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Where the Condors Fly

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I should be in Peru right now, visiting with the traditional weavers in my broken Spanish, dotted with poorly pronounced Quechua words, smiling at Elena, petting her lamb, telling her about the ewes we used to have in Wyoming, about the lambs my children used to raise. Our laughter would embarrass her, but her eyes would twinkle and suddenly we would be just two women standing on a mountainside.

I harbor a secret dream that rises up whenever I visit Peru. In the highlands of Peru, progress seems to stand still but time travels on, swirling among the ancient Apus where the condors fly, sifting through fields of ripening corn, floating down the Urubamba River, rising as mist that floats across the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu.


Time travels through the fingers of the Quechua weavers, too. Ancient patterns appear like magic in wool freshly dyed with crushed leaves that only a few days ago fluttered in the breeze.


"When you speak Quechua," I am told, "you convey emotion.…

What if God gave us a Do-Over? What if Kristin Flyntz's imaginary letter from the virus to us isn't imaginary after all?

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If you haven't yet watched Kristin Flyntz's video (see below), pick up your journal, find a quiet corner, then click on the photo below. As you watch and listen, imagine our species making this earth our home for a mere 200,000 years. Imagine the 4 billion years that the earth has been home to as many as 8 billion other living beings. We are babes in the woods.

Consider, what if the human species is only one of a million sentient species? What if we are not even the most sentient species? What if the earth, and all life on earth, has been trying to have a meaningful conversation with us for thousands of years?

What if we suspend our disbelief, and watch this video with humility, with our senses engaged and our human egos disengaged? What if we suspend our disbelief, like we do when watching movies or reading novels, and pretend (just for 3.5 minutes) that we're not the smartest beings on the planet, that all life carries within it the same miracle of creation.


What if God say…

The Coronavirus and The Eight Master Lessons of Nature: What Gary Ferguson and Mary Clare are Teaching Us About Living Well in the World

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March 19, 2020 Update: Journalist John Vidal poses this question in The Guardian: "Is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics." Scroll down for the link to the article.

Did any of you, when you first heard that the coronavirus was sourced from a live-animal market in China, have this fleeting thought: What did we expect after centuries of treating animals cruelly? Did we think there would be no consequences?  Perhaps it’s time we look not only into the pathology of the coronavirus, but also into the morality of it.

We have always known there would be a day of reckoning. The bad news is that the final arbitrator might be Supreme Nature herself. The good news is that the final arbitrator might be Supreme Nature herself.

In Lesson Five of The Eight Master Lessons of Nature(“Our Animal Cousins Make Us  Happier—and Smarter”), author and good friend Ga…

Cummins' American Dirt and Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth: Can stories, even when they aren't our own, build bridges?

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Jeanine Cummins is on the hot seat right now for writing American Dirt, a novel about immigration and life on the Mexican/American border, which was (until a few days ago) believed to become one of the most important novels of 2020. Oprah named it a Book Club Choice. Stephen King endorsed it, as did Ann Patchett, John Grisholm, Sandra Cisneros, and other notable writers. The New York Times and Amazon gave it the #1 slot. Rumor has it that the publisher paid Cummins a 7-figure advance.

A few days ago, the dirt hit the fan for Cummins and Flatiron Books (an imprint of MacMillan). The book tour was cancelled. Oprah was unusually quiet for a few days, then posted a video on her book club Instagram page allowing for an opportunity in March to discuss the controversy in more depth.

Suddenly, American Dirt was everywhere. And nowhere.

January 31st Slate Magazine published an article by writer Laura Miller, which discusses this question:

Will the American Dirt Fiasco Change American Publishin…

The Gifts My Father Has Given

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In my hands I held a hardback copy of Jules Verne’s Classic Science Fiction, torn airmail packaging scattered at my feet. The inscription: “To Matt, with love from Grandpa Loren, San Francisco.” Why is my 75-year-old father sending my 9-year-old son a 511-page book? The inappropriateness of the gift irritated me—a gift hurriedly bought with too little care given.

But perhaps it was unfair of me to expect my father to know what a boy of nine would like. Then I remembered that spring, when we had visited San Francisco. Dad had sprinted after a cable car, grabbing Matt’s hand and leaping aboard. Later he plucked a nickel off the street.

“Matt, look! When you put a coin on the track—the cable car almost cuts it in half!” I can still picture them standing there, heads bent in mutual admiration.

