This is a stop on the blog tour for Susan Tweit's new book, Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey, being published this month by the University of Texas Press. I've previously blogged snippets about this work.
The previous stop in this tour was March 27 at Janet Riehl's wide-ranging and delightful Riehlife. The next stop will be March 31 at Sharman Apt Russell's Love of Place blog. Both are exceptional, thoughtful, and delightful writers. Be sure to check them out—along with the rest of the tour, listed at the end of this post.
Yesterday, I returned from a five-day writing retreat at a cabin on the Poudre River. I've never done anything like this retreat before; it was wonderful. Three writers shared the rent for what was intended to be a four-day session. Because of the weather, we had mostly overcast skies for the time we planned to be there. We got an extra day because we were lightly snowed in.
On the final, bonus night, I awoke about five in the morning and glanced out the window to find the real-life magic of more stars than I've been able to see for years, even when I've driven to the foothills outside of town, beyond the obvious light pollution (and I live in an area with relatively few streetlights).
I stayed awake in the dark for over an hour, walking from one window to another, seeing how many stars were visible in each direction. I felt like I'd been given an opportunity to glance into a forgotten part of my soul. It's a part I need to find a way to locate more often.
When Susan Tweit was in her early twenties, she was diagnosed with an unspecified autoimmune disorder and told she would likely live between two and five more years. This book is the story of how she learned to make a life, and to love and find love in return, under a more immediate sentence of death than most of us are required to carry in daily consciousness.
Walking Nature Home is a strong and gentle book. It’s stronger than spider silk, which means, for a textile person like me, that it has more tensile strength than steel. And it’s delicately inexorable, pulling the reader forward less by the power of its narrative, as strong as that is, than by the grace of its telling and the unfolding wonder of the wide-ranging connections it makes between the elements of the world we live in, from ourselves to stars to microbes.
It's an easy read . . . meaning it flows beautifully, not that it is simple. It's full of surprises. It's a book whose presence continues to vibrate after its last page has been reached.
I read with sticky notes to mark favorite passages. Instead of dumping superlatives on the screen in an attempt to convince you to read the book, I've selected a handful of the flagged bits in my copy, each edited down to a nugget—one that unavoidably fails to reflect the delights that can be found only by viewing it in context. Each of these fragments, while it stands well on its own, is like a single note or chord extracted from a symphony.
Please: do something very nice for yourself—read Walking Nature Home and experience the resonance of these thoughts within their natural frames of reference, and within your life.
"I instinctively treated what others labeled as a disease not as an affliction, infection, or enemy but as a teacher, a source of wisdom that spoke in a language I might not yet be able to understand, but which I was certain carried crucial lessons I needed to hear." (p. 24)
"In a sense my approach [to studying my health] is modeled on the organisms I studied in my fieldwork: plants. . . . Sometime in the long millennia of adaptation, big sagebrush . . . developed a way to communicate using its signature scent. . . . [It] eventually developed a whole vocabulary of volatile compounds, including one chemical that acts like an aromatic air-raid siren to warn its community of grazing insect invasions; when other plant species pick up this signal, they flood their tissues with indigestible compounds." (pp. 32-33)
"I found part-time work cleaning houses and began lingering in the empty rooms after I finished, sitting in the dark and inhaling their fragrances, warming myself in the ashes of other people's lives." (p. 47)
"When I examine the stars, I'm not just looking for the myths and dreams we assign to the scattershot figures of the constellations, or for the flares of exploding supernovas, . . . or other hints of the formation of the universe. I'm seeking a kind of intuitive wisdom that my rational mind struggles to accept, much less explain." (p. 51)
"Apparently I didn't know myself intimately, if I was surprised by the feelings I heard in the silence of my journey. It seemed I hadn't been observing myself with acuity. Perhaps that was the message in the chill of Raynaud's [phenomenon]: slow down, thaw out, sit still, and listen. . . . Walking the days alone but for Sadie [a friend's dog] had forced me to pay attention. If I kept my awareness tuned within, I might yet hear what I needed to understand my health and, more importantly, my life." (p. 55)
"The five hundred to one thousand species and countless individual microbes that make up our gastrointestinal consortium, for instance, aid us in obtaining nutrition by breaking down carbohydrates we could not otherwise process. . . . These other lives interact so intimately with our existence that what we think of as 'I,' a solitary individual, is in reality 'we,' a thriving community. No wonder we have an inborn affinity for the rest of nature. It is who we are. The bonds we are born with to other species can't help but nurture our ability to link to each other." (p. 88)
"I grew up in the language of science; I know its idioms and its jargon. I also grew up with myth and star lore, the archetypical tales that illuminate humanity's dimensions in words that ring and stir and rhyme. Both shape my view of the world. . . ." (p. 107)
"Their hollow innards make bird bones ideal for musical instruments. The variation in the strutlike internal structures that strengthen these airy bones results in characteristic sounds produced by the bones of different species. Some birds' bones sound eerily like the living species' own calls." (p. 119)
"I came to love the desert for its spectacular contrasts and sudden magic, for the creativity shown by all the lives that call it home. But no matter my resolve or my efforts . . . I never quite felt at home. . . . Homesickness may not be a diagnosable illness, but it is more than mere sentiment. . . . Each time we draw a breath, we inhale our surroundings." (pp. 123, 124, 125)
This is a story of discovering the importance of, and finding a way to be at, home. It is Susan's story, telling of her personal journey to find her unique home. But it's a good bet that if you let her show you her way, you will discover new ways to illuminate your own.
Walking Nature Home goes on my short shelf of books, the ones I won't part with. The book's place there is alongside Thoreau. Walking Nature Home is also a book that I, who rarely re-read books, will be reading again almost immediately.
If you decide to get the book and would like to share your experience with it, let me know: I'd love to hear.
Table of contents and chapter sample of Walking Nature Home
The book is available everywhere (ISBN 978-0-292-71917-0).
Here's the link for ordering directly from the University of Texas Press. As I write this, there is a discount—hardcover for a paperback price—and personal experience indicates they ship very quickly.
Susan's Walking Nature Home blog—always worth reading
Illustrator Sherrie York's blog, with regular insight into her creative process
And here's the complete set of blog tour activities, as of today:
- 3/23 Susan Tweit's introductory post
- 3/25 Women Writing the West's blog
- 3/27 Janet Riehl's Riehllife village wisdom newsmagazine blog
- 3/29 That's where you are now
- 3/31 Sharman Apt Russell and friends' Love of Place blog
- 4/2 Knitting wizard and author Donna Druchunas' Sheep to Shawl blog
- 4/4 Brush and Baren, the blog of artist and nature journal publisher Sherrie York, who also is the illustrator of Walking Nature Home.
- 4/6 Artist, writer, gardener, and college professor Susan Tomlinson's The Bicycle Garden blog
- 4/7 Women's Memoirs, the web site of memoir authors and coaches Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett
- 4/8 Sculptor Susan Gallacher-Turner's blog
- 4/9 Teleseminar with Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett, 6 p.m. MT. This is a free 20-30 minute interview where Susan will answer questions from readers around the country. Anyone can listen in by calling 1-712-432-0600 and using the access code 998458#
- 4/10 Telling HerStories: The Broad View, the group blog of Story Circle Network
- 4/12 Back to Susan's blog with a wrap-up of the tour, plus, Susan says, a surprise!