Indiana Author, Michigan Author, South Carolina Author, North Carolina Author, Virginia Author, Panama Author
My life and my books are rooted in and inspired by the landscapes where I have lived. Blue ridge mountains, Carolina foothills, Indiana cornfields, and Virginia tidewater area are among the places that have taught me about plants and animals. See below for my full geography and why I consider myself an Indiana/South Carolina/North Carolina/Virginia/Michigan author.
South Carolina Childhood
I was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina and learned about nature with travels all the way to Myrtle Beach. My mother taught me about the birds and plants of our backyard. A lot of my time was spent walking the lakes of Furman Campus to look at the ducks and swans.
I worked at a raptor rehab center.There I cared for hawks and owls. Up at the farm that belonged to my grandparents, near Tigerville, I learned about picking peas, pulling carrots, hoeing beans, and tending the cows in the hot summer sun. My friend Miranda and I trained our ponies by riding bareback on the back roads of the county and swimming in the ponds. One of the poems I wrote as a girl, about South Carolina, is in the book, Stories From Where We Live: The Gulf Coast.
I attended Montessori, League Middle, and Wade Hampton High. My father was an education professor at Furman. So when I do school visits in South Carolina, I have the additional pleasure of meeting many teachers my dad helped train over the years.
North Carolina Girl
I have always felt a bone-deep connection to the Appalachian mountains, particularly the foothills. When I was a girl, we spent weekends and summers at Sugar Mountain, near Banner Elk. We ice skated competitively with a team from Boone, N.C. We spent time in Asheville, and all over that part of N.C.
North Carolina holds my best family memories of mountains, the outdoors, and crystal hunting. My mother taught me the wildflowers of the mountains. I feel somehow deeply rooted in Appalachia, as if our family has lived there for thousands of years. I studied its cultures, learned about dulcimers, folk tales, traditions, and mountain singing. Old time and bluegrass are my kind of music.
I went to college at Duke University in Durham. There I studied biology, especially primatology, and graduated with a B.A. I spent time at the Duke Marine Laboratory near Wilmington, so I love the barrier islands, as well.
Virginia Roots and Branches
My dad was born in Virginia, amidst pig-farming and peanut-farming lands. My parents met at College of William & Mary, where my family has deep connections. When I was a child, we always traveled to Williamsburg for family reunions so I grew up bicycling in Williamsburg and enjoying the creeks. We traveled the mountains of VA; I especially remember a visit to Peaks of Otter.
My husband and I met up in Vienna, Virginia, and lived there for four years. We first learned about birds by walking the W&OD trail and hiking Great Falls. I worked at National Wildlife Federation and the National Geographic Society in D.C. Our first big birding trips were into the Chesapeake Bay areas of VA and MD. We traveled up along the Blue Ridge parkway to look for our wedding site but settled on Vienna.
Now I travel to Virginia often. Virginia is where my heart is; most of my family lives there. So I spend time in Winchester, Wintergreen, Williamsburg, and Richmond.
Indiana Home and Michigan Adventures
For 15 years I have lived in South Bend, Indiana, just five miles from the Michigan border. This area is called Michiana by residents because it combines the two states. Most of our knowledge of plants and animals has been developed here in the forests, wetlands, tallgrass prairies, and dunes of Indiana and Michigan. (My husband is an ecologist and native plant expert so we have about 400 species of plants in our yard!) We enjoy seeing wildflowers in local parks.
The seasons are marked by the emergence of bluebells, trillium, columbine–and later–the monarda and coneflower. I have gotten to know the frogs, turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, and other insect species by wildlife gardening here. I have also gotten to know other features of Indiana by traveling to give talks.
We are fortunate to live on a major flyway for migratory birds so we encounter incredible numbers of warblers in our yard and along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Each May we spend two weeks just enjoying the birds in our yard, and at Potato Creek, Michigan Dunes, Grand Mere, and other spots.
My husband was instrumental in exploring and saving an incredible fen (a type of wetland) in southwest Michigan. One of our favorite places to go is Whitefish Point, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where there is a bird observatory. Whitefish Point was the first place we ever saw kettles of hawks in migration. We have seen eagles, cranes, and lots of loons there. It is a major hotspot for many migrating birds. One of my Indiana stories is in Stories From Where We Live: The Great Lakes.
Once you visit a country, you are forever connected to it. I have visited 27 countries. Most of the places that we have visited recently are in Latin America. One that we visit again and again is Panama. Jeff and I love Panama: the geography, the people, the wildlife. We have led tours to Panama. We have gotten to know the birds of Panama, and even recognize many by their calls. Howler monkeys and blue morpho butterflies are familiar friends. When we return to Panama, the frog sounds, and even the roars of the howler monkeys make us feel at home. My book Army Ant Parade is set in Panama. So is He’s a Howler, which will be released next year. Three of my other books were written and/or photographed partly in Panama. You can see the photos of hawks in migration in Secrets of Sound: Studying the Calls and Songs of Whales, Elephants, and Birds.