Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

I'm pleased The Guardian named Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World as a top ten nature book in 2014. Think of this as a nice dinner out? And as a dinner date, the two of us, talking about citizen science.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World is just out. This would be a walk in the desert, the numinous desert. The desert in your mind.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Recently I was on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show. (The Environmental Outlook, May 5.) Our talk ranged from auroras to birds to tiger beetles--and what could be better than that? I felt quite articulate although apparently I say "you know" a lot, you know?

Saturday, April 18, 2015



I don’t think this has ever happened before. But I found this review of my historical fantasy Teresa of the New World surprisingly insightful, bringing up aspects of the book (and one problem) that were a little new to me. Reviews don’t usually illumine work for the author. I’m still absorbing this. Maybe it’s a fiction thing, since stories like this one come so much from the unconscious depths. The review concludes: “There are several lyrical passages about life on and under the earth’s surface…making this a good book to give to a nature-loving, daydreaming child. Adults, too, are likely to find that it unfolds unexpectedly into strange depths.” I so like the idea of strange depths. And of nature-loving, day-dreaming children. I can see better now, too, why the book may not have broad appeal.
I am concerned the first chapter starts too slowly. Yes, it’s a little late for that! I find myself still engaged in the writing of this book, which is odd.


I am concerned the first chapter starts too slowly. Yes, it’s a little late for that! I find myself still engaged in the writing of this book, which is odd.

Chapter One
Later, Teresa remembered.
When she was a child, the earth whispered to her as she lay on her stomach, her stomach pressed to the earth. Often this happened when she was hungry, and she was hungry often, for her people lived in a difficult, swampy area along a mosquito-filled bay where they ate fish and roots and not much else.
One day she woke to find her cheek pushed hard into prickly grass. She didn’t know how she had gotten here. The last memory she had was of her mother nursing the new baby. Although Teresa had lived four winters she had just recently stopped nursing, when the new baby came, and that had been sad—for her mother to feed someone else and not her. She must have left her mother then and fallen to the ground and gone to sleep. Now she felt dazed, her stomach empty, a distant ache. The earth beneath her also felt distant, far away and cold. Her naked body was cold. She wished someone would cover her with an animal skin.
In a hollow voice, her empty stomach complained to the earth. Her stomach told the earth she was about to die of hunger. Her stomach said it was glad because it was tired of being so empty and unhappy.
The earth rippled with a kind of amusement. Teresa listened, a skill she had learned because of her father. No, the earth said, she is not going to die. She is only a little hungry. She should eat some dirt now, mixed with water. She should look around for some roots or grubs.
She can’t, her stomach complained. She can’t move.
The amusement in the earth swelled. Go find some leaves, the earth whispered. A grasshopper, an animal skin to chew.
The ground under Teresa seemed warmer, and Teresa tried to burrow into that warmth. I love you, the earth whispered, not to her stomach but to her throat and mouth. I love humans. I love watching you. I love watching and wondering what you will do next.
Her stomach grumbled. Teresa spoke out loud, “Tell me a story.”
The earth said, I will tell you about a girl with long black hair who could swim through rivers of stone. She moved through stone as wind moves through the branches of a tree. Once she followed a vein of fire to a lake of fire, and she swam there smiling at all the bright fish, yellow and orange and red and blue. She had never seen anything so beautiful, and when she swam back up and rested on the ground, as you are resting here now, she held one of those glowing fish in her hand. Of course, it burned her. She dropped the fish with a scream, and the fish fell on the grass and burned the grass and died. She was sorry then, with her hand on fire. She is not from your tribe. She lives in the mountains.
Teresa didn’t much like this story, which had ended badly for the girl. What are mountains? Teresa asked drowsily.
Oh, I love mountains, the earth said with a thrill that prickled across Teresa’s skin. Sometimes I rise into the sky until I am high above myself looking down on myself, and I can see so much and so far and the mystery of what I am is almost clear to me . . .
“Teresa!” Someone else was speaking, a human voice. “Teresa!” Not very gently, her father shook her arm. “Wake up! Eat this.” Something in Teresa’s mouth felt too big against her tongue, and slowly she began to chew. A baked prickly pear pad. He must have gotten this from her aunt, who Teresa had seen gathering prickly pear that morning.
“Come,” her father said. “The men are fishing on the shore. Let’s build a fire and watch them.”
Her father was not a good fisherman. He was not a good hunter of rabbits or peccary or a trapper of mice. He did not seem to know what plants to gather or how to prepare them. In truth, he rarely found his own food. Yet he ate as well as anyone and usually had something to give to Teresa. All this was because her father was a good trader, taking seashells and oyster knives from her tribe to the tribes inland and bringing back deer tassels dyed red and a special paste for making arrows. Her father could do this because he was a stranger and no one’s enemy and because the tribes in this area considered him lucky. They thought themselves lucky to have such an interesting creature live among them, a man so absurdly incompetent, with a ridiculous long nose, blue eyes, and hair flowing down his face and chest. They were not sure if this creature was human—not even Teresa’s mother was entirely sure—but they treated him with kindness and gave him food.
“They are a generous people,” Teresa’s father told her more than once, and she agreed. Her people were generous. They fed new babies, and they fed her father.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015



