When I was a child, if my parents were looking for me, they knew to scan the branches of the closest tree. I spent hours in our maple, watching the world through green leaves. When I wasn't spying from above, I often wandered through the tall grass of a nearby empty lot, searching for grasshoppers and anything else that scurried across the ground.
Almost as much as I loved collecting insects and worms, I enjoyed collecting words. Early in the morning I would lie in bed, pencil and paper in hand, and write the longest word that I could think of in big block letters. Then I would challenge myself to list every word that could be made with those letters.
Although I played with words, I did not have any early ambition to write. But I read one book after another, eager to see the world through the eyes of my favorite characters. How I longed to live on my own like Pippi Longstocking and roam the world!
It was not until graduate school, where I studied environmental education, that I began writing. I enrolled in a course in Environmental Writing and discovered the joy of recreating the natural world with words.
I am lucky to live now in a rural area of Michigan where inspiration is just outside my window. The sun shimmers on Stony Lake. The wind blows and branches of towering oak trees bend.
But it is still the small details of life beyond my window that grab my attention. A blue jay picks up an acorn, tilts his head back, and swallows. A black squirrel scampers out to the skinniest limb of an oak tree, grabs a leaf, crumples it in her mouth, and runs back to the tree hole where she makes her home. Hundreds of ladybugs crawl under a pile of dead leaves at the base of our sassafras tree.
Each of these observations sparks a story. Like a hungry blue jay, I gather more facts to complete each scene and search for answers to my questions. Where do blue jays store the acorns that they find outside my window? Do squirrels share their blanket of leaves with one another to keep warm? Where else do ladybugs seek shelter?
I pore through reference materials. Finally I am ready to write stories and poems about the animals that live outside my window. I try to captivate a reader as much as the natural world captivates me.