Back in Fifth Grade, standing up in front of the class. Photo: Samantha Lane Bahn

Unexpected Gifts

Last Wednesday I rushed through my usually quiet morning routine in order to be organized and on-time for my visit to a fifth-grade class at Salida Middle School. I managed on-time; I’m not so sure I was organized.

Back in Fifth Grade, standing up in front of the class. Photo: Samantha Lane Bahn Back in Fifth Grade, standing up in front of the class. Photo: Samantha Lane Bahn

The class and their teacher, Samantha Lane Bahn, were welcoming. I managed to hit some of the high notes of what I do and why it matters:

  • Why I write (Because I have stories to tell that I hope will help us be more loving and generous human beings, and understand better the community of lives with whom we share this earth.)
  • What I did as a scientist (among other things, studied grizzly bear habitat, including their diet, which involved observation and collecting… well, fresh bear poop, and dissecting it)
  • Why I left fieldwork for writing (Back to that why I write question, most centrally as a way to show us all how to live more thoughtfully and inflict less harm on each other and this planet.)
  • What a writer’s day is like (When I asked the kids why quiet might be important, one girl hit that particular nail squarely on the head: “To hear yourself think!”).

The students were interested, well-prepared, and asked good questions and gave good answers. They clearly have an engaged and energetic teacher.

As I was preparing to leave, Ms. Lane said, “Deidre has something to give you.” She handed me a sheet of lined paper mounted on blue construction stock. “We wrote ‘I Admire…’ essays and Deidre wrote hers about you.”

"I Admire..." by Diedre Hansen, Fifth Grade “I Admire…” by Deidre Hansen, Fifth Grade

I was stunned. I hugged Deidre and stuttered something about not knowing whether I could read it out loud. Ms. Lane said, “Deidre can read it.”

I nodded and struggled to maintain my composure while Deidre read:

I admire Susan Tweit tremendously. Her smile lights up the room when she walks in. You can always tell a kind person by the crinkles next to their eyes and Susan has plenty of them. [Ouch. So much for vanity.] …

After going through thick and thin these past few years, Susan is still as bright as the North Star. Susan is plenty capable of doing her own work and doesn’t hesitate when someone needs a helping hand. …

Her writing is brilliant. [Deidre, please write my book blurbs!] It gives you a clear picture of what she describes, and brings the characters to life. Susan wrote a book called City Foxes that she gave to my parents when my brother and I were little. I loved that book with all my heart. I still have it propped up on my bookshelf….

City Foxes, photos by Wendy Shattil, text by Susan J. Tweit, named Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children by the Children's Book Council City Foxes, photos by Wendy Shattil, story by me, named Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children by the Children’s Book Council

I had tears in my eyes when Deidre finished. I hugged her again, and thanked the class and Ms. Lane. Then I escaped out the door, down the halls, and out into the winter sunshine, humbled.

I had woken grumpy that morning, not happy about having given away my writing time and feeling stressed about a looming deadline. (Mornings are the only time I can write–once I go out into the world, insight and inspiration both vanish like vapor in our high-desert air.)

On a deeper level, I was apprehensive, all-too-aware of the energy required to “suit up” and find my brave self for public appearances. After Richard’s death, what once was familiar is no longer. I am more vulnerable, less confident and less sure of this new solo me.

And then to be given the gift, not just of talking with an attentive and interesting class, but of seeing the impact of my writing and life…. I’m still stunned.

And grateful. Thank you, Ms. Lane and your Fifth-Grade class, especially Deidre Hansen. You showed me the power of words–and love.


Curving steel arches trim the living room doorway in Terraphilia, my old house. Curving steel arches trim the living room doorway at Terraphilia.

Note: Salida is a small town. Deidre’s dad, Harry Hansen, is the art blacksmith who forged the curving steel trim for two arched doorways in my former house. Harry and Nicole, Deidre’s mom, together form Sterling & Steel, hand-forging contemporary classic flatware and other household objects. Deidre’s brother Ethan is talented too.