Teresa of the New World is a fabulist novel for Young Adults, set in the deep magic of the American Southwest in the sixteenth century. I have worked on this book for most of my life. Seemingly, this is about the fictional daughter of the real-life Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and a Capoque mother, about a father’s love and a father’s betrayal, about plague and apocalypse and were-jaguars and a deep connection with the trickster earth. But, really, I think it is about me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I am pleased that The Guardian listed Diary of a Citizen Scientist as a top nature book in 2014.

Click here! And I have also been speaking about citizen science lately on various radio shows, including Inquiring Minds.

Monday, October 13, 2014




Colder months, fewer butterflies. I always feel I didn’t appreciate them enough. A bag of goo--a painted clown--become a monarch, its wet wings still unfolding. Metamorphosis! The enactment of myth. And we who live by myth, who live in fear of change and death, are privileged to see this transformation over and over, a common thing, an everyday thing. A living myth.

It doesn’t surprise me, really, that when the Hindu god Brahma watched caterpillars change into pupae and then butterflies in his garden, he conceived of the idea of reincarnation; that the Greeks use the word psyche for both soul and butterfly; that ancient images on Egyptian sarcophagi show butterflies surrounding the dead; that in Ireland, in 1680, a law forbade the killing of white butterflies because they were the souls of children; that during World War II, Jewish inmates in concentration camps carved butterflies into their prison walls; that in China in the 1990s single white butterflies were found in the cells of executed convicts recently converted to Buddhism; that butterflies are said to be the tears of the Virgin Mary, that migrating sulfurs are pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

Cold nights, and I always think: I should have paid more attention to butterflies.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Toothpick grasshopper.

Thirty years ago, my midwife was seven months pregnant when I was nine months pregnant, and not that long ago I was talking to her son, who has just gotten his PhD in molecular biology at New Mexico State University. He is working on a microbial vaccine for chili plants, trying to induce an immune reaction for a better defense against blight disease. He asked what I was writing about these days, and I said citizen science, and he asked what I had learned, and I said, “Well, I now know why I didn’t become a scientist,” and he burst out laughing.

“Yes!” he agreed. “Everyone thinks it’s so glamorous and romantic.” I was laughing, too, “But there’s so much detail work!” I complained. “You have to quantify everything. You have to measure everything!” We bad-mouthed the tedious aspects of science, gathering data, inputting data, and the caution required—trying to say something simple about a complex world--but it was just family talking about family: you can make fun of your grandmother because she’s your grandmother.

I told my midwife’s son about tiger beetles, the little I’ve learned, and he told me about the microbe Phytophthora capsici and related species. He had heard about some of my favorite citizen science projects, and he personally logs on to InnoCentive, the online site where “creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million.” Those problems range from new ways to get energy from algae to better material for surgical gloves. I’m intrigued anew by this mixing up of science and citizen science and the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m reminded again: the power of citizen science is not going to be kept in a tidy box. The potential of citizen science will still surprise us.

Today, the typical citizen scientist in America is white, well-educated, and middle-class. More outreach needs to be done. Even so, the field of citizen science is inherently democratic, offering opportunities for almost everyone in almost every scientific discipline. You can be an auto mechanic designing medical equipment or a third grader in Deming, New Mexico filling out her observation of a robin. You can be the first to transcribe a papyrus from the City of Sharp-nosed Fish or find a new species of fly in your backyard. You can transform yourself in a variety of ways. Become an expert in bryophytes. Experience Zen-like moments in the office and in the field. You can do public good—add to scientific knowledge, monitor changes in the environment, promote better social policy—even as you roam your private paradise, whatever and wherever that is, collecting treasure and bringing it home: crumbling seed pods, feathers in your hair, clouds in your pocket.