Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Susan Tweit’s new book “Walking Nature Home”: It Takes a Village to Create a Book–and to Sustain Life

Susan Tweit's newest book "Walking Nature Home" invites us as readers to lope along the field of a life shaped by challenge and close looking at nature. Her book contains good guidance lessening the need to control and learning to let go more. Her insights into ways to view chronic illness, talk about it, and be in life with it are useful and practical. Susan is one of the kindest and most generous people I know. She's learned how to balance living with a chronic illness and her ability to be out in the world as a writer and speaker.--JGR

It Takes a Village to Create a Book--and to Sustain Life

About Walking Nature Home

I'm visiting Riehlife as I travel the blogosphere talking about my new memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey, just published by University of Texas Press.

Walking Nature Home is a love story on several levels: love of the natural world, love of my husband and family, and love of life itself. It's a testament to the resilience and inventiveness of the human spirit and the healing power of learning to live in a generous and open-hearted way, which literally transformed and saved my life.

The story opens in a doctor's office. I was in my early twenties. The doctor's words shattered my ordinary, familiar life, setting me off on a journey into territory I had never expected to explore:

“You’ve got two years, or perhaps five,” said the doctor, leaning over her metal desk, “I’m sorry.”

It ends quietly:

Through a gap in the clouds, I spot Sirius, the dog star, twinkling brightly next to the sparkling river of the Milky Way, and just at the edge of the pane, Orion, striding across the heavens. Then the clouds shift, I take off my glasses, and my view dissolves into dreams.

In between is a journey that explores the nature of health, what love is and how to practice it, the value of finding one's voice--and heeding it, of silence and spirituality, and the simple joy of taking an active part in life on this irreplaceable Earth, as part of the community of the land.

I worked on figuring out how to write this story for more than two decades, so you can image how excited I am that it's finally in print. I'm the author, but it's not just my book. Like all powerful and difficult stories, this one took a village to bring into being.

Each chapter of the memoir is named for a constellation, and that star-grouping relates to both the theme of the chapter, and to one particular person who played a role in my life and who is prominent in that chapter: my mom, my husband, my step-daughter (my brother and my nieces figure in that chapter too), my dad, and my father-in-law. They form my immediate village.

Village of Influences

Then there's the farther-flung village of people who have shaped my life and work over the decades: teachers from my years in school, colleagues in science and writing, friends from the many places I've lived, doctors and nurses and massage therapists and other practitioners of the healing arts who have laid their hands on me in beneficial ways, colleagues of heart and spirit whose lives have touched mine even if we have never met in person. All of those relationships had a part in the direction my life took, and the shape of the story I finally told.

Village of Folks Who Brought the Book into Print

And of course there's the village who helped bring the story to print, including the agent who believed in the story even though I hadn't figured out how to tell it, and the agent who gave me the priceless gift of getting the story immediately once I had figured it out. It was the invitation of Theresa May, editor-in-chief of University of Texas Press, who told me at a conference that she would consider publishing "anything you write," that brought me into the wonderful community of people at the Press who not only turned a manuscript into a beautiful book, but are promoting it energetically and effectively, giving me the support authors dream of. And of course, illustrator Sherrie York, whose watercolors bring alive the constellations.

Expanded Sense of Village

All of these virtual "villages," interlinked communities of people helped me create this book, as did the community of nature, the home of my spirit. We all depend on such varied villages as we navigate our lives: communities of family, friends, colleagues; religious communities, cultural communities, communities of the arts, communities of travelers, hiking communities....

What is Community?

The word community has its roots in "common," in the sense of something shared. Life itself is built on bonds: the bonds between atoms that form the molecules that make up what we call "us." So common and community are what life on Earth is about. May the blessings of community and Earth's many villages inform and inspire your life!

Thanks to Janet, for inviting me to stop by.

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Follow Susan's tour on her blog Walking Nature Home. Full schedule posted there. follow my tour, the full schedule is on my blog.

Before Riehlife, her previous stop was the Women Writing the West blog, where she talked about book promotion in a post called "My Book's Just Been Published. Now What?" Next she's headed for Deb Robson's "Independent Stitch" blog, on fiber arts, life, and publishing. Come along and join in the discussion!
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13 Responses »

  1. Janet, thank you for your lovely introduction! I'm on the road this week promoting Walking Nature Home, and had a fabulous first event in Fort Collins Wednesday night. I talked to an audience of around 200 people on the heart of xeriscaping, landscaping with nature. They kept me until nine-thirty answering questions and signing books! The next day we woke to snow and overcast skies, and by the time we headed south to Denver it was a full-scale spring blizzard. It took us five hours to drive 98 miles across the High Plains. Quite an adventure! The conditions were so horrible that my talk at Denver Botanic Gardens on wildness as inspiration was postponed (new date: April 14), so I got a night off in a comfy hotel room. Richard and I watched the blizzard from our sixth-floor eyrie, and were happy to be snug and warm and dry. This morning is sunny and the foot or so of snow is beginning to melt; tonight's my reading and talk at Tattered Cover Bookstore, the biggest independent in the Rockies. So the adventure continues....

