Writing has been part of my life since I learned how to scratch words on paper. My first composition, at age six, was "The Long Pencil and the Short Pencil," a 250-word opus that came to a pointless end.
Public school offered the usual combination of book reports and fire prevention essays until I was lifted beyond the banal by Vince Cleary, my sophomore Latin and English teacher. His weekly essay assignments included topics such as taste, touch and smell. They are the most memorable challenge of my high school career, and Mr. Cleary's comments the most seminal instructions I have ever received as a writer.
Earlham College steered me toward academic writing, and toward Japan. After I graduated as an English major I spent two years teaching at Wakayama University in Wakayama City, just south of Osaka – a young blond woman with precious little anonymity. When I wasn’t teaching I explored the temples and backstreets of Kyoto and Nara, an early if urban taste of investigations to come.
I was just completing my university contract when Jon Little, an Earlham classmate, arrived in Japan. We left together, hitchhiking through Asia on the kind of low-budget adventure that will either consolidate or terminate a young relationship: six months through 19 countries on $600. Ask me about riding third-class unreserved trains in India; being fooled by maps promising non-existent roads in northern Thailand; crossing Khyber Pass by Pakistani bus into Kabul.
When we returned to the United States it was to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I earned a Harvard MA in Japanese cultural history. I felt poised – and destined – to follow my Quaker parents into the profession of teaching. Instead, I escaped with Jon to the Sierra Nevada for a summer that has yet to end.
It is the Sierra and the threats to its fragile beauty that steered me back to writing, now with a focus on science and the environment. I seek out stories that weave together people, places and the puzzles that confront us in a rapidly changing climate. My favorite assignments are following scientists into the fields of their expertise: California condor specialists in the bald mountains of southern California; soil scientists in remote southwestern Tanzania; seabird scientists on islands off the coast of Baja, California; biologists charting radiation in Chernobyl; giant tortoise specialists in Galapagos. I return from these adventures to write from the quiet of an office in a century-old building in Plumas County, California, the heart of the Feather River headwaters. The only turmoil is the occasional jolt of a log truck rattling my second-story walls as it passes through town.
My work has earned numerous awards. The first batch were state and national honors for investigative and feature stories written for Feather Publishing Company, the local weekly newspaper where I cut my journalistic teeth. I've won several Society of Professional Journalists awards for magazine writing. Most recently the Society of Environmental Journalists awarded 2014 Outstanding Feature honors for "A Tale of Two Forests: Addressing Post-Nuclear Radiation at Chernobyl and Fukushima," co-written with Winifred Bird.
The only adventure greater than journalism is my life with Jon. We explore the backcountry of the West, and work side by side restoring our 35 acres of forestland to health and resilience. Together we raised two sons. I look forward to writing the story that makes me as proud as they do.