Welcome to Love of Place

I'll be posting here essays and articles about recent adventures in the field of citizen science where I am studying the charismatic Western Red-Bellied Tiger Beetle and participating in projects like Nature Notebook and Celebrate Urban Birds. My Facebook page--Sharman Apt Russell, Author--has regular weekly photos and posts.

Here's a recent short piece in High Country News on coatis...https://www.hcn.org/issues/45.20/on-not-being-jane-goodall and another in Onearth Magazine on Mexican spotted owls...http://issuu.com/onearth/docs/onearth_14wtr/66.

"Icarus" is a flash nonfiction about my father, a test pilot in the 1950s. http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/fall_2013/contributor/sharman-apt-russell

For an essay on Spinoza and stinkbugs, look at "The Body of Being" in High Country News at
http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.8/walking-in-the-body-of-being
and if you like the poetry of Walt Whitman, read "All You Need is Love" in Onearth Magazine at
http://www.onearth.org/article/all-you-need-is-love


As well as citizen science, I have an abiding interest in the issues of hunger. This article is a great overview of hunger strikes in 2013, with some quotes from my book Hunger: An Unnatural History...http://www.thenation.com/article/177464/starving-justice

For students in my writing classes, scroll all the way down to the July, 2010 entry "Radical Renaissance: Writing in the 21rst Century." This speech is something of a “snap shot” of a writer in the middle of the current publishing crisis, as well as a personal statement about writing. Remember that this is a speech with a somewhat different rhythm than a written essay—more colloquialisms, fragments, etc. I also give short readings from my books.

For students in Writing for Children's Literature, please read http://www.onearth.org/article/born-to-be-wild

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com/.


Saturday, June 28, 2014



Recently I have been in Los Angeles teaching at Antioch University. A few weeks ago I was in a city in northern Spain, watching the narrow streets fill with people of all ages—coming together to eat and drink and enjoy each other. As an environmentalist, I believe that the cultural conversation has shifted to green cities—walkable, livable, lovable, filled with beauty and art--the hope now for our relationship to the planet. Cities are where 85 percent of Americans now live, where humans will use the least resources and emit the fewest greenhouse gases, where creativity sparks in the diminished spaces between us, where we’ll contain the damage of overpopulation. Long ago, in the 1980s, my husband and I were back-to-the-landers, believing we were on the cutting edge of social change. We were part of a larger cultural conversation, wanting to root our lives in soil and sun, to make the world better by making our personal connections to the natural world more direct in the shape of an onion or an adobe brick—with a home-built house and a too-big garden and two homebirths and two goats and too much goat cheese in the refrigerator. Today I am acutely aware that living in the rural West is less ecologically sound than living in places like Madrid or Portland. I am not unhappy that the ideas of my youth—the very arc of my life--have been proven wrong. I’m only relieved that the cultural conversation is still alive. I’m pleased hope still exists.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014



Today I am in Los Angeles teaching at Antioch University. A few weeks ago I was in a city in northern Spain, watching the narrow streets fill with people of all ages—coming together to eat and drink and enjoy each other. As an environmentalist, I believe that the cultural conversation has shifted to green cities—walkable, livable, lovable, filled with beauty and art--the hope now for our relationship to the planet. Cities are where 85 percent of Americans now live, where humans will use the least resources and emit the fewest greenhouse gases, where creativity sparks in the diminished spaces between us, where we’ll contain the damage of overpopulation. Long ago, in the 1980s, my husband and I were back-to-the-landers, believing we were on the cutting edge of social change. We were part of a larger cultural conversation, wanting to root our lives in soil and sun, to make the world better by making our personal connections to the natural world more direct in the shape of an onion or an adobe brick—with a home-built house and a too-big garden and two homebirths and two goats and too much goat cheese in the refrigerator. Today I am acutely aware that living in the rural West is less ecologically sound than living in places like Madrid or Portland. I am not unhappy that the ideas of my youth—the very arc of my life--have been proven wrong. I’m only relieved that the cultural conversation is still alive. I’m pleased hope still exists.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

 


Yesterday I saw a white-lined sphinx moth in the yard. A flying Escher painting! The Op Art of the Sixties reborn! Whirring, rotor-whirling away, a dervish on a mission. And then that proboscis or “drinking straw” which extends half the length of the moth’s body, a kind of magic trick--like pulling an impossibly long scarf from your sleeve. This is an insect whose life has been one long art scene, the caterpillars also highly designed: often lime-green with a yellow head, side rows of spots bordered by black lines, and a bright yellow-orange horn protruding at the rear. The horn’s function is to scare off attackers like wasps or stink bugs, with the larva rearing up like a miniature sphinx, regal and demanding, daring you to interfere with its happy life of eating. Periodically, these moths hatch from their eggs en masse and can be seen migrating toward food. Years ago, herds of such larvae were described stretched out for hundreds of yards on well-traveled roads in the Southwest. For various reasons, I doubt we will see such abundance again. I’m happy just to see this single hallucinatory blur in my yard, my first sphinx moth of the season.