  2. Dear Susan, I found that I could not wait. I began reading yesterday afternoon and early eveing in between conferences while waiting for the next parent to arrive. I read this morning while putting my shoes on in order to take my dogs for our early morning walk. I have the book next to me now during lunch as I break to write this post. I am completely mesmerized by the beauty of the creative way in which you use language, by the manner in which you verbally form descriptive and detailed connections between the individual person, our planet Earth, and the entire universe. I am perhaps most blown away by your description of your illness. Nearly a decade ago my son was diagnosed with indeterminate auto immune disease. After years of doctors, tests, and drugs he still has not been specifically diagnosed. He too has been told it is all in his head - this most recent diagnosis did not come until the medical establishment reached a point where they had no idea what else to say to him. I have managed to make it to chap. 3 and will go back to my reading now.

    Thank you so much for baring your soul. I suspect it is catharsis for you as it must surely be for many of your readers. I know it is for me.

    Lindy

  3. Lindy, Thank you so much for your words. I am sorry--but not surprised--to hear about your son's indeterminate diagnosis, and the lack of sympathy he has encountered. I've read that it takes ten years for a correct diagnosis with many autoimmune diseases, and I sympathize with doctors and patients alike. For doctors, trained to find a label that will solve the problem, autoimmune diseases with their non-quantifiable and shifting symptom complexes must be the ultimate in frustration. For patients, it's more than frustrating to not know what to call our condition, or worse, to be told it's psychosomatic. (Which all illnesses are in some sense, since our minds are part of what happens. That doesn't make the condition any less real though!)

    Susan

  4. Dear Susan, I am reading your most beautiful and eloquent book as I follow the blog tour. I nearly came to a standstill when I read of your father's diagnosis and subsequent blindness with glaucoma in spite of the fact that he did everything he and his doctors could do to prevent it from "progressing". I have recently been diagnosed with the same and have been in almost total denial. I did come to a complete standstill when I came to the page early this morning where Richard asked you what you wanted for your birthday and you told him you wanted to go to Salida. You then went on to explain how you had come to know Salida - the parallels are uncanny. I have two "places of my heart" in the United States - Salida, CO and northern Michigan. I have not been able to go on with the book. I will but not right away. These two things need to sink in and be digested. It seems this book was meant to be published at just the right time in my own life and was meant for me to read.

    Thank you and Namaste,

    Lindy

  5. Dearest Lindy...I am so struck by your stories of how Susan's story parallels your life. Touching, truly, for a story to so reach your heart. As I read your phrase: "two places of the heart" I could so identify with that as well: New Mexico and Ghana. Perhaps someday I'll be able to spend more time in these.

    Be well and strong within yourself.

    Janet

  6. Susan, it is such a lovely book. We are the story-telling animal and we tell our stories to deepen our connection to the world and, who knows, to even make the world a better place. Sometimes, and I am thinking of global warming a lot lately, our species seems...quite probematic. But we do tell stories, and maybe they will redeem us. All best, Sharman

  7. Sharman, thanks for that wise observation about our need to tell stories. I have to agree that we are a storytelling animal (I love that characterization!) and like you, I believe that our stories can make the world a better place. That's certainly how I see your work. As Mary Pipher says, "We become the stories we tell ourselves." If we can redeem ourselves, it will be through telling ourselves the kind of stories that we can rise up in, and that bring out the best in ourselves and our species.

  8. Lindy,

    Somehow I missed our second comment, and I want to say about glaucoma that it's totally treatable. My dad's progressed the way it did because his doctors didn't realize it was the rarer form of low-pressure or open-angle glaucoma. If they'd known that, they could have kept his ocular pressure lower and prevented his vision loss. So get yourself to a specialist, make sure they test you for both types of glaucoma, and take the medication (it's usually just eye drops). Glaucoma is really quite treatable.

    I suspect that being out of place is as devastating for you as it is for me. I hope that this book gives you what you need to find your way home to your places of the heart--whichever or both!--when the time is right.

    My heart goes out to you. Breathe, take in the glory of the desert in spring, and listen to yourself. Hugs and blessings, S

  9. Susan,
    Such a wonderful, touching, and life-lesson book. I loved it. And read many pages aloud to my husband. He loved it, too.
    Can't wait to talk to you more on my blog next week!
    Susan GT
    Susan's Art & Words

  10. Thanks, Susan, for your enthusiasm and for participating in this tour of the blogosphere. I'm blessed with interesting hosts whose reading audiences continue to inspire and inform me. Janet, thanks for including me in your far-flung, multicultural village with its wisdom of ages and cultures!

  11. There's a lovely community coming together around this book's readers, in addition to the communities mentioned in the post.

    Although it won't exactly be traceable, it would be interesting to be able to follow, in a handful of years' time, how many lives have changed in subtle but significant ways because of it.

  12. Deborah,

    Intriguing thought. Something like "6 degrees of separation of influence" maybe? Loved your post on Susan's "walking Nature Home."

    Janet

  13. Oh, I love the idea of a community forming through connections between readers of this (or any) book! I hope that we can always light each other's lives--in these times we need every community we can form.... Thanks to Deb and Janet for hosting me so generously. And today we extend that reader-community to Donna Druchunas' Sheep to Shawl blog, with an interview that taught me much about who I am and how I write. Check it out at http://sheeptoshawl.com/blog/index.php?itemid=523

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