Walking Nature Home, A Life's Journey

Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Series

Illustrations: Sherrie York

University of Texas Press, 2009

Clothbound, $24.95

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Audiobook edition (read by the author!)

Fans of the natural world and how it corresponds to our own biology will find a kindred spirit in this provocative story. –Library Journal

You really must read this book. — Story Circle Book Reviews


From the beginning:

“You’ve got two years, or perhaps five,” said the doctor, leaning over her metal desk. “I’m sorry.”

She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then replaced the lenses carefully before explaining that she had sent my test results to specialists. They concurred with her diagnosis: the way the disease was progressing, they thought, my life would not last long.

It was February of 1980. I was twenty-three years old, attending graduate school while working for the U.S. Forest Service, married to my college sweetheart, and at the beginning of what seemed like a promising career.

I shifted on the slippery vinyl seat of the chair, picked up my mechanical pencil, and recorded her words in tidy script in a ruled notebook. I wanted to remember the facts, so I took notes. I am a scientist. I observe and record from a careful distance. It’s what we do, how we make sense of the world.

Just a few weeks before, I had stood breathless atop a narrow ridge hundreds of feet above the Shoshone River, my ski tips aimed precisely perpendicular to the edge. It had snowed all night, laying down a thick blanket of fresh powder. My husband, Kent, and I had risen before dawn, thrown our gear into the truck, and driver the slick and winding highway as fast as we dared. The air was still. The sun threw dazzling sparks from the untracked surface of the snow. My stomach clenched as I surveyed the dizzying drop.

“Go!” said Kent from behind me.

I took a deep breath, flashed a smile over my shoulder, leaned forward, and plunged into an explosion of powder. Hours later, snowcrusted and sweaty from repeating the climb to the top of the ridge and exhilarating ride down, I hauled myself into the truck.

If you had asked me, I would have said I was perfectly happy.

But my body knew better. ….


Colorado Scenic Byways, Taking the Other Road

Photography: Jim Steinberg
Designer: Jenny Barry
Foreword: Governor Bill Ritter, Jr.
Portfolio Publications, 2008
Slipcased, two oversized volumes, $79.95

Colorado Book Award
ForeWord Book of the Year, Travel

Local Bestseller list, Denver Post
Featured in Colorado Getaways, PBS Channel 4, 5280 Magazine

Colorado Scenic Byways comes as a slipcased set including two books: Volume One, a coffeetable book that pairs glorious photos with lyrical essays on the state and each byway.

Volume Two, a road atlas and guide to all the routes with detailed maps, and notes on when to go and what to do along the way.

Part history, part geology and botany study, part armchair travel…. These two books will make you want to spend your next vacation close to home. — Front Range Living

Pairs a coffee-table book with a road atlas that details specific attractions along each route…. Just try to keep your eyes on the road, OK? — Denver Post

From the Colorado Scenic Byways book tour

Colorado Scenic Byways book tour postcard

From the Introduction:

This book was inspired by a quintessentially American love: the promise of the open road. Americans began taking to the road back when road meant two dusty ruts heading toward the horizon, long before highways were invented and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925 designated the first cross-country routes. The interstate highway program, authorized in 1955 as a way to expedite movement of military troops and matériel, hooked American drivers on getting there fast. And we forgot the soul of the open road; the freedom to wander, to stop and sniff a wildflower, ramble beside a creek, shape a snowball from a late-summer snowbank, gawk at a long-abandoned mining town, buy a fresh peach from a farmstand, or simply discover a new vista. …


Colorado Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, Travel

The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes

Photography: Glenn Oakley
University of Arizona Press, 2005
Desert Places Series

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At the end of Tweit’s pen mountains dance with the same energy and dynamism as courting cranes. — Journal of the West

An extraordinary spring journey … a joy to read. — High Country News

From the opening of the book:

The cranes called to me one windy autumn night. I lay on the couch, absorbed in a novel when a distant sound—compelling, familiar—propelled me upright to listen. There it was again, faint but unmistakable: “khrrrr, khrrrr,” the throaty cry of sandhill cranes.

I rushed outside to search the sky. The wind hummed in the power lines; stars spangled the heavens, but I couldn’t pick out the wide-winged and long-necked forms of cranes in the darkness. As my husband, Richard, came out and put his arm around me, their voices sounded again from high overhead: “khrrrr, khrrrr!” We listened as the cranes called back and forth, their tremulous and wild cries a vocal tether linking the invisible flock as the birds migrated through the night, carried on the wind.

