Good Intentions…

In September, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She is, as she will tell you, “still here” intellectually, although her memory is increasingly unreliable and she’s physically very frail. The symptom that’s most difficult for her though is serious anxiety. Mom’s always been a cheerful, good-natured sort, and now she’s bedeviled by increasing agitation and apprehension. What seems to help most is the sound of another voice, preferably a familiar one. My Dad’s voice is good, as are my brother’s and Richard’s voices; but the voice she really loves is mine. She’d like it if I’d call and talk to her every day.

(The photo below is my once-intrepid mom standing atop a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Dolores and San Miguel rivers in western Colorado, along with my dad and Richard.)


Earlier this fall, while I was narrating the audiobook version of my memoir, Walking Nature Home, I had a brainstorm: I’d collect some favorites from my twenty years of writing and producing a weekly radio commentary, and make a CD for my mom. That way she could hear my voice whenever she wanted; it might be soothing as the terrain of her mind continued to shift. I don’t have audio versions for all of the commentaries–the earliest were recorded on reel-to-reel tape!–so I browsed more than 700 scripts on my computer.

I made a short list of about 120 (four times as many as I could use), and then thought about organization. A journey through the seasons seemed right for the subject. I sorted by month, and then whittled my choices down. I picked some that were local and some more far-flung; and sought a balance between science reporting, nature observation, and reflective, memoir-like pieces. In the end, I narrowed my choices to 28 scripts, and then decided I’d record all 28 over again so my voice would be consistent. The commentaries average about 4.5 minutes each, and it takes me about three times that to get a good read, and then half an hour to edit the audio track for each script… Can you see where this is going?

From a simple CD for my mom to a full-blown professionally produced recording project, that’s where!


(That’s my recording “studio” in the photo above, a table that Richard built me of scrap lumber to hold my microphone, a Yeti by Blue. It plugs into the USB port of my MacBook Pro, and I use Apple’s Garageband software for recording and editing the audio tracks. The yellow foam is a sound baffle and the round black circle is a spit screen to soften Ps, Ts, and Ss.)

I reminded myself that I’d sworn never to self-publish because I do not enjoy accounting, marketing or packaging… In the end, I gave in to the inner publisher I hadn’t known lived within me. Musician and composer friend David Tipton graciously agreed to produce the CD and also to compose and perform original music for the background. After reviewing the project, Dave broke the news that I had recorded about twice as much material as would fit on an audio CD, so in order to use that material on a single CD (yes–no extra plastic), it would have to be an MP3 CD. Okay. I set about pricing CD replication and looking for distributors and thinking about packaging and cover design… About the time I thought my head would explode, artist friend Sherrie York agreed to design the jacket (made, of course, from recycled cardboard).

Before I knew it, I was listening to test tracks and proofing cover designs and ordering what seems like an enormous amount of CDs. Which is why, as of tomorrow, I’ll morph into Terraphilia Productions and proudly announce to the world (you heard it here first) the release of “WildLives: Celebrating the World Around Us,” a 150-minute MP3 CD including 28 favorites from my popular radio program reporting on nature, the community of the land, and our relationship with the above. Listen to a sample, and if you’re hooked, drop me an email. The price: $12 each plus shipping, discounts for two or more. (It’ll also be available from iTunes, Audible and other online music outlets in a week or so, once I get the discs to CDBaby for distribution.) This Thursday, listen in as Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett interview me on Women’s Memoirs, as part of their week of highlighting how Alzheimer’s Disease silences women and our stories. 

The irony in this story: I still don’t have an audio CD for my mother, whose older-model bookshelf stereo won’t play an MP3 CD. I guess I’ll make her a special set…