Walking Nature Home: Are We Our Mothers' Daughters?

In some ways, choosing to write only about the few times in Walking Nature Home where Susan Tweit writes about her mother is like describing a single sea shell when the entire ocean stretches before you. So I urge you to journey on your own into the tide-deep waters of this memoir. You will find an intimate world inhabited by much more than a single shell.

Explore her author's notes. You'll appreciate the sources she references and the useful way in which she categorizes them. Astrology and Star Lore. Astronomy. Autoimmune diseases. Community of the Land and Ecology. Gardening. Health and Healing. Quakerism. Science. These are the myriad, sometimes turbulent, but always thoughtful waters inhabited by her memoir.

"To my eyes," writes Susan, "my mom is beautiful, with large blue eyes, a cap of wavy silver hair framing her tan face, and a ready, charming smile. The notes in her health log, though, reveal the pain of swollen and distorted joints, the debilitating curve in her spine, the digits frozen or twisted into unnatural angles, her stick-thin arms and legs."

Both our mothers suffer(ed) from debilitating and chronic disease. Susan's mother, married to a scientist with a doctorate in organic chemistry and still alive, has great faith in western medicine. My mother, married for twenty-five years to a visionary but complicated man who founded the financial planning profession, followed dual paths of healing while she was alive. Susan's mother wrote of the "disappointment when each drug, so promising at the start, became less and less effective; of days when her body felt like a battleground.”

I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror with my mother after her fifth surgery, this time for breast cancer. The lymph pump was still connected to the red, swollen tissue in the caverns where her right breast and lymph glands had been. She smiled, rather wistfully, as she stared at her battered body. But as always, she was pragmatic and positive. Much to her doctors’ amazement, she rallied again and again, and continued to take mega doses of IP-6.

“Before arthritis,” Susan writes, “my mother wore three rings: her engagement diamond, a slender gold wedding band, and an antique Italian cameo passed down from her mother’s aunt. When Mom’s finger joints became so swollen that her rings had to be cut and bridged, she gave the cameo to me.

“One afternoon, I was trimming her nails… As I cradled her cold and bloodless hands gingerly in mine, I was struck by the juxtaposition of our fingers, hers swollen, crooked, and painful, mine still slender and relatively straight… I felt the stiffness in my joints and fear stabbed by gut: I saw my mother’s hands in mine. And I swore that I would not allow my body to become a battlefield.”

Take it back, this living will that condemns us both.

That line is from a poem of mine, written when my mother was still alive. I understand Susan’s fear. It is mine, too. And my sister’s. Must we inherit your diseases? we asked silently, even as we knelt to rub peppermint oil on her swollen knees.

But Susan’s book is not about fear. It is about channeling fear back into the river bed where the waters of life flow. Like the waters that flow through the industrialized banks of Ditch Creek in Salida, Colorado, which Susan and her husband Richard live. Susan has transformed her fear into fertile soil, fertile enough to grow strawberries and eggplant and sugar snap peas and summer squash, enough to feed them for months, enough to share with neighbors.

Are we are our mothers’ daughters? If we are, then we must remember to claim all of them, not just their frailties and illnesses. Susan inherited “luminous fibers” from her mother, who was born and raised near San Francisco Bay. “’For some people,” Susan quotes Barry Lopez in her book, “what they are is not finished at the skin, but continues with the reach of the senses out into the land….Such people are connected to the land as if by luminous fibers….’”

Susan’s mother had a “feel for sea cliff, wave form, and beach sand” that “was honed on the central California coast, her affinity for desert shaped by visits to her grandparents in Tucson….” My mother was raised by a deaf mother in the Mohave Desert, and as a young woman moved to Berkeley, California, where she met my father. They later moved to Colorado, where I was born, and where Susan lives.

My mother grew to love the mountains of Colorado. She chose to live the last twenty years of her life in these mountains. And now I live here too, in the same home where she died. I sleep in the same bedroom where I last held her in my arms as she grasped my hands. I look out at the same gangly Ponderosa pines and at the occasional deer walking the same backyard trail. Susan watches a muskrat burrowing along the creek and a red fox hunting amidst the Indian ricegrass.

To find yourself engaged in a beautiful book written by a kindred spirit is one of life’s greatest gifts, especially a book with as many layers as Walking Nature Home. “Susan Tweit has written a glorious love story,” writes Kathleen Dean Moore, “to her Rocky Mountain sage meadows, to her husband Richard, to her own unreliable body. I read this book long into the night, lifted by the beauty of the story….”

