Monday, April 6, 2009

A virtual book tour: Susan J. Tweit's Walking Nature Home

In one of my other lives, I am a sometime runner cum triathlete, and in this capacity I occasionally check in on a sassy little fitness blog called Stumptuous. Not too long ago Mistress Krista (yes, that's what she calls herself) had a rant that talked about the importance of failure in our lives. What resonated most with me was what Krista wrote about Gail Sheehy's classic book, Pathfinders. In a nutshell, it is this: the people who have highest well being (i.e., happiness and fulfillment) have overcome some major change/obstacle/failure/disaster in their lives (what Sheehy apparently calls a "transition"). Here is the quote from Sheehy that Krista provides in her rant:

"People of high well-being are not isolated from difficult passages. On the contrary, they are the most likely to report having confronted at least one important passage or transition and having made a major change in their outlook, values, personal affiliations or career. This contradicts the widespread assumption that a consistent life with no great changes or surprises is the most rewarding. Far from it."

I know about this. Six and half years ago my husband and I were in a near-fatal automobile accident. It took a couple of years, but today we are more or less physically recovered. For me, however, the inner change that was triggered by that event has lingered. I simply do not look at life through the same lens anymore, and never will again. It would be too complicated and involved to explain why this is so in a blog post, but I will say that agree with Sheehy: the accident is directly related to my present-day high sense of well-being. In this what could be seen as a terrible nightmare, was in fact a gift.

All of which I report to explain why I found elements of Susan Tweit's new memoir, Walking Nature Home (University of Texas Press), comforting and familiar, because it too is a story of transition. In the early pages of this arresting and moving story of her life, Susan Tweit learns that she has only two to five years to live. That she was in her early twenties at the time and poised on the start of a promising adult life gives the reader should the fact that she is writing this some decades later. The story she relates of the years between is testimony to the transition, the gift, that great difficulty can bring our lives.

It is the story of that gift, not the disease itself, that she is intent on telling. Tweit, in fact, calls the book "a love story." And it so it is: to her husband, whom she met after learning that she might not have much longer to live; to her family; to the Colorado mountains where she makes her home; to the stars in the night sky that guide her; and finally, to her own body and self.

Here is a passage from the book that speaks about that love. In it, she is talking about her husband, Richard, but after reading the book, I realized that she could be talking about her remarkable life in general:

"I don't think I knew what love was back then. Now I believe I do. It's how we are together: the way his face lights up when I walk into a room. His hand, reaching for mine. The fact that our bodies though altered by the years, still fit like paired puzzle pieces. That we can be comfortable in silence, yet be eager to hear what the other has to say. It's that sitting side by side at the end of a long day, when I ask what he's thinking, he says, 'That I love you.' And I know he means it."

Transition indeed. Susan Tweit, as illustrated by her memoir, is a person of high well-being. This is the story of how she got there.

About a year ago, I found Susan Tweit's blog, "A Community of the Land." The writing was beautiful and thoughtful and so I added it to my blogroll so I could check up on it regularly (it has since changed to "Walking Nature Home"). Around the same time, I found another blog, "Brush and Baren," by artist Sherry York. I loved Sherry's post on how she created her prints, and so I marked that one, too. And, as fellow bloggers so often do, I started a correspondance with each of them--only to find out months later that Susan and Sherry are actually neighbors and good friends in the little town of Salida, Colorado. It is little surprise to find, then, that Susan's lovely writing is complemented by Sherry's delightful illustrations of the constellations that play such an important part in the book. The constellation panels in the book have the look and feel of old bark prints, and perfectly open each chapter.

When Susan Tweit asked me if I'd participate in a virtual blog tour for her book, I jumped at the chance. My post is in the middle of the tour. If you are interested in reading what others have to say about Tweit's book, or are interested in interviews with the author herself, here are links to the other blogs along the whistlestop :

March 25: Women Writing the West
March 27: Riehllife
March 29: Independent Stitch
March 31: Love of Place
April 2: Sheep to Shawl
April 6: The Bicycle Garden
April 7: Women's Memoirs
April 8: Susan's Art & Words
April 10: Story Circle Network


  1. Susan, thank you so much for your thoughts on well-being and the "gift" that can come out of traumatic experiences, as well as for the lovely insights on my book. I hadn't thought of that passage about knowing love as applying at other levels, but it certainly does, both to my love of the community of nature, and to my love of life--mine and life in general.

    I'm honored to be featured on your blog, and I invite your readers to come to mine--right now I'm featuring the heritage tomato seedlings I'm raising for my garden (better than baby pictures, I think!).

  2. Well I know what book I'll be reading next :)

  3. Thanks for posting about this book--I'm going to seek it out for myself and for a friend whose husband is recovering from a major stroke at the age of forty.

    I'm reading a book called "Living with Intensity" that touches on growth via crisis, through the lens of Kazimierz Dabrowski's work with gifted children and adults. He developed a theory of "positive disintegration" which, in very general terms, posits that you *have* to come apart before you can rebuild your inner self at a higher level.

    Scurrying off to google "walking nature home" now...

  4. Thanks, Seeker! I hope it speaks to you and gives you inspiration for the journey....

    Casey, your mention of Living with Intensity is fascinating, and I'm going to hunt down that book. I think so often we want life to be easy and smooth, forgetting that it's the times life slaps us upside the head that we stand to learn most from....

    BTW, University of Texas Press is offering a great web-only deal on Walking Nature Home (33% of list) here:

  5. Beautifully written. So heartfelt. All of us who have overcome major life disturbances have much for which to be grateful. This sounds like a wonderful book.~~Dee

  6. Passages. Transitions. Finding the gift inside the difficulty. Yes. Susan's book is a good example of all these.

    A love story, yes, as she learns to care for herself in the midst of the vast, beautiful uncharted territory of a life or the future of the planet.

    Seeing a life as if from a blanket of stars.

    Janet Riehl

  7. Thanks, Dee. I hope you'll find a copy and read it. I wrote it to provide inspiration for all our journeys....

    "Seeing a life as if from a blanket of stars"--wow! What a lovely phrase. Thank you, Janet.

    And thank you, Susan, for shedding light on the story I wrote. It's a gift to see my words anew.

  8. I'm loving the commentary dialog that's developing around this tour . . . and am off to hunt up Living with Intensity myself. I'm familiar with Dabrowski as the editor of a book about gifted kids (High IQ Kids, from Free Spirit Publishing), but had only looked at his theories through that myopic lens!

  9. Thank you for posting about this. As much as we all love to read about what's growing and blooming in spring, life never stops happening, often painfully, with transitions coming unpredictably. I look forward to reading her book.

  10. Lovely! Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading this book.



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