read much last month, but I guess that pile isn't too shabby. I read very little on our three-week road trip. I brought plenty of books with me and bought even more along the way (national parks have the best book stores), but I didn't find time to read more than a few paragraphs. But it appears that I made up for lost time when I got home.

Read-Aloud. I started reading A Wrinkle in Time to the kids in the tent at night on our return trip and finished up after we got home (with only E listening at the end; he's my best audience). I was surprised to find nothing familiar about this book, even though I've always assumed I'd read it at some point in the past. I was also surprised by the religious element. I'd thought the L'Engle books were the humanist antidote to the Narnia books, but that must be something else? While we were driving, I had E and Z each read aloud from books I'd brought along for them (gifts they'd received over the last year but hadn't yet read) and was appalled by the atrocious writing and just generally dumb premise in both of them (one by a bestselling adult author) so I was pleased that the writing in Wrinkle was decent and the story carried along at a good clip, but my reaction overall to the book was, "Huh?" I just found it kinda weird. Maybe because I'm not usually a sic-fi reader I haven't learned to suspend my disbelief? I don't know, but at least now I can say I've read it.

Poetry. After we got home, I got back in my read a poem or two each morning habit, and read the short collection, Mothering Through, by Catharine Murray, which I had picked up earlier this summer on the alumni book table at my MFA reunion. I'm not a great judge of poetry, so I won't speak to the quality of these poems, but other than the subject matter (the author's young son dying of cancer), I will say they weren't terribly memorable.

Fiction. And it would appear I was still in summer reading mode this month, continuing with the Elizabeth Peters/Amelia Peabody marathon that's been going on all summer. The boys and I even listened to audiobooks of two of the books (which I reread earlier this summer) on our drive out to Colorado. I suspected they would enjoy the ones where Amelia's son, Ramses, is young (and always stirring up trouble) and I was pleased to find I was correct. I finished the Painted Queen, which is the posthumously published (and written by another author) final book in the series, and I was still disappointed in it, for all the reasons I went into last month. The disappointment was tempered by the fact that six books follow The Painted Queen, if the series is read in chronological (rather than publication) order. I read the next four and I'm halfway through the fifth of these, which means I'll get back to more Serious reading later this month.
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