The haunting calls grew fainter until at last the cranes were gone. Although we could not see the birds, we knew where they were headed in the moonless night: over the pass to the ponds and marshes that dot the high desert of the San Luis Valley. …



Colorado Less Traveled: Journeys Off the Beaten Path

Photography: Jim Steinberg

Designer: Jenny Barry

Potfolio Publications, 2005

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Finalist, 2006 Colorado Book Award

This striking book belongs in any library, public or private, that aspires to be complete on the subject of Colorado. — Bloomsbury Review

From the preface:

The name Colorado brings to mind the picture-postcard summits of Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak looming on the horizon, the dramatic faces of the Maroon Bells above Aspen. But Colorado isn’t just “purple mountain majesties.” It is also plains with expansive vistas, rocky foothills sliced by dark canyons, flat-topped plateaus in vivid colors, and the surprise of wide-open mountain parks.

Mountains, in fact, represent less than a quarter of the state. Approaching Colorado from the east, the first third of the landscape is the relatively level and largely treeless Great Plains. Next comes the abrupt rise of the foothills, with summits shouldering the peaks and slopes so steep that highways follow old Indian routes up the canyons. Higher still are the Rocky Mountains themselves, rising nearly two miles above the plains. Hidden within that chain of ranges are the miles-wide “parks,” which are arid valleys. Beyond the peaks and parks stretches a sere landscape shaped by thick layers of sandstone that inspire the name Colorado—from the Spanish for “colored” or “red”—for both the river and the state.

Photographer Jim Steinberg and his wife moved to Colorado from Oregon at the suggestion of friends who urged them to try the place for a year. Three decades later, they haven’t left yet, and Jim is still avidly exploring his adopted state. A natural curiosity about what might lie over the next hill, combined with a hint of contrariness that leads him to go where others do not, has sent Jim to places few others know. …


Finalist, 2006 Colorado Book Award

Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide

Series Editor: Cathy Wilkinson Barash

Fulcrum Publishing, 2005

The instruction manual that should have come with your yard!

For regional garden guides, the Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide is tops. –Bella Online

Cool Tool! … Explains the ecology of the Western garden and offers tips on plant choice, garden design and maintenance. — Boulder Daily Camera

From the beginning:

You can identify Rocky Mountain gardeners by the stories they tell: the wet spring snow that caused prized trees and shrubs to collapse, the grasshoppers that mowed down the emerging vegetable sprouts, the July hail that flattened every flower in the garden, the deer that munched the columbines, and the winter winds that toppled the spruce in the front yard. Gardening in this scenic but difficult region is all about weather. Like a good cutting horse or a high-tech mountain bike, Rocky Mountain weather can turn on a dime, from drought to deluge, searing heat to sub-freezing cold, dead calm to roaring Chinooks. Weather is not a Rocky Mountain gardener’s only challenge, howerver. The region’s spectacular scenery makes for topographic trials and soils that are, by and large, undeveloped. The region’s arid climate means that watered and fertilized gardens are a magnet for pests of every size from microbes to moose. Add in an increasing number of invasive weeds, the reality of water shortages, and the thread of global climate change, and painting the yard green begins to seem very attractive.

If you’re wondering how to nurture a thriving garden in the adverse conditions of the rocky Mountain region, this book is for you. It’s a compendium of one-page tips for dealing with regional gardening challenges, interspersed with brief essays explaining the fundamentals of garden ecology, design, and maintenance. It also includes suggested plants to deal with specific garden problems, plus public gardens and nurseries to visit for information and inspiration. …

Seasons on the Pacific Coast, A Naturalist's Notebook

Illustrations: James Noel Smith
Chronicle Books, 1999

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Featured on “The Naturalist’s Datebook,” Martha Stewart Living Radio Network

This fascinating new book… can be enjoyed as much from the armchair as from the field. –Seattle Times

The Pacific Ocean receives fond and detailed attention in naturalist Susan J. Tweit’s Seasons on the Pacific Coast. … Throughout, Tweit soberly reminds us of the connections binding humans and wild lives everywhere. — San Diego Union-Tribune

From the Introduction:

There are as many definitions of the Pacific Coast region as there are people to define it. This book treats the two-thousand-mile stretch of the Pacific coast that I know best, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to Tijuana, Mexico. Water tells the story of this narrow belt where ocean meets land and fog blankets the landscape at least part of the year. Seawater physically shapes the landscape as surely as the waves crash against the shore. Water—either salt or fresh—clothes it with life, and the distribution of water—as rain or fog—separates this edge into regions as distinct as subcontinents.

