One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Landscape of Transformation

I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico last week taking in the clean, dry air, the warmth of the high desert sun, the scent of pinion smoke, sage brush and scrub pine. We admired the beautiful richly hand-woven rugs with their subtle earth tones and indulged ourselves with the wonderfully spicy taste of chilies.

Besides revisiting many favorite haunts, we also discovered a few new ones. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Seton Village and The Academy For The Love Of Learning.

Located outside of Santa Fe on 86 acres of high desert, Seton Village was the home of the late Ernest Thompson Seton, (1860-1946) naturalist, artist, author and pioneer of ecology and environmentalism. My husband keenly recalls receiving a copy of Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known as a child and finding the naturalist’s stories about wild animals and the underlying activist message of conservation and wildlife preservation life changing.

Ernest Thompson Seton’s own story is one of transformation. Artistically gifted, he studied art in Paris and London in the late 1800’s and became an accomplished wildlife painter before he was 20.

But he originally made his living as a wolf tracker and killer. Until a trip to New Mexico in 1893. He’d come to kill fifteen wolves, but his experience with the landscape, with observing the natural habitat and the animals that inhabited it and his interactions with Blanca and Lobo, two wolves he hunted, changed something deep inside of him. Witnessing the overwhelming grief that Lobo displayed when he discovered the spot where his mate, Blanca, had been killed, transformed Seton, converting him to the conviction that animals are related to humans in a moral sense, making us responsible for their preservation. The popularization of this contemporary belief can be traced back to Seton more than anyone else.

After his experience with Lobo, Seton reinvented himself from hunter to champion of wildlife for the remainder of his life, writing and illustrating over sixty-five books about animals and nature, and starting Woodcrafters—a youth organization that gave young people the opportunity to participate in native American crafts and personally experience the natural landscape. It also greatly influenced Baden-Powell and the formation of The Boy Scouts of America.

It is well fitting that The Academy For The Love Of Learning, founded in 1998 by composer Leonard Bernstein, chose what remained of the once 2500 acres of Seton Village as their home. They felt that Seton’s own transformation proved the human capacity to grow, change and embrace “life-affirming values and justice.” One of their many projects is The Learning Landscape, which “seeks to draw out the natural impulses of this land, just as our transformative learning model draws out people’s inner voices and gifts.” For more information about this inspiring organization, check out their website:

To bring this around to my own writing, I have been thinking a lot about character transformation and the kinds of experiences and epiphanies that can bring about this extreme transformation. I believe that Ernest Thompson Seton is a great role model for character development!

I’ll leave you with a short video that shows another transformative project at The Academy For The Love of Learning—their LifeSongs project.

Take Good Care,


Friday, March 22, 2013

The Landscape of a Newborn

I have very little today.
In fact, the tiniest of things.
The newest.
The newborn.

Fellow VCFA graduate and dearest friend, Katie Mather, had her first baby last month. A boy.  And I had the great honor of post-partum doula-ing for her last week and this. She lives in Philadelphia and I imagined that I would go there, walk around (with baby in pack, perhaps) and take in the unfamiliar landscape.

I didn't do that.

I did this instead.

Not so much walking around as waltzing around...the house. And then sitting, like this. And feeling the fluttering heartbeat of a just shy of 3 weeks out-in-the-world heart. And listening to the small sighs and squeaks of just shy of 3 weeks out-in-the-world lungs.

The landscape of a newborn.

The tiny sharp fingernails.
The healing bellybutton.
The milky tongue.
The touchdown arms.
The rise and fall of a cloth-diapered bum, a perfect child's pose, feet and hands tucked neatly under the belly.

The landscape of a newborn.

Happy Spring, everyone.
Gratefully yours,

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Building A Nest

In my usual burst of enthusiasm for the things I love and the desire it creates to imitate them (I love to eat—I should learn how to cook! I love to read—I should try and write a novel!) I have been building a bird’s nest.

Now the root of this passion is two-fold—I have always loved bird’s nests—I have collected obviously (and sometimes barely) abandoned ones for years. (Usually to have them disintegrate on a bookshelf after a time). I also love artist’s books and altered book artwork and recently made a pact with my oldest artist daughter, Ceinwen, that I would make a piece to enter in the annual MOCA (Marin Museum of Contemporary Art) altered book show and auction, if she would.

It’s due in a month.

The first step, for me, was to find a book to alter. So I visited the Reader’s Bookstore in Fort Mason to look for a vintage book that might be the foundation of my piece. I knew I wanted it to be something to do with birds and/or trees. I found an old library book from the 1940’s, a novel titled The Trees. The deckled pages are thick, slightly buckled and yellowed, the cloth cover is a faded blue. I cut a deep hole in the middle with an exacto-blade where my nest could rest.

Now making a bird’s nest is not as easy as it might look (neither is writing a novel!!!) I can definitely say that the slanderous term ‘bird-brain’ is a mislabel—birds are incredibly clever architects of little woven miracles.

After I took a walk in the woods and collected some leaves and twigs, I made an awkward skeleton out of some copper wire. I soaked the twigs, then bent and twisted, snapped and cursed and tucked until I had a funky little bowl of twigs.

What I have created is an imitation of a bird’s nest. It’s a pretty good imitation— there’s little question as to what it’s supposed to be. I think most people would look at it and think, oh, that looks like a bird’s nest. (As opposed to oh,…that’s interesting…what is it?)

It’s the same as when we write and try to create a well-rounded, believable character or a realistic setting—we are creating a plausible imitation. And sometimes we have to distort reality to make what is written work. This is especially the case in writing dialogue—if we as writers were to write a page of dialogue the way we all normally speak, it would be unbearably boring and dull with all of the um’s and uh’s and you know’s—so what we write is an imitation of dialogue.

They say that imitation is the highest form of praise.

I say, praise be to the birds, to their beautiful nests, to the trees that hold them, to their wood that is made into paper, to the books, to the stories told and written and read. And to all of those who imitate them with love in their hearts.

Take Good Care,


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Books in Landscape and Landscape in Books

Books and Nature belong to the eyes that see them.
Emily Bronte

Guy Laramee

                                                       *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Su Blackwell

  And this, our life, 
exempt from public haunt, 
finds tongues in trees, 
books in the running brooks, 
sermons in stones, 
and good in everything. 

William Shakespeare

Debbie Harman
Lori Nix

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Rune Guneriussen

 Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. 
Hal Borland

Eric Parker