Life Lessons: I Can’t Do Everything Myself?

I had a plan for this summer (I know: Life is what happens while we’re making plans): I would devote myself to narrating the audiobook version of Bless the Birds, my latest memoir and my 13th book.

I’ve procrastinated narrating the audiobook for the entire two and a half years since Bless the Birds was published, partly because I wanted to do the narration myself. It’s my story. (Also, I narrated the audiobook for my first memoir, Walking Nature Home.)

My excuses were good ones: since the book came out, I’ve moved four times, to three different states, and renovated three houses. And until this condo, which has a walk-in closet in the main bedroom, I haven’t had a place I could turn into a home recording studio.

The real reason? I wasn’t ready. Bless the Birds is an intense story. I needed time and distance, and perhaps every one of those four moves, to prepare myself.

This spring, I blocked out June through late July, the weeks between my two weed-management trips to the ranch, for audiobook narration. First, I had figure out the technical end. I watched some videos about audiobook narration and ordered a new microphone and headphones. I experimented with GarageBand, the recording and editing software, which I last used in 2010. Pretty soon, I thought I had it down.

By mid-June, I had set up my studio in my closet, and begun audio work. I recorded and edited the first few files (the front matter, introduction, and chapters one and two) and after listening to them carefully, decided there was too much background noise.

My recording microphone, a Blue Yeti Nano.

So I ordered a boom to hang the mic, with a vibration-dampening mount. When they arrived, I reconfigured my “recording desk”–a bookshelf I use as a dresser.

And started recording again. I would record a chapter, listen to the audio track and edit out any flubs–word mistakes, bad pronunciation, etc–and correct pacing issues, and then record another chapter and edit it. I could do two chapters a day before my voice tired.

About two-thirds of the way through the narration, I decided to make some small changes to the read and show the shift in Richard’s physical voice through the story.

My closet recording studio, set up between my winter coats and my hats!

That meant re-recording some sections and splicing them in. No problem; I’m good at that. I finished the final audio-edit a few days before I was to leave for Wyoming for my second weed-management stint at the ranch.

Before I left, I talked to an engineer highly recommended for audiobook mastering. When I got home, I uploaded some sample files for him.

A few days later, he called. There was good news, and bad news. The good: “You read well, and your voice is compelling.” The bad: My recording levels were too low; when he boosted the levels, the background noise was too high. “You wouldn’t be happy with the final product,” he said. “I suggest you re-record the whole thing.”


Honestly, I said, I didn’t have the heart to start over right then. “Give it some time,” he advised.

I realized that I had just learned a life lesson I managed to avoid for more than 66 years: I can’t do everything myself. Sometimes it’s best to ask for help–before I jump in.

Me and my brother in about 1958, when I would have been two years old, and he four. That’s my “I can do anything you can do!” face. 

Growing up, I was the small, often sickly kid who struggled to keep up with her adored older brother. My first sentence, my mother said once, was “Do it myself!”

I have always believed I could. And here I am at 66, still trying to prove myself. It seems that it’s time for a change.

I called The Guy and poured out my disappointment, and added my realization about not always being able to do everything myself. As I said those words, I remembered one of the few real arguments we had. “You never ask for help!” The Guy said back then, clearly frustrated. “I need to know I bring something to the relationship!”

Now, I reminded The Guy of his words and said, “You were right.” He didn’t gloat. “Yes,” he simply said. “That’s an important realization.” He asked what I planned to do.

“I’m going to look for a recording studio nearby,” I said, “and in the meantime, the new book is taking all of my attention.” I could hear his affirmative nod over the miles between us. “Patience is good,” he said, voice dry.

“Another thing I’m not good at,” I said, and we both laughed.

Learning sometimes comes hard and takes time to digest. Still, I’m grateful to continue to grow.

What have you learned about yourself lately?

Embracing My Crazy Life

“How does life get this crazy?” my friend Lori asked this morning, as we were trying to find a time to meet and plan a pollinator garden.