… Edges are magical places, diverse and full of possibility. The edge where land meets sea long the Pacific coast is no exception. Unlike the largely low Atlantic coast, with its profusion of sheltered bays, estuaries, and inlets, the Pacific coast is by and large a cliff edge studded with headlands, points, and capes, and boasting only a handful of natural harbors along its wave-battered margin. …


Seasons in the Desert, A Naturalist's Notebook

Illustrations: Kirk Caldwell

Chronicle Books, 1998

Susan Tweit’s notebook is a wonderful addition to the library of all of us who love the desert. — Tony Hillerman

Put your other concerns aside for a moment, for this book is an event you won’t want to miss. Inhale it’s fragrances, listen to its songs! — Gary Paul Nabhan, Coming Home to Eat

From Spring:

Spring does not creep across the desert on little cat’s feet; nor does it come with frolicking lambs and sweet breezes. Spring—the season beginning with the spring equinox and ending with the summer solstice—can bring an explosion of vibrant and colorful life; it can be a succession of frigid snowstorms; it can blow in dry and hot on gritty winds. How spring comes to the various deserts depends on the latitude and rainfall pattern of each, and on the weather of any given year.

The North American deserts are watered by two major storm tracks: the cold, soggy storms that roar east across the continent in winter form the Pacific Ocean, and the warm, wet fronts that circle north and west in summer from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California. Whether spring is relatively green or not in the various deserts depends on which storm track they are under. The three deserts that lie farthest west—the Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonoran—are the closest to the Pacific Ocean and thus reliably receive winter moisture. Their springs are relatively wet. The southernmost of these three deserts—the Mojave and Sonoran—explode with life in wet springs, the formerly bare soil covered by a carpet of annual plants. Spring in the Chihuahuan Desert, by contrast, is a dry time, since moisture from the Pacific rarely reaches this easternmost desert. …

City Foxes

Photographs: Wendy Shattil

Alaska Northwest/ Denver Museum of Natural History, 1997

Highly recommended! –Children’s Bookwatch

This engaging book describes the lives of six young red foxes born in a city cemetery. … The book is a beautiful blending of the talents of the author/naturalist and [the] first woman to be named Wildlife Photographer of the Year. — STARRED review, Science and Children

From the beginning:

One cold March night six baby red foxes were born in the midst of a busy city. Their home was a den dug by their parents, a grayish father fox and a rust-red mother fox, in the lawn at one edge of a cemetery. The young foxes—called kits—were born helpless and with their eyes shut tight.

At first the kits simply nursed and slept. But after their eyes opened, they began to explore the den on wobbly legs. Soon they were playing, nibbling on each other or on their parents, and tumbling over each other.

One afternoon in early April when the kits were sleeping, the mother fox slipped out of the den. She had been inside with the kits for too long. The father stayed behind, snoozing and watching the kits. The mother stretched out in the sun near the den entrance and began to clean her fur. Lick, lick, lick went her tongue.

In the den, a baby fox woke, hungry. The kit searched around—no mother. The kit whined. Its mother answered from outside. The baby walked up the tunnel toward the sound, but stopped, blinded by the bright sun. The den was familiar. The world outside was not. Its mother called again. The kit paused. Its belly growled. …

Winner, Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, Children’s Book Council

Barren, Wild, and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert

Paperback edition, University of Arizona Press, 2003
(Clothbound edition, University of New Mexico Press, 1995)

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Through her stories and the stories inherent in the land, we come not only to feel this country, but to believe in its dry, bony presence as a place of miracles and wild wisdom. She reminds us of the magic of biology with her keen eyes and bright mind. — Terry Tempest Williams

Gets my nomination for one of the greatest titles ever for this book about the Southwest. — Southwest Book Views

From the Introduction:

