Writing From My Garden

I cook because I garden. I garden because I love to cook. On the
surface it's that simple. As usual with superficial statements though,
there's something deeper. I garden to root myself in place, to belong,
both to the human community and to the wider, wilder community of
nature. I cook with the food I've raised with my own hands because that
connection to place and community nurtures my spirit—and it has saved
my life.

Perhaps literally. When I was in my early 20s,
on the cusp of what seemed like a promising career as a field
ecologist, I was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease. I
was so sick that specialists gave me two to five years to live. With no
known cure, and no consensus on the possible progress or course of
treatment, the advice that seemed most sensible to me boiled down to
this: Listen to your body. Pay attention to what makes you feel better
and what makes you feel worse. Take notes. Look for patterns in that
data. Make your health a priority.


words open the book proposal I started writing today. I've been rolling
the concept of this book around in my mind for months, writing bits,
pulling together other writing that might go into it, drafting outlines
and even envisioning pages of the actual book while trying to find the
dimensions and direction and heft of the story. I can see it in my mind
as a series of disconnected page-images, but until yesterday, in a
phone call with a colleague, I couldn't quite pull the ideas together.
Now I can.

What happened? This comment: "I want more of your story in the proposal. After I read Walking Nature Home
[my new memoir], some of the things you said resonated in a new way.
Your story could be a powerful theme in this new book; it's about your
life and nature and food and the garden."

As soon as I heard her
words, a new view of the book took shape in my imagination. I saw where
I had been stuck, and saw where the story could go and how it could
grow muscle and wings and voice. I knew right then just exactly where I
needed to start and what I needed to draw on. I was ready to begin
writing. Sometimes that's all it takes: Someone who sees the idea from
a different perspective can turn it slightly, just the way you turn a
three-dimensional object in your hand. That shift as they nudge it a
little can trigger an entirely different view. It goes from being
something so familiar you can't see it any other way to something
entirely new. With a piece of writing, that shift in perspective can
suddenly show you what you have, and where to go with it–or at least
how to begin.


This book begins where Walking Nature Home ended:
in our deep valley in the shadow of the high peaks. More specifically,
in our kitchen and garden, where I grow, harvest, and prepare our food,
the place where I go to restore my balance and mood when life grinds me
down. I knew that the new book was about gardens and food and rooting
our lives in place; I knew that it included practical details and
recipes and instructions for green living. But until my colleague asked
for more of my story, I didn't realize I had been keeping my distance.
Keeping a cautious distance is important for some stories, but for
others distance is just that: a space between writer and reader that
prevents the ideas from leaping off the page into readers' hearts and

This new book grows right out of my garden, and from
those roots, it aims for the stars. I won't be able to work on it much
for months. I've got freelance assignments that come first. But now
that I can see the story, I can hardly wait to start the real
writing–it's going to be quite a journey!

4 responses to “Writing From My Garden

  1. Oh, lovely, Susan! A new book from you, and a garden book at that. I’m so delighted to hear this good news, and to think of you writing and we (lucky readers) getting to read it when it’s published.

  2. And here I was commenting on your new series on your blog as you were writing this. Hmm. Must be some kind of minds-on-the-same track thing. I can’t wait to see how your Darling Dahlias series shapes up, but first I get to actively read your upcoming memoir, Together, Alone. What a wonderful addition to the genre of wisdom harvested from our lives that book is!

  3. Susan, thanks for sharing how your life and writing process parallel each other in an enormously productive way. We all eagerly await the book to be.
    Janet Riehl

  4. It’s not going to happen quickly, but as you know well, Janet, the process of writing itself brings gifts….

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