Nature as Cultural Artifact
A guest post by:
I didn’t set out to write an eco-lit novel, to make a political statement with my story. I am a writer of landscapes that transport readers from their worlds into those of my imagination and of characters whose conflicts and choices are urgent and relevant to my readers’ souls. I don’t write with a genre in mind; I’m a storyteller who often discovers her themes many drafts later, when the bones of a story have been fleshed out and its heart is beating strongly.
THE CROWS OF BEARA was meant to be my love song to Ireland. A place was all I had in my pocket when I sat down with my notebook to begin sketching characters. I set the place aside and focused on the who, for it is from the characters that my stories are built. WHERE gives me a foundation; WHO is the framework. I discovered a protagonist and a main character linked by the same weakness and the same strength: addiction and art. Bringing them to stand before each other on a dividing line was a third “character” which I met by chance in my research: the Red-billed chough, a species of crow which cycles on and off the endangered list as one nesting ground thrives and another is threatened. It is found along the southwest coast of Ireland, where cliff meets pasture on one end and ocean on the other. In CROWS, a copper mine would bring needed jobs to a struggling community; it would also destroy the habitat of this beloved small black bird with a crimson beak and feet. The chough became the book’s touchstone.
Deep into revisions, months after CROWS had been accepted for publication by Ashland Creek Press, I met an artist-anthropologist using 3-D photography in a breathtaking marriage of art and science to preserve natural artifacts gathered from manned and unmanned space missions. Through her art, she shows that our cultural heritage is alive in these rocks gathered from places so distant, the mind bends in trying to comprehend. In talking with her, I realized I had been dancing around but unable to name the central core of my characters’ artistic drive. Nature is a cultural artifact that we have the power to preserve, and art can be a unifying force when politics threaten to tear us apart.
There’s a scene midway through THE CROWS OF BEARA where Annie sees Daniel’s art for the first time. And in observing his own work through her eyes, he realizes the power of what he does, how his art can change minds, perspectives, lives. Art as an act of resistance and healing is one of the major themes of the book and it’s very much how I feel about what I do as an artist. Words are my voice, my sword, my hand out to the universe. Art, whether it’s visual, literary, musical, or of the body, connects us to ourselves, to each other, to the greater world. It’s what keeps us moving forward toward light in times of greatest darkness.