It is a hot Friday evening in late spring, and my husband, Richard, and I are on the loose. Fridays are our date nights—no matter what comes, we reserve Friday evenings for ourselves, leaving our teenage daughter, Molly, at home with a book and a TV dinner. Usually by the time that date hour arrives on Friday night we are so exhausted by our roles as parents and by our fulltime outside careers that we can only summon the energy for dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. But this night, we are determined to get out of town, to explore this new-to-us Chihuahuan Desert landscape. We’ve packed a picnic dinner and are headed out into the desert will of the car windows rolled down. The sun is midway toward the western horizon, but it is June, and that means hot. It is 5:30 in the evening and the temperature is 102 degreesF, down from the day’s high of 110 degrees. ...

Meet the Wild Southwest

Illustrations: Joyce Bergen

Alaska Northwest Books, 1995

Desert ecology for kids, with activities

Tweit’s eclectic collection of natural-history facts and trivia provides a fascinating look at the American Southwest. … It has plenty of appeal and will be especially useful for families planning hikes or nature walks in the Southwest. –Amazon.com

From “Desert Rats”:

Roadrunners and kangaroo rats are so well adapted to the extreme conditions of desert life that they have become symbols of the Southwest.

Roadrunners seem comical. They are long-legged and large, stretching almost 2 feet from the tip of their oversized beak to the end of their long tail. Their feathers are speckled black and white, and bare skin around their eyes is cartoonishly colored bright red and blue. They constantly raise and lower the crest atop their head like a signal flag. …

True to their name, roadrunners would rather run than fly They hunt on the run, sprinting as fast as 15 miles an hour to catch insects, lizards, scorpions, birds, and other small animals. If you see a roadrunner with something dangling from its beak, look closer. When they catch a lizard or snake too big to swallow whole, the excess dangles from their beak until they have room to swallow it! …


Great Southwest Nature Factbook

Illustrations: Robert Williamson

Alaska Northwest Books, 1992

Nature facts about the southwestern U.S., from A-Z

A treasure trove of facts about nature in the Southwest, from “Ants” to “Zion Canyon.”  –Tucson Daily Star

Buy two copies: one for at home and another for your car. You’ll be amazed at what you didn’t know about our own region. — Las Cruces Sun-News

From the book:

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), a shrub of the hot deserts, is also called “coachwihp” for its bare, 8- to 15-foot-long stems. But within 48 hours after a rain, the slender, thorny branches, now sprouting a fuzzy covering of small, green leaves, no longer look like coachwhips. While the soil is moist, the plant transpires and photosynthesizes with abandon; as soon as the soil dries out, ocotillo sheds the leaves until the next rain. The remaining green stems, slightly succulent and covered with a thick, water-resistant cuticle, photosynthesize enough to keep the ocotillo alive.

Each late spring, dense spikes of fiery red, tubular blossoms flame at the end of ocotillo’s long stems, attracting hummingbirds and other nectar-feeders. The Tohono O’odham (Papago) of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona ate the sweet flowers like candy and rubbed the yellow flower stems on their cheeks for rouge. …


Pieces of Light

Illustrations: Ann Douden

First edition, Roberts Rinehart, 1990 Revised eBook edition, 2012 (available on iTunes, Kindle, Nook and other formats)

Pieces of Light is a book to be taken up on a rainy afternoon or a snowy night, a book to be immediately absorbed by, to delight in for years. — Bloomsbury Review

A lovely piece of work whose author shows great serenity of spirit and the ability to be captivated by small things. — Ann Zwinger

From the beginning:

Monday, 7 September: This has been a journey of the heart. We have come home.

Home is the arid basins, valleys, and plains that lap at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I have lived in many places in my life, but only the dry, open country of the Rockies tugs at my heartstrings. We had been living away for what seemed like long years, these last three near Puget Sound in Washington State. When my husband Richard decided this spring that he wanted to return to the Rockies in order to finish his doctorate in economics, I didn’t hesitate a moment. I could hardly contain my excitement. We both resigned from our jobs; we put our house and woods up for sale; Richard found a consulting job in Boulder, Colorado, and off we went. I’d never lived in Boulder before, never lived in any city before, but neither mattered. The region was right. It had the magic of arid landscapes: sweeping winds, clear light, and overhead the all-encompassing sky. …


Best Trade Book, Rocky Mountain Book Publisher’s Association