Winter’s Bottleneck–Teaser Tuesday #3

[Okay, so it’s Teaser Thursday and I’m late!  But it’s been a bit of a week.]

After the first good snowfall of the season, I ski back out to the place I’ve learned to call ‘Botany Pond.’ Deep snow is winter’s prism, transforming one species’ risk into another’s opportunity. Entranced by crystals of hoar frost on aspen and the lean exclamation of weaselltracks, I think about how some stories can only be learned in certain seasons.  In the impressionable canvas of fresh snow, drama can run quiet or wild.  Prints of miniscule mice barely indent; snowshoe hare float this way and then that. And then I ski across the tracks of what I think might be a wolf or a lynx. Alone, without my dog, hobbled by snow, I panic. Even as I flee to the security of an open vista, familiarity haunts my tracks. Risk, I remember, always lurks beneath winter’s white. As a child, winter diminished woodpiles, froze pipes and stuck trucks in snow. Snapshots from a single season never tell the whole story. Embedded in today’s bitterness are the ecological processes—seeds chill, moisture collects—necessary for tomorrow’s unfolding. Only by lingering in place can we remember that winter and summer, opportunity and risk, are always conjoined.

Coming April 25, 2023!

The Cost of Mobility–Ch. 5

Teaser Tuesday #2 for Drawing Botany Home (

Animals move—it’s our birthright,  a gift from our ancestors in the form of duplicate genes that code for leg or wing or fin.  Yet no mobility is without risk. When my mother married a stranger, my family abandoned British Columbia for Montana. Years later, I jump at the chance to return. But arriving ‘home,’ I struggle to land in place.  En route to visit old friends, I wonder what it would take to be as rooted as a tree. For cottonwoods, dispersal is easy, establishment harder.  Only one in a million seeds released from a cottonwood will successfully root. All trees are mirrored rivers, their form collecting nourishment from both sky and earth—but only if they remain in place. The bigger a tree’s roots, the harder the transplant, the deeper the scars. The bigger a tree’s roots, the harder the transplant, the deeper the scars. In plants, it is the passage of water, slipping from one cell to another, that links earth with sky. In the reciprocal relationship between people and place, don’t stories do the same? 


Coming April 25, 2023!

Drawing Botany Home–the first Teaser Tuesday!

Coming April 25, 2023!

In celebration and anticipation, please enjoy this teaser from the book’s prologue.

(More to come each Teaser Tuesday)

Prologue: The Comfort of Buttercups

(‘Reel’ available here

Ethnographers and geographers tell us that plants and place matter. Yet in a mobile world, both are easy to miss. In rural Montana, forty years ago, a Sunday afternoon erupts into conflict between my hippie mother and her American husband. When the argument turns ugly, I grab my younger brother’s hand flee out the back door finding comfort in the dependable appearance of spring-blooming buttercups.

It’s the first time I remember running out the backdoor, but it won’t be the last. I will gain much from plants: comfort, academic credentials, even financial security. But for years, I will understand their botany as the scientific discipline I first learned far from home. Then, in 2004, when a new job gave me reason to return to southern BC, I thought I was returning home to teach botany and ecology. Little did I understand how close my homecoming would come to failing. Discouraged and homesick, I did what I’d always done as a hippie kid when things got hard: I ran outside. I never went far—rarely more than a day’s drive—but I went with my field journal.  When my brother and I return to the most isolated of our childhood hippie houses in southern BC, recognition shudders through me. How many times, I wonder, did I flee family chaos for the tangled comfort of buttercups? How many of my family’s stories are woven with riparian willow and dogwood, shaded beneath a ponderosa pine, aching in the stubbled remains of a Douglas fir forest?  Faced with plants infused with memory and meaning, I finally understood how drawing plants in place was more than mere comfort; it was a practice that could question my most deep-seated assumptions about home and family, discipline and practice, place and community. It also, I realized, allowed me to learn not just about, but from plants. As a botanist and artist in search of a rooted life, what lessons could matter more?

Come with me.