Sunday, December 16, 2007

The importance of color

Here I am, back in my home in Montana, happy to be back, but missing color in my environment. I look out my window and see the snow white meadow, with bunches of dead tan grass sticking up through the snow, and the blackish green ponderosa pines scattered about and forming the forest on the mountain. Instead of showing you a photo of this scene, I'm using a photo from our time in Hawaii, land of gorgeous color. Between sunsets like this one and the tropical flowers that blaze in gold, orange, cerise, and crimson, the island is awash in color. My love of color is one reason I've taken up watercolor painting as a hobby and been attracted to painting Hawaiian flowers. While we were there, I didn't lift a brush, except to paint the cabinet interiors of our condo. But now that I'm here, I am eager to paint again, maybe to conpensate for the lack of color in my environment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beautiful Hawaii

We're now at our condo on the beautiful Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, right on the oceanfront, where we can watch surfers, green sea turtles, and spinner dolfins every day. What luxury! We rent the condo out most of the time but reserve the month of November for ourselves. I see Hawaii as a place of special beauty--the flowers, the music and dance, and always the ocean. Then there's the drama of the volcano, Kilauea, which has been active now for about 20 years. While I'm here, I've been giving workshops and talks, too, so it's not all relaxation!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More travels

A long time has passed since my last posting. I was on the road from mid-October, first for the wonderful Author Festival in Eureka, CA, where I spoke to children about my adventures with and books about wolves at Cutten Elementary School and Pacific View Charter School. The students were great! I also enjoyed seeing writer friends and making new friends and seeing the beautiful redwoods.
The volunteers who run the Festival are great--well organized and enthusiastic. I've been part of the Festival now for many years, and I always look forward to the next time. It's important for children to meet authors. The names on book covers don't mean much, unless the children can see that they are actual real people, with real lives. Meeting authors sparks interest in books and in reading, which is so important, and more difficult to promote to kids in this highly visual age.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Break

I've just received the first proofs for my book, "When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone," which will be published by Walker this spring--it looks beautiful, loaded with photos by Dan Hartman and his daughter, Cassie. Here's the image that will appear on the dust jacket:

This book is my last contracted book. I've been taking a long break from book contracts and have only done short pieces for various venues for the last 18 months. I'm banking on this being a good way to revive my enthusiasm for writing, and it seems to be happening now, with a few ideas percolating. Significant rain finally came yesterday, clearing away smoke and worry, which also helps.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Smoke and Heat

With the beginning of a new month, the figures are out about July here in Missoula, Montana--hottest July ever, 11 days at or above 100, new all time high of 107, and so forth, all accompanied by 0.03 inches of rain, when 1.04 inches is normal. I don't see how anyone can doubt climate change or deny that humans have something to do with the speed at which this is occurring. Sure, the climate has changed often in geological history, but now it's happening at an accelerated rate, way too fast for nature or humans to adapt. For example, when we moved to Montana in 1972, forest fires anywhere within the area were very rare. Now they are an annual occurrence. I'd be interested to know what other people who have lived in one place for a long time have experienced as changes in recent years.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Scotland and more

In April, my husband, Greg, and I traveled to Scotland and spent most of the time with our friend, Jocelyn, who was there on an academic exchange program. The house she rented was in Dundee, a perfect place as headquarters for traveling around the country. After we came home, I wrote an article for our local paper, The Missoulian, about the castles we visited. You can see it at
While I loved visiting a new country, I had the same feeling there as I've experienced in continental Europe--people have been there so long and are so densely crammed into the landscape that they can't be escaped. The countryside is beautiful, but everywhere is the mark of humanity--roads, agricultural lands, forestry plots--where we went, nothing wild and natural is left, except on the barren, almost treeless island of Skye. I think I've become delightfully spoiled living in western Montana, where so much land is public and is wild and free, with bears, coyotes, cougars, and even wolves living nearby.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Connecting with Nature

I found Larry's comment on my post "Life's Surprises" very wise. When I was young, I spent most of my time out-of-doors, chasing butterflies and exploring the woods. I developed a deep connection with nature, which I have done my best to express through my work. I believe children have a natural attraction to nature, especially to animals, and that they need to be able to experience the natural world first hand. Sadly, most children nowadays in the United States don't have this opportunity. I'm just beginning to read "Last Child in the Woods," by Richard Louv, which discusses this tragic trend. I would hope that children reading my books would respond to my love of nature by seeking out outdoor experiences for themselves. What could be more thrilling than the fox in the meadow
or the blackbird in the marsh?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Life's surprises

After putting up my first post, I looked eagerly for comments and found that I already had one, and what an interesting and delightful surprise--a voice from the past, from when my husband and I were graduate students at the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories on San Juan Island. At that time, he was expecting to spend his life as a scientist and teacher at a university. I thought I'd probably be doing the same thing, but I also wanted a family, so my expectations were less directed. Maybe I wouldn't have a dedicated scientific career, but if I got my Ph.D., I knew I wouldn't have to be working a 9 to 5 job for someone else! I knew that life was not for me.
Larry Read's comment mentions baby David--our first son came into the world while we were still students doing our Ph.D. research, so he became part of the very small year around community at the Marine Lab. My sister-in-law had given us a big banana box with handles on it, and it became David's portable bed at the lab. Luckily, he slept alot, and when he woke up hungry, Larry or one of the other students like Dan Hoffman, now retired from Bucknell, would hunt me down. Nice to have such helpful friends.
After another son, Jason, and getting our Ph.D.s, we spent a year in Detroit, then on Naples, Italy. Then Greg got a job at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. David was now 4 and Jason was 2, and I began to think about how I could use my scientific training and also be home with the boys. So many women are faced with this dilemna, and I think a lot of them don't realize it's necessarily an 'either or' choice. My solution was to use my knowledge and training in science to become a science and nature writer for children. It took awhile to find a publisher, but when I did, I began slowly, writing one book, then another two years later. We'd moved to Missoula, MT, where we still live, by then. Writing was parttime, and on my time--no one told me when I had to do anything, as I was my own boss. As the boys got older, I gradually increased my writing time so I could be both a mom AND a writer. Today, with the internet, there are more and more possibilities for women who want to raise a family and also do rewarding work, and I like to encourage women to think creatively about how to find a balance.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Starting out

Well, I'm joining the 21st Century by beginning my blog. I'm a writer who has spent most of my career writing science and nature books for children, but also do travel and food writing for adults. I want to use this blog to communicate with people interested in my life and my work. so here goes.
My most recent published book is "The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny," published by Clarion Books. My photographer, William Munoz, who took this photo, and I, have always had a special affinity for buffalo, and the relationship between these powerful animals and Plains Tribes has been going on for thousands of years. In the past, buffalo provided both physical and spiritual sustainance for the Indians. Then whites took over western North America and almost wiped out both the Indians and the buffalo. Today, many tribes are acquiring buffalo herds to help them reconnect with the natural world. This book gave us both the opportunity to get to know some wonderful tribal members and to learn more about Indian spiritual life. By the way, most Indians we know use that term to describe themselves rather than the term "Native American" which is considered correct in the general media.