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

Most recently, my Knocking on Heaven's Door is the winner in the category of science fiction in the 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards and in the category of fiction in the 2016 Arizona Authors Association Awards. A number of reviewers have been enthusiastic, including the website Geeks of Doom, which makes me smile. Not many people know me as a geek of doom! But I am happy to embrace the complexity of my personality.

I'm also so pleased that Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World has been awarded the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, as well as the 2014 WILLA Award for Creative Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World won the 2015 Arizona Authors Association Award for best Children's Literature and was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Children's Literature, the WILLA Award for Children's Literature, and the May Sarton Award for Children's Literature.

These are nice landmarks in a writer's life. I would be writing regardless--but, still, whew. It's good to have some encouragement.

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

Monday, May 3, 2010

Excerpt from Susan Krieger’s Traveling Blind: Adventures in Vision with a Guide Dog by My Side:

We left Hatch, driving out past the chile fields, the farmland soon giving way to vast expanses of arid, straw-colored desert. Railroad tracks ran beside the road, the sun glaring down as the radio played country and western songs. An occasional Border Patrol car zoomed by. Above distant mountains, a blue sky held high white clouds. I had a sense that we were on our way to new possibilities as the sun lowered, signaling the lateness of the day. Finally, we turned onto a side road that curved, then began to climb up toward gentle mountains, entering the Mimbres Valley. In place of a barren landscape, trees now loomed alongside the road and lined the nearby narrow river, their bare branches reflecting the golden setting sun, the fields behind them the color of winter wheat. The Mimbres River Valley was more picturesque in a conventional sense than the open desert, but of a piece with it. And I was becoming used to the contrasts, to going from a vastness to a sense of close detail, much as with my vision, I move in and out of seeing-sometimes getting a broad view, blurry, with parts unrecognizable, at other times focusing closely in, yet finding comfort in each vision, supplementing the one with the other.

Darkness had settled by the time we arrived at our bed and breakfast in the woods. The innkeepers led us to a mobile home nestled among trees on a hillside on their property. I had requested this mobile home for privacy, and it seemed just what I had wanted-a rustic woodsided trailer set apart from the main house. To enter the front door of the home, however, meant navigating a small flight of steps with no banister. I faltered. I could not see the wooden steps in the darkness and I worried about how I would maintain my balance when carrying our luggage up them. The innkeepers generously offered to bring the bags, and although I was grateful, I felt useless and incompetent, embarrassed because I was afraid of the stairs.

The next morning, I practiced on those steps, going up and down them without looking, counting them, touching the side of the mobile home to keep my balance. Next time I wanted to be able to carry the bags myself.

Later that first night we drove to dinner in a neighboring town. I tried to give Hannah directions but got us lost on the back roads. Much that I did now was more complex than it used to be. The roads were not where I expected them on the dark map in my mind. "There it is," Hannah said finally, finding the turn. I soon saw the fuzzy shape of the restaurant–what looked like a house with a lighted front porch. Hannah parked across the street from it. As I stepped out of the car, I feared the darkness and the cold, unsure how I would reach the restaurant across the way.

"Wait for me," Hannah called.

I stopped beside the car with Teela, wondering, should I take Hannah's arm or go forward without her into the darkness? I listened and heard quiet. "I'll be okay," I told Hannah. "Forward," I instructed Teela and we stepped out into the pitch black night, nothing visible but faint lights on the house across the road. The darkness was imposing but exciting. I felt like an explorer braving the unknown. Once across the street, Teela and I quickly climbed the several stairs to the porch, where white Christmas lights hung above the front door. I felt pleased to have made my way across the dark street and up the steps without tripping. Hannah soon arrived and stood by my side in the glowing white light. "You made it," she said, sharing with me this small moment of conquering my fears.

After dinner, back at the mobile home, I asked Hannah to come with me when I took Teela outside to relieve herself. The ground near the mobile home was sloping and rocky and I was still unfamiliar with the wooden stairs. I knew I could have taken Teela myself, but I wanted Hannah's reassurance, her company.

