Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, by Susan J. Tweit

posted in: Books, Writing | 13

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.

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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.

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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.

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Tweit_2146

"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)

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Homecover

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.

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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 Tweit's website

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!
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13 Responses

  1. I read your entry on grey Suffolk sheep on Friday, and happened to be in a new (to me) yarn store on Saturday. They had balls of Rowan “Purelife” yarn, and the color I picked up was labeled “Steel Grey Suffolk”! I grabbed a brochure – they list 5 colors from 4 different breeds. The picture of the Suffolk sheep showed a white fleece with black face and legs. The Bluefaced Leicester sheep sort of looked grey, but the yarn was white. I went to the Rowan website – they state that “Purelife” came out in 2007, is produced organically (conforms to EU regulation 2092/91), and they do say “Organic wool naturally dyed”, among other things. I don’t know if this helps the mystery of your grey rolags, but it does seem that something is going on concerning this grey Suffolk mystery!

  2. Deb, thank you for the generous introduction to Walking Nature Home. I’m touched and honored! As you know, while you were snug in the cabin up the Poudre River, Richard and I were out in the blizzard heading between book events in the real and very white and cold and slithery world! But the warmth and enthusiasm of the audiences at my events made up for the weather. And now we’re home and I’m back on the couch–ahhh!

    Sharman, I’m at work on my post for the next stop, which of course is Love of Place (http://loveofplace.blogspot.com), the blog you host so graciously and thoughtfully. Thank you for welcoming me as you explore the digital world.

  3. Dear Deb,

    Thanks for the gracious mention of Riehlife in this post. I love your textile metaphors. They are apt. Sharing some of the passages you flagged is an excellent way to show the grace, strength and wisdom of Susan’s writing in “Walking Nature Home.”

    I love your photography, always.

    Blessed reading!

    Janet Riehl
    http://www.riehlife.com

  4. Thanks for the details. I would be FAR less confused about this gray “Suffolk” if they did not show photos of what I know to be Suffolk sheep, which very different (and appropriate-looking) wool. Bluefaced Leicester do generally have white wool, although the skin (of their faces at least) is dark colored–the overlying white hair (no wool on the face) gives the “blue” appearance.

    Curious. Very curious.

  5. I already knew your writing, Sharman, of course, but am just connecting with your blog. It’s good to have this virtual community happening.

  6. You’re most welcome, Susan. My pleasure, very much so.

  7. Thanks, Janet! Good to be seeing you around the neighborhood again!

  8. Deb – I visited your blog via Women Writing the West, to read more about Susan Tweit’s book. What a delight! First of all, your thoughtful review of her work is a wonderful tribute to her fine writing skills. In addition, as a former weaver, I enjoyed your spinning posts. I now indulge my fiber lust through knitting. After a close encounter with yaks at last year’s National Western Stock Show, I’ve been working up to acquiring yak wool, via Alpaca. Great blog! Thank you.
    Best wishes, Joyce Lohse

  9. Welcome, Joyce! I’m glad you discovered the blog and . . . trust you’ll be checking out Susan’s book in its entirety. What a treat you have ahead of you!

    You’ll find a lot of knitting here, too. I cycle between my various pursuits, and they connect to each other. Yak is lovely. So’s alpaca!

  10. Joyce, thanks for stopping by and checking out Deb’s beautiful post on Walking Nature Home. Independent Stitch has quite a following among both writers and fiber folk, and rightfully so. Deb’s one of those multi-talented people, with a wonderfully bright and inquiring mind, so there’s always something interesting to read here.
    (Oh, and thanks too, for that lovely compliment about my writing!)

  11. Deb,
    Wonderful collection of quotes from Susan’s book. I found myself wanting my post-it notes, too. To me, that’s the measure of a really good book!!

    Wonderful to stop by your blog again.
    Susan GT

  12. Great to see you again, Susan. Glad you liked the quote collection! There are, of course, many more where they came from. . . .

  13. Susan and Deb, thank you for honoring me by hosting me on my blog book tour. It’s a great gift to see my book through other’s eyes, and I’m fortunate to have two such perceptive people writing about it. (For those following the tour, I’ll be on Susan G-T’s blog (http://sculpturepdx.blogspot.com/) on April 8th. Next stop is knitting wizard and writer Donna Druchunas’ Sheep to Shawl (http://www.sheeptoshawl.com/blog/) with an interview, tomorrow!

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