What were your earliest discoveries? Who encouraged you in your love of nature?
Many of my earliest discoveries happened down at the wetlands of Irondequoit Bay, an area now referred to as Rochester’s Last Wilderness. As a little girl I learned to recognize the sounds of different birds, the names of different plants, and the places where certain animals lived. One day, while I sat deep in the cattails, a great white egret swept up over my head—within arm’s length. I had never seen such a bird there before, and I never saw it again. That was an experience I will never forget.
I also once discovered something about moon rise and moon set when, as a young teenager, I went down into the woods at dusk to wait for the moon to come up. I sat there in utter darkness listening to the scuffle of little animals around me for nearly an hour until the brilliant harvest moon finally rose. I hadn’t known that the moon rose 50 minutes later each night!
My older siblings used to take my twin brother and me for hikes and camp-outs in area parks. My sister Cathy loved nature. My mother, who was unable to hike down into the woods to the bay behind our house, loved to listen to the stories I would tell her about my exploits there. This was probably when I gained my love of telling stories about what I saw.
When did you start writing about your experiences in nature? How did those first efforts work out for you?
I started writing stories and poetry at a very young age, and in high school I created a field guide and journal about the wetlands of Irondquoit Bay. I didn’t realize then that nature writing would become a habit and a lifelong personal journey.
In your essays you blend personal stories with lots of interesting information. How did you balance the two?
I love the art of the essay, studying its variety of forms and the creative potential that prose can have. I have found that factual information about the natural world offers so much inspiration and insight into the human condition that making connections to one’s own life or to other philosophical ideas feels natural. I don’t love reading about nature if it sounds like Wikipedia. People like personal writing and honest accounts. It’s how we learn empathy and deepen our understanding of being human.
What was the most exciting experience you wrote about?
In my book, Changing Seasons, I think it was the antics involved in guiding a paddling trip to spot bald eagles. Also, some readers might find the stories about my attempts to homestead in the hills with my young children exciting—or maybe just crazy!
What is your favorite topic to write about?
I love writing about the places where mystery and life collide, the moments of pure wonder, be it out in the woods leading children or alone in the garden pondering the ways the natural world works.
What are some words of wisdom you would like to pass on to young nature writers?
Read nature writers old and new. Writing is as much a practice as it is a skill. It involves finding time just to observe and be out there. Not everyone will be able to write about the last snow leopard or traipsing through the Amazon jungle, but there are so many, many fascinating discoveries to be had exploring your own backyard.