The next morning when I went out to take a walk with Teela alone, I found myself uncertain of my steps through the brush and dry leaves in nearby fields, even in the brightness of the day, so I came back soon after setting out. Later, Hannah, Teela, and I walked together in the woods on paths covered with dry fallen pine needles that softened our steps and looked like snow, reflecting sunlight from clouds above. That day had a gentle golden feel. Our time in the Mimbres Valley was special–several days of walking in the woods, nights in the mobile home with a piñon fire and a warm bed. "We're very lucky," Hannah said. For me, time had stopped. I could not see, but I felt protected here.

I ate the biscochitos each morning for breakfast, heating them in the oven, filling the home with their cinnamon and anise scent. My blindness made me more limited in my mobility than I wanted to be. I could not drive by myself to find flat places where I could safely walk, and I could no longer navigate on the irregular hilly terrain and in the dry rocky stream beds and arroyos as I used to do. Now the stream beds and arroyos stretched before me as roads untaken. Yet the frustrations did not destroy my sense of well-being. And the comfort I viewed in the landscape was, in part, because my blindness lent a softness to the scenery, blending the trees and fields together. Sometimes I yearned for clarity, for the individual tree shapes to stand out, but I also accepted the softness as a gift of my blindness.

The day before we left the Mimbres Valley, we stopped at the small Mimbres General Store, where I had an experience that stays with me like little else. The store was jam-packed with hunting and picnic supplies and tourist items. As I stood at a glass counter looking at a tray of turquoise and silver earrings, Hannah pointed to a pair she thought I might like. The woman behind the counter reached beneath the glass, searching with her fingers for the pair Hannah indicated, but she could not find them. A younger woman, coming over to help, quickly reached in and lifted out the earrings and handed them to me. I held them up close to my eyes. Then I took out my lighted pocket magnifier. "I don't see very well," I told the women. "So I have to hold things close. She helps me," I gestured toward Hannah.

"I don't see either," the older woman said quietly. She seemed to me to be in her seventies and she was wearing glasses. It had not occurred to me that she couldn't see.

I asked if she had a magnifier. She shook her head. I handed her mine to try. She held it close to a page and seemed pleased with what she saw. Handing it back to me, she soon came out from behind the counter and told me, with a tone of sadness, that she had macular degeneration.

I lifted my arm and pressed the button on my talking watch to cheer her by having it announce the time. She lifted her arm and pressed the button on her talking watch, a smaller version of mine, both from Radio Shack. She smiled broadly.

"Do you have a white cane?" I asked her.

"No," she said. "I pray. I don't give up." She told me that she lived in a house behind the store and could walk to work. She had lived there for seventeen years. Her vision had only deteriorated seriously five years ago. She had an operation, but then it got worse.

"Maybe someday they'll find something for me," she said. "I won't give up praying."

It took me a while to grasp her meaning. I had thought that not giving up meant you still did things, you got the aids you needed. But for her, not giving up meant you still prayed. You did not lose faith.

"I don't drive anymore," she said, in a questioning manner.

"I don't either," I said, as if this were our bond.
I reached into my backpack for one of the black felt pens I always carry. "For you," I handed it to her. "It writes a thick line that's easy to see."

She went back behind the counter while Hannah and I browsed further in the store. I kept wanting to go out to the car and bring in the white cane that I kept there as a backup and give it to her. I was not a believer in religion, in reversals of eye conditions that don't reverse, in waiting for cures that might come someday. I had to restrain myself from going out to get the cane.

"She doesn't need it," Hannah whispered.

I went up to the counter to pay for my items. When the older woman gave them to me in a bag, she also handed me a ballpoint pen with "Mimbres Store" written on the barrel.

As we drove away from the store, I wished to return, to give her my cane and to talk some more. In my mind, I see her to this day making that walk from the house to the store, reaching under the glass counter for things she cannot see. I see her as more helpless than I am, which is not necessarily true. I need rides. I reach for things I can't find. In the Mimbres Store, I bought a hunter's cap and a pair of earrings that I do not wear because out of their environment and in brighter light, they don't look very good on me. In my desk drawer, I keep the pen that the woman in the store gave me. I don't use it because it writes too fine a line for me to see. But it helps me remember. I had wanted my encounter with the woman in the store to seem friendly and my attempts to be helpful to have meaning, for such acts of sharing give a purpose to my blindness.

Driving south, this emotional moment behind me, I thought of a stop by the roadside, a chance meeting, two strangers who hardly knew each other, and yet we did.

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