--photos by Elroy Limmer

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where an arroyo meets the dirt road, I stop and look for tracks. A few feet up the stream bed are a nice set of bobcat prints. There’s no mistaking that roundness, the leading toe, and size of the front and back feet. I also see a fox print, or maybe a small coyote. Foxes are on my mind since I saw one earlier in the day, a blur of movement that ran so quickly into the brush I spent a few minutes questioning what I had seen. Was that a fox or a wish?

That’s one good thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who passed by, feeling the tangible presence of a bobcat, short-tailed, tufted-ear, delicately-spotted, charismatic, playful, predatory.

It’s another gift, the world showering us with gifts, the tail of a fox, tracks in the sand, and there--a massive dark rock with white radiating lines, a geometric pattern of dark and light, veins of quartz, cool to the touch.

Is this rock for me? I feel the need to fall in love with the world, to forge that relationship ever more strongly. But maybe I don’t have to work so hard. I have thought nature indifferent to humans, to one more human, but maybe the reverse is true. Maybe the world is already in love, giving me these gifts all the time, calling out all the time: take this. And this. And this. Don’t turn away.

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Monday, September 30, 2013



My Nature’s Notebook walk, those three acres behind my house and irrigation ditch, has been over-taken by an invasion of six-feet-high kochia, a drought-tolerant member of the chenopodium family brought to North America in the early 1900s from the steppes of southern Russia. Also known as poor man’s alfalfa and sometimes grown as a low-cost feed, the red-stemmed plant with slender leaves is brown now and drying, seed-heads bursting, stalks sharp, a prickly mass tangled with wolfberry and hackberry and tumbleweed—another exotic from Russia, another thorn in the side of the West. Game trails snake through this sudden dense field, paths too low and narrow for me to use. Instead I have to shoulder through, snapping, flinching, accumulating debris. My socks grow needles. My clothes harbor enemies. (Clothes are preferable to being naked, of course. What a thought.)  

 At this time of year, I stop going on certain hikes precisely because of this bad plant behavior, the way these species spread their seeds in hardened, sculptured capsules designed to catch on surfaces and be transported elsewhere: the spiny cocklebur and showering pins of Bigelows beggarticks, the common storkbill with its augurs and upward-pointing barbs, the horns of devil’s claw enclosing a shoe while the goathead pierces right through the leather bottom. Today I have no choice but to mince and barrel through these yielding waves of reproductive animosity, needing to check on my desert willow and honey mesquite and fourwing saltbush.
   
It’s the female saltbush that makes me pause and feel oddly tender, that maternal figure almost hidden—transformed, burdened-- under a massive cloak of brown, papery, four-winged seed. 

Back at my house, the native sunflowers grow up wild and well-watered in the orchard and courtyard so that they tower eight, nine, ten feet high, forming tunnels and bowers, topped by bright yellow flower-faces. It’s like living in a picture book.  I expect a giant ladybug. A talking caterpillar.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2013



Where an arroyo meets the dirt road, I stop and look for tracks. A few feet up the stream bed is a nice set of bobcat prints. There’s no mistaking that roundness, the leading toe, and size of the front and back feet. I also see a fox print, or maybe a small coyote. Foxes are on my mind since I saw three earlier in the day, probably a mother and two kits who ran so quickly into the brush I spent a few minutes questioning what I had seen. Foxes are rarer since an outbreak of rabies some years ago. Was that a fox or a wish? 

That’s one good thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who passed by, feeling the tangible presence of a bobcat, a wild cat, short-tailed, ear-tufted, delicately spotted, charismatic.

 It’s another gift, the world showering us with gifts, the tail of a fox, tracks in the sand, and there--growing up the shadowed bank of this arroyo, a mound of jimson weed, also called moon flower, also called thorn apple, also called sacred datura, the large, creamy, lavender-tinted, trumpet-shaped blossoms seeming to glow, exuding power and a rich scent. And next to the flower, here in this streambed, a massive dark rock with white radiating lines, a geometric pattern of dark and light, veins of quartz, cool to the touch.

Is this boulder for me? 

I feel the need to fall in love with the world, to forge that relationship ever more strongly. But maybe I don’t have to work so hard. Maybe the world is already in love, giving me these gifts all the time, calling out all the time. I have thought nature indifferent to one more human, to any human, but maybe the reverse is true. The world calls out: take this. Take this. And this. And this. Don’t turn away.

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Saturday, July 27, 2013




A wonderful monsoon week. I think about my father, a test pilot who flew and crashed in the rocket plane X-2 in 1956, going three times the speed of sound, briefly the fastest man on earth. Mel Apt died when I was two years old and although I don’t know much about this man I do know that he loved clouds. On home movies taken over the Grand Canyon, he does not pause long over his wife and two daughters before he is panning that new 1950s movie camera across the clouds massing and billowing in the Arizona sky, clouds he knew well from many hours of flight in all kinds of airplanes, F100s and F105s and B-50s, clouds where he felt very much at home. A home in the clouds. That’s a kind of wonder. Despite everything—his death, his absence—that’s a gift. 

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)