Finding Answers in Nature
Eighteen years ago, I sat in my bed with a giant foam horseshoe strapped around my waist, weighed down by two hefty, tandem-feeding newborns. My four-year-old son stood in the doorway and wailed, “Why do the babies get their breakfast before I do?” Meanwhile, outside my window, the rainy days of May unfolded into the jungle-green of June and the heat of July.
A year earlier, I’d pictured myself climbing mountains, one baby strapped to my chest, firstborn hiking at my side. Now a trip to the mailbox took the strategizing of a military campaign—two babies changed, fed, and changed again, buckled into a double stroller, shaded from sun or rain; older son helmeted and pedaling his bike, training wheels catching on rocks and potholes of our long dirt driveway.
That first summer as a mom of twins and a preschooler, I felt cut off from the world of nature and adventure that had in the past fed my soul. With time on my hands as I sat and fed babies, I turned to literature to find answers to the question of how to restore my connection to the more-than-human world. But in an anthology of more than 100 stories, essays, and poems by women nature writers, I found only four that related to motherhood. Had I, I wondered, in building a family rather than a cabin in the woods, both broken my link to the wild world and squandered my hopes of becoming a nature writer?
Over the ensuing years, I sought out and found beautiful, meaningful, and insightful writing that combined themes of motherhood and nature, and I made my own efforts at such writing. Outside my front door, I’ve found solace, hope, and inspiration at challenging stages of my parenting journey and translated those insights to the page.
I’ve made liberal use of the obvious metaphors the wild world provides for raising children, focused as it is on reproduction. Natural cycles, repeating as they often do on an annual basis, provide a dramatic backdrop to the much more linear trajectory of our time with our children. A theme that threads through much of my writing is the bittersweet, relentless, and unidirectional march of time.
In “Fledging Season,” my essay for the Literary Mama anthology, I returned again to the theme of the passage of time. But rather than mourning precious days that won’t return, I wrote about my exasperation over the slow crawl of the last two years of high school and the challenges of living with teenage boys. I again sought consolation in the natural world, paying a visit to birds I knew well from my own youth, and engaged in a little anthropomorphism as I imagined the parent ospreys as annoyed with the demands of their large offspring as I was with my own.
A year has passed since I wrote that essay, and all three of my kids have graduated from high school or college in the last few weeks. They have also become easier to live with, and, I think, so have I. As often happens, the act of writing helped bring into focus my feelings and their source at a challenging and confusing time, and that clarity led to a change in attitude and behavior. Getting out of the house full of men and onto a trail also helped.
With a few weeks until my kids move on to their next life stage, it’s time for me to sit down with pen and paper and clarify how I feel about my pending empty nest. I think I’ll start with a walk in the woods.
Labor of Love: A Literary Mama Staff Anthology was released on January 26th, 2024. Edited by Amanda Jaros, this collaboration with Small Harbor Publishing celebrates Literary Mama‘s twenty years of publishing the best writing for and by mothers. We asked the contributors, all Literary Mama staffers from across the years, to share thoughts about their writing process, their inspiration, or their work in the book. We’ll share those musings here on the Literary Mama blog.
Read Andrea’s essay by purchasing Labor of Love, now available on Amazon.