To read more about mother/daughter health connections, read Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health by Christiane Northrup, M.D., available from Random House.


turtlewoman said…
A beautiful and fitting tribute to the mother-daughter connection.

Lindy in AZ
Page Lambert said…
Lindy, thank you for reading the post, and for taking a moment to leave a comment. Sending you warm wishes!
Anonymous said…
I loved this post. It really resonated with me. Thank you for writing it, and mentioning the book and your connection with it.

Hilary in Colorado
Page Lambert said…
Hilary, thank you for taking the time to read Are We Our Mothers Daughters. I'm glad the piece resonated with you!
Dear Page and Susan,

Wow, what an interesting journey your words weave, Page! I, too, honor my own mother and the many surrogate mothers who have blessed my life.
Also, I mourn with my dear friend Victoria, whose mother passed this week after a short intense cancer battle.

Somehow, in the connections there is comfort. Thanks for your amazing sharing!

Yes, I am my mother's daughter ... and yet sister to you both.

Dear Maryjo, how lovely to see your name here! And to read your lovely comment. I hope your friend Victoria will be especially kind to herself during this time of transition as she adjusts to her mother's passing. Blessings.
Kathy Kaiser said…
Beautifully said, Page. And I've long been a fan of Susan Tweit's, so am excited to hear about her new book.
As women, our relationship to our mother is probably the most complex of all--we long for their approval, bask in their love, mourn when it's missing. Thank you for this lovely piece we can all connect with, Page.
Page Lambert said…
Dear Kathy, you will enjoy Susan's memoir - it truly is layered with many poignant aspects of Susan's life. Thank you for your comment!
Page Lambert said…
Rosemary, as always, thank you for taking a few moments to send a comment. How right you are about our relationships with our mothers!
Susan J Tweit said…
As I told you yesterday, I read your post right after spending time with my parents in a difficult talk about what's next in their lives. Your words were so wise, so beautiful, and so courageously honest that I was in tears reading them. Thank you for understanding and enriching my story. We may not know each other well, but you are certainly a sister of my heart. Bless you!
Page Lambert said…
Susan, thank you. I value, cherish, the women in my life so much. We are, all of us, each other's most blessed resources.
Megan in Utah said…
I thought this was interesting. I haven't thought about my relationship with my mother and its really an interesting story. I think i'll write about it someday.
Page Lambert said…
Megan, thank you for the comment. Please send me your email address: page@pagelambert.com so that we can schedule a time to talk.
Gayle Gresham said…
I just finished Susan's memoir. You are right, the mentions of her mother are but a single seashell in an ocean, but Susan's choice of words and events luminate the ties and connections not only of their relationship, but any mother-daughter relationship. Her words and book are beautiful, just as Susan is beautiful.
Thanks for your insights and sharing your story, too, Page.
Thank you for the note, Gayle, and for the kind words about Susan. I'm so pleased you read her memoir.
Alice Liles said…
I wish I could be half the woman my mother was. She, and my dad, gave me such a secure and loving childhood that I am afraid I thought it all just sort of happened on its own and I fear I have let my own children down in some ways. That fear that we seem to have of turning into our mothers? I can't think of anyone I would rather turn into.
What a lovely tribute to your mother Alice. Yet I wonder why we humans go so quickly from appreciation,to comparison. And usually, we compare ourselves in a negative light. When I think of the horses at the Vee Bar, especially Jello, the little mustang I ride, I know he is never looking up at the big ole draft horses, wishing he were them. What lessons we can learn from our animal friends!
Cathy Hall Stengel said…
Oh how we are our mother's daughters, and yet I have tried so hard to walk a different journey, a journey that is kinder, more gentle, healthier than hers. And yet there is some inextricable tie, loved, not loved, wanted, not wanted. As someone else said it is such a complicated relationship. She is no longer here, and there are many unanswered questions. In my longing for what could not be, I have created an incredible journey with my daughter, and hope to create a story of unconditional love, grace, and shared memories. It is truly a life giving blessing.
Page Lambert said…
Cathy, your comment is very poignant with a spiraling, fluid energy that seems to circulate around you and your daughter. Our emotional lives are so very complex, and even as my sister and I re-envision our relationship it is done in the shadow (or light) of our relationship with our mother. Blessings on your journey.

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