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 


Fiction.
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.

Read-Aloud
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).

Nonfiction
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.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thru-Hiking en Famille



The last (for now) of the short pieces I've been writing over the last year about our Colorado Trail hike last summer has just been published in TrailGroove Magazine, Issue #35. My piece, Thru-Hiking en Famille is less of a how-to than a how-we-did, but if you're looking looking for tips on getting your family out on the trail, or are just curious about the nitty gritty details of our trek, or if you just want to see more pictures of Colorado's scenery, please check it out!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Multiples Illuminated

While I was away on our cross-country road trip, this book was released:
In which my essay, "Individuality, Mutuality, and a Game of Twister" appears.
You can read an excerpt of my piece here.
If you have twins, triplets, or more, or if you just like horror stories, consider purchasing a copy:
Amazon (paperback) 
Amazon (Kindle
Kobo 
Barnes and Noble 
Scribe 
Inktera 
Playster 
Smashwords

Monday, September 4, 2017

September Newsletter



My September Common Ground newsletter went out today. 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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ One Week in Late August

Last Wednesday I went out and took some photos of late August happenings, with the full intention of writing a Wild Wednesday post, but then I got busy doing other things and it never happened. I considered a Wild Thursday or Friday post, but those days got filled up, too (oh, how glorious that school is back in session!!). Now here it is Wednesday again, and I thought I'd do a little compare and contrast from one week to the next.

Late August is goldenrod season around here, and a few species, including early goldenrod, were blooming.



Now the early goldenrod has gone by,



But several other species are coming online.



I haven't had a chance to go out with my field guide and identify  them yet (or re-identify, since I'm pretty sure I've learned them at least once or twice before).





Last week, most of the queen Anne's lace was on its way out, though a few were still blooming



By this week almost all (except for a few small ones here or there) have gone to seed.



The tall asters had come into full bloom last week,



And are still the predominant flower in the fields.



I had seen this puffball mushroom, about the size of a softball, on my morning walk up the driveway. By the time I came by again around noon, some little critter had nibbled away at it.



Over the next few days, it turned black and slimy and now this is all that's left. When you stamp on it—which is irresistible—it gives off its spores, like a cloud of purple smoke, which smells oddly of chocolate.



There were a few of these teeny tiny puffballs along the driveway as well, each about the size of a large grape, covered in a spiky white skin.



The skin dried and cracked, peeling away, leaving behind a brownish volcano that spurts little puffs of greenish-yellow spores.

One of my favorite flowers growing on our property is this sedum, called live-forever. Most of our wildflowers are white or yellow, and while I might not choose to dress in or decorate with magenta, I'm thrilled whenever it grow wild on my land.


It is, unfortunately, not so aptly named. Just a week later, and the blooms and stems have turned a rusty red.


What's wild in your neck of the woods this week?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Long Road

19 days
17 states
5 national parks/monuments/memorials
6,271 miles



We had so much fun driving across country the last two summers in a row, I decided why not do it again this year?



Just kidding. My parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, so we had no choice.



And to be honest, I was kinda dreading the whole prospect. But once we got past the anticipation stage of the trip and on to the actual trip, we had a great time.



C did not join us (his exact words: "I hope when people ask me why I didn't come along, you say somebody had to work to pay for this trip."). Which meant a lot more driving for me. He usually does somewhere between most and all of the driving, while I knit, read, nap, and entertain the kinder.



M, however, has his learners permit and did a fair amount of driving in the states which honor other states' permits (which is most of them). This was a terrifying experience in many ways. But, as I reminded myself over and over (and over and over) again, better he get his first road trip/multi-lane freeway/80 mph highway driving experience with me in the passenger's seat, rather than in a college buddy's near broken-down jalopy. I remember my first road trips and I'm lucky I and my friends are still alive. He did great, but still I nearly wore out my imaginary brake pedal. Needless to say, I did not get any knitting/reading/napping/entertaining the kinder done.



Because C wasn't with us and because I didn't have to worry about fitting the trip in between work obligations or within limited vacation time, I aimed for a bit more of a relaxed pace than usual, and left the return trip open-ended.


