Featured Author: Wendy Johnson, at work in the wild and cultivated world

"How does a gardener go about learning the raw truth of a place?" Wendy Johnson asks in Chapter One of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. "Every spot has a voice, a particular taste, a breath of wind unique to itself, a shadow, a presence. The best gardeners I know slow way down in order to receive the tidings of the land they are bound to work."

I met Wendy Johnson this summer through Natalie Goldberg. Wendy's friendship with Natalie goes back several decades and it is a blessing to call them both friends.

If you're a gardener, don't wait to add Wendy's new book to your collection. If you’re a writer whose work is informed by the natural world, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in the beauty of her carefully cultivated prose.

In this same chapter, appropriately titled “Valley of the Ancestors,” she writes about slowly pacing Redwood Creek, where thimbleberry and red osier grow in abundance. She writes of the ancient silver salmon that come there to spawn in the winter, “a fish more primitive even than the prehistoric redwood trees that shelter their ancestral breeding grounds.”

Several years ago, I spent five days on the BABINE RIVER in British Columbia during the salmon run. The river, 160 wild kilometers of prime black bear, grizzly, salmon, and eagle habitat, flows through the “Valley of the Eagles and Bears.” Four different ecosystems come together there. You will find Suboreal Spruce and Cedar Hemlock, tall narrow Engelmann Spruce and soft-leaved Balsam, all growing abundantly. Even Alpine tundra. Every turn of the river brought a new vista, a new adventure, and a new memory... Here is the place where we snagged salmon from the river for our supper.

How does one go about learning the raw truth of a place? We learn by breathing its essence into our being. By opening our eyes to its hidden nature. By being there, in that place, with clear intention. By honoring each moment with our attention. We also learn the raw truth of a place by remembering the stories that tie us to that place, and by telling those stories to one another. Hidden within the heart of the stories we keep is the deeper meaning of our lives.

During this season of blessings and good tidings, I urge you to walk outside, perhaps down a familiar trail, perhaps on a path of freshly fallen snow. Take a moment to inhale the turpentine scent of evergreens, the musky smell of fallen leaves, the smell of burning hardwood as smoke rises from your chimney and spirals into the winter air.

Think of the stories that tie you to the landscape where you live. Pick up Wendy’s book and discover the wild and cultivated world that is your home.

Read New York Times article and view photos and slideshow.


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