"The deepest memoir is filled with metaphor."
—Maureen Murdock, Unreliable Truth
Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey is one of those rare memoirs that is much more than a life's story (as if that were not enough). It is a memoir that not only tells us about a lifetime's worth of experiences, but shows us how experience is shaped by knowledge, how knowledge is experienced through nature, and how nature can guide a human being to a fuller, healthier understanding of her place in the world.
The constellations are the most important guiding metaphor of this elegantly-crafted book. Throughout her life, Susan Tweit has oriented herself by the stars, using them to remind herself where she is in space and time: "I and all the other lives on Earth are connected to the stars." So it is natural for her to use the constellations as chapter markers in her life's journey, from Orion the courageous (her "stellar talisman") to Virgo (the "unowned" one, own woman, belonging to none), to the familiar Dipper ("you can chart your course by it"). Each of these stellar constellations creates a constellation of meanings and significance in Tweit's life, marking, defining, charting, guiding.
And she needed their guidance, for at twenty-three, married to her college sweetheart and already embarked on an exciting career as a plant ecologist, Tweit learned that she was suffering from an autoimmune disease that (the doctor told her) would claim her life within five years. Learning to live with that diagnosis, learning to treat her illness as the subject of research demanded more of her than she thought she could give. But she borrowed strength from Orion, a sense of self from Virgo, and the help of the other constellations. And as she learned more about her illness, she understood that it was not the end of life, but the first step toward becoming herself.
The title of Tweit's memoir, Walking Nature Home, offers another important metaphor for her life. Throughout the book, walking is not only a powerful image for purposeful forward movement ("Orion striding across the black heavens"), but for her own growing confidence and personal independence: walking away from her first marriage, for instance; or making an arduous week-long, hundred-mile trek, with a dog for companionship, through the Wyoming mountains. "Walking the days alone," she says, "forced me to pay attention. If I kept my awareness tuned within, I might yet hear what I needed to understand my health and, more importantly, my life." And years later, walking with her new stepdaughter Molly allowed them to develop a caring, trusting relationship:
"Walking gave us a territory of our own, a place we could start fresh, away from the disputes that regularly rocked our household. Rambling with no agenda forced Molly and me to leave our baggage at home. Walking provided time together, and it got us outside to learn the landscape where we lived."
As the book comes full circle, we find Tweit watching Orion again, strengthened by the love of a man who shares her understanding of the wholeness of nature, in the home they are building themselves on a "half-block of decaying industrial property" in a small Colorado mountain town, where together they have restored a ravaged creek to health. Health, restoration—another constellation of metaphors here.
But that's enough. You really must read the book.
Susan Tweit is the award-winning author of eleven books (including the recent Colorado Less Traveled, a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards), numerous magazine articles, and newspaper columns. Visit her website.
Follow Susan as she tours around the blogosphere, discussing her memoir. (Don't worry if you don't arrive on the date the tour stop is posted; most blog posts remain up indefinitely.) Listen to Matilda Butler's & Kendra Bonnett's interview with Susan.
Listen to our podcast interview with the Susan.
Check out our interviews (here & here) with the author of Walking Nature Home.
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