On the way out, we took the long way through Missouri to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farm, and stopped by Mushroom Rock State Park in Kansas, a side trip C and I took when we drove out with a three-year-old M.



In Colorado, we attended two big family events and hung out with various relatives, doing city/suburb stuff like going to the pool and the climbing gym, eating out, and window shopping. We also went for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiked the first 6.5 miles of the Colorado Trail, which we missed last summer because we'd begun at an alternative start point, and visited a glacier.



I thought for a while about heading up to Yellowstone on the "way" home, but decided that would be too rushed (and, no doubt, crowded). Instead we headed west to the top corner of Utah, and spent a couple of days in Dinosaur National Monument, then drove diagonally across Wyoming to see Devils Tower. From there, we hit the requisite sites of Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and The Badlands.



We were the ultimate tin can tourists, popping into parks for a few hours. My twenty-something self would be horrified by our rushed sight-seeing, but it poured rain while we were at Devils Tower (which, by the way, is incredible, despite the crowds), so more than the shortest hike around the base would have been miserable.

And there's really not much to see at either Crazy Horse or Mt. Rushmore (in truth, I'm conflicted about both of these sites; on the one hand, amazing human ingenuity and artistry, on the other, is it ever right to desecrate a mountain, whether for a coal mine, a ski resort, or a giant sculpture of a dead guy/guys?). My only regret is that we didn't have more time to spend at Badlands, like a couple of days. We went on two short hikes, and despite the kids being tired and cranky and determined to get out of South Dakota by the time we got there, it ended up being one of their favorite places.

I have to give the National Park Service credit for establishing very efficient sight-seeing tours of their parks. We had a full day, two nights, and an afternoon in Dinosaur, where took two driving tours, stopping off at all of the overlooks, and went on two short, beautiful hikes. The actual dinosaur bones were almost anticlimactic after all of the incredible scenery we took in. I have a super secret plan to go back there and raft the Green River in two summers, after the boys graduate 8th grade/high school. I may even get a job in order to pay for it.

Did I mention that rain followed us almost everywhere we went? 


I discovered that there's no way to get across the country without looking at a LOT of corn. But I did enjoy the fields of sunflowers in South Dakota and appreciated that Minnesota leaves a swath of tall grass prairie growing alongside the highway.







Having done this trip several times and several ways, I've found that the nicest way across the country is to cross Pennsylvania on I-80, then zig-zag down Ohio to I-70.



This way you avoid most of the yucky industrial junk, in the northern parts of the vowel states, avoid most of usurious tolls in those same states (plus NY and PA), have to endure less tractor-trailer-truck traffic, and get better scenery. You still get some sketchy interstate pretzels and multi-lane traffic, in almost all of CT and MA, as well as some midwestern cities, but having taken the long way on I-90 through the heart of Chicago, I'll take Hartford.




As for the kids, this was their third year in a row of driving to Colorado and back, so they did pretty well, sitting in the car all day and helping out at campsites (except when we stayed with relatives in CO and visited my aunt in Missouri, we camped every night).



We had very long days (either C is a faster driver than M and I are, or he's less judicious with rest breaks) and they kept it together really well. M acted as second adult, taking on a fair amount of driving, and bossing people around. We listened to audiobooks on the way out (a challenge in my rather noisy car), as well as music.

On the way home, I had E and Z take turns reading out loud from their respective books (they'd both finished the books they wanted to read and were stuck with books I'd brought along from the bookshelves at home). In each state, they read from their travel atlas. And they got to play a lot more video games than I allow at home, although whenever we went somewhere with a view, I made them put them down ("scenery not screenery" became the mantra).

I don't know what the boys will remember from this trip. The deluge in Utah that nearly washed away our tent? The kind neighbors in Pennsylvania who shared some white gas so we could cook our last night's meal of macaroni and cheese? The glacier? The lizards? The mountains? The desert? The buffalo we barely caught a glimpse of as M zoomed by at 70 mph? The endless seas of cows? The rabbits? deer? pronghorn? lizards? Nearly unlimited Asphalt 8 on their iPads? The dozens of relatives they met for the first, and possibly last, time? Endless corn fields?

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