Less irritated, I stared out the window at our dog Hondo, sleeping on the deck. He had been with us since he was eight weeks old. Gray hairs covered the muzzle of glossy black head, and the lids ben…

The Kindness of Mister Rogers, The Wonder of Nature

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I was only a little surprised when I read in Mary Pflum Peterson's piece in The Washington Post that her 21st century kids liked, really liked, the original Mister Rogers. So much, in fact, that they binge-watched all the old episodes with her.

"He likes kids, Mommy,” her daughter said. “Kids know when a grown-up likes them.”

But it was her youngest son's comment that got my attention. 
“And he’s not too loud,” her son added. “When we watch him, there’s no noise. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
Our modern world is, most often, a noisy place. Which is not the same as being filled with sound. And for Peterson's son, noise is worrisome. 
We live on the edge of a forest, and rarely is the forest silent. Fall is filled with the sounds of chickadees caching their winter supply of seeds and insects, black Abert's squirrels trying to outrun the red fox squirrels, crows warning away intruders. 
As I sit here in the quiet stillness of our log home, snow is sliding …

Isn’t that the whole freaking point of fiction?

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If you read fiction, chances are you’re drawn now, more than ever, to stories that help you escape today’s polarizing politics. Nostalgic stories. Futuristic stories. Stories that draw you into worlds other than your own.

Penguin Random House editor Sally Kim, during a panel in New York City at this year’s BookExpo (the industry’s mega trade event), suggested to the audience that readers are urgently craving perspectives that are not their own.

“Which, of course,” she said, “is the whole freaking point of fiction.”

So why is it so hard for us, when it comes to politics, to lift the cloak of opinion from our own back and crawl inside someone else’s skin—just for a minute?

We do it all the time when we read fiction—we jump from one character’s point of view to another’s without batting an eye. We lose ourselves in a scene where the author takes us deep inside the heroine’s innermost desires, and them—bam—we’re taken inside the mind of the man who’s about to break her heart, and we under…

On the road again!!

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Nature & Words is on a summer sabatical, which is to say that I just "got off the river" after my 22nd annual "River Writing Journey for Women," which featured renowned sculptor Roxanne Swentzell as my featured artist, 21 other amazing women, an ancient canyon, a river following an ancient bed to the sea, and .... 


Now I'm on the road again, heading to New Mexico with my husband John Gritts to lead our 7-day, "Santa Fe & Taos Sojourn: Sacred Lands, Sacred Art, Sacred Words" retreat.


Wishing you safe travels if you're on the road, and sequestered moments of creativity if you're close to home.
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Honoring N. Scott Momaday, Honoring Our Ancestors

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NEW YORK, NY — Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, playwright, and professor N. Scott Momaday, Ph.D., accepted the 2019 Ken BurnsAmerican Heritage Prize at an event held at the American Museum of Natural History. May 2019. 
Last week my daughter Sarah, visiting from Oklahoma, took home with her a chest filled with her great-grandmother’s antique grape-patterned silverware, and a portrait of her great-grandmother taken when she was a young newlywed. An antique pewter broach from this same great-grandmother had been the center piece of my daughter’s wedding bouquet.
While organizing the silver, I shared a few family stories with Sarah. “Could you write them down, Mom?” she asked. She wanted to share the stories with her daughters when they were older. I printed out a chapter I had written for The Light Shines from the West, a book on the rural American West, which included this story:
"As a young woman, my Missouri-born grandmother knew both physical isolation and sensory depriv…

On the River with Joy Harjo, Our New U.S. Poet Laureate

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When women gather at the river, something rather wonderful happens. Like eagles, we have  been gathering at the river for thousands of years. To bathe our children. To wash our clothes. To gather water for drinking, for ceremony, for cleansing. Even, like the eagles, to catch the fish we will feed our families.

Six years ago, 18 of us gathered on the Colorado River with Joy Harjo. We laughed. We bathed. We danced. We wrote in our journals. We asked, "How do we know when a story ends?"

In "Eagle Poem," Joy writes about eagles that soar over rivers, sweeping our hearts clean with sacred wings. She writes about the eagles that "round out the morning" in each of us.

On Day 2 of the river trip, we hiked to the top of a steep rim above the river. "Rocks calm me," I wrote in my journal, "because of their stillness. The wind is speaking a gentle language, whispers...." Joy sat on the edge of the rim with her flute, her notes rounding out the …