I knew her question was rhetorical, but I wanted to answer anyway, to remind both of us that we’re choosing to spend our time in positive ways. “Life gets so crazy because we’re both active and involved people,” I texted back, “which is a good thing.”

Lori recently retired from a career in healthcare, and her days are filled with family, tending her horse community, and projects to benefit the community, like the pollinator garden.

I am retirement age, and although I have retired from the work of re-storying houses because it was time to settle, I am not likely to ever retire from writing or ecological restoration. I still have things to say, books and ideas circling in my mind, and I am still engaged in removing invasive weeds and helping heal and restore my patch of this earth.

Which means my life will continue to be a bit crazy. I’m finally embracing that, because I have realized that I love what I do and I’m not going to change.

Here’s a brief summary of my crazy life since I last posted on this blog, two and a half months ago:

• I researched and wrote the story of a photographer’s life and work for what will be a truly gorgeous (and fascinating) photo coffee table book to be published this fall by Portfolio Publications. That work involved dozens of phone interviews and weeks of organizing the material into a coherent narrative, as well as writing and fact-checking photo captions, plus writing the jacket copy, pull quotes, and front- and back-matter. Over 20k words in total, in less than three months. Whew!

Book jacket for the photographer’s book. Book and jacket design by Jenny Barry of Jennifer Barry Design.

• I drove six and a half hours to Colorado to guest-teach restoration ecology for a class in environmental ethics taught by my friend Evonne Ellis at Western State University in Gunnison. While I was there, I visited my house in Paonia, did some yard work, and gave the house some love. (And said hello to some bighorn sheep.)

Bighorn sheep licking road salt from the eastbound lane of US 50 by Blue Mesa Reservoir.

• I dreamed up and started filming “Weekly Wildflower,” my new series of one-minute-plus videos that profile local native plants and their relationships. I shoot each live on my morning walks, and they run on Wednesdays.

Click the link below to watch a sample “Weekly Wildflower.”


You can follow me on FB, Instagram, or Twitter to see the videos. Eventually they will migrate to Substack and come out as weekly newsletters. Once I figure out how Substack works, that is!

Sunrise from the porch of my cabin at Ring Lake Ranch. It’s a glorious place!

• I spent two weeks in Wyoming, mostly at Ring Lake Ranch, the spiritual retreat center/guest ranch were I worked the past two summers. At the ranch, I worked on eradicating invasive weeds, either by pulling them up outright or spraying them. And then I headed home to Cody to hang out with friends (thank you, Connie and Jay!) and soak up the sagebrush country in spring, resplendent with Indian paintbrush in bloom.

Northwestern indian paintbrush blooming in the McCullough Peaks east of Cody.

• I was barely back from that 2,000-mile roadtrip when I learned that the latest offer on my Paonia house (there had been several, but none had made it to closing) was actually going to close the following Friday. So on Thursday afternoon, I set off on yet another road trip to western Colorado, spent one last night in my Paonia house, attended closing, and drove the seven hours back to Santa Fe Friday night tired and very relieved to be home for good!

My sweet Paonia house this spring

• Last week, I set up my recording studio in my closet, and began narrating the audiobook version of my memoir, Bless the Birds. This project has been nagging at me since before the book’s publication two years ago, but I wasn’t ready until now. I had forgotten how much I love narration, and the seductive lure of telling stories to an invisible audience. So you can think of me in my closet, headphones on, reading away.

The recording studio in the corner of my closet….

These are not easy times, to say the least. But I am happy. I embrace my crazy life because I am doing useful and positive work, and I have wonderfully supportive friends and family. As I wrote in Bless the Birds, I am old,

I have lived through loss, fear, and pain. I am still walking forward, still finding joy in the lives around me, human and moreso. Still loving.

That’s the key: Still loving.

My hope for you, dear friends, is that you are also still loving this life and this planet. And that you are still working on positive contributions to our communities, each other, and our Earth, no matter the difficult times. Thank you!