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Shaped by Wind & Water: Reflections of a Naturalist

by Ann Haymond Zwinger

My aunt and uncle in Flagstaff sent this book. I knew I’d like it by the second page, when I read, “Many women I know live the same kind of life, predicated on interruption, that I do–the push-me/pull-me dance of balancing family life and professional life: keeping in touch with family, doing another wash, marketing and cooking, juggling overlapping schedules, and getting done what needs to be done…When I began writing, I often railed against the unnecessary and incessant stoppages that clotted my day. Writing…is not something one can pick up and put down easily. Fieldwork and research and putting it together as natural history writing is, of necessity, time consuming…I have never had the luxury of a set schedule and blocks of time to write…I’ve learned to trust my mind’s ability to work on its own, to explore ideas and mentally file and order them while I make a chocolate roll or sew on a button. I do know that blocks of time are necessary for many of the tasks of writing; I appreciate them when I have them and yearn for more. But I also could be persuaded that in a life of unavoidable interruptions there might be some hidden blessings: when I finally do have the chance to work, my mind immediately focuses in and expands my moment in sunshine. The self-indulgence of “writer’s block” is a luxury that never wrote an essay and, interestingly enough, something I seldom hear women writers complain about.”

Sunday, February 17th

“This Sunday at the Baranov Museum at 4pm, there will be a Writers’ Roundtable and Book Signing event aimed to share the unique perspective and processes surrounding researching and writing on the Emerald Isle. Local authors Sara Loewen & Sue Jeffrey will discuss their research processes and read book excerpts. Following the readings will be an in-depth question & answer session moderated by Anjuli Grantham, our Curator of Collections. Both Sara Loewen’s new book, Gaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands, and Sue Jeffrey’s A Legacy Built to Last, will be available for purchase and signing.”


“My best thinking is done following the map of my mind on the page.”

Eva Saulitis, On Writing the Book-Length Memoir

“…An essay arises out of a question, and that question is a variation of the question at the heart of every creative work, short or long:  what does this mean?  What does it mean that there’s a creature called a wolverine on this planet?  What does it mean to get cancer?  What does it mean to lose a child?  What does hate mean?  An essay is a map of the trail a writer takes in pursuing her question.  The question is unanswerable, or it has a myriad of correct answers.  Or its answer is “none of the above.”  A mind following such a map to its edge, to where the map ends, is a mind changed in the process, and that’s what the essay records.  So I started with a question.

The question at the heart of Into Great Silence was “What does it mean that the Chugach transient orcas, the animals I have been studying for half my life, are going extinct?  How can I possibly live with this?  Can I personalize this extinction so a reader understands on a gut level what we’re facing? Takes personally the fact that we exist in what some call a new age of extinctions?  Can I turn a scientific study into art?  And can I do this without my book being a total downer?  You can see already questions generating more questions, which is what happens both in literature and in science…”

Read her full piece at 49 Writers