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Sierra Magazine
Last Words

Where in the wild world do you go for inspiration?

Creatively, I bear the imprint of western North America: the blue mountains and long, dry sagebrush valley between, where I was born and live. But my inspiration lives in the human distance—between our self-consciousness and all else, between knowing and words, between me and you as you read this.

C. L. Rawlins, author of Broken Country: Mountains and Memory

Islands rejuvenate my imagination and energy. Nova Scotia, Guadeloupe, Eleuthera, Monhegan—it almost doesn't matter which. They all represent isolation and loss. On the edge of the rainforested sheer cliffs of Dominica, the surf pounds the stone. It eats acres each year. At the inlet to Beaufort, North Carolina, the sharp tides tear away the sandy sides of the barrier islands. Such erosion fills my writer's well and makes me hungry for life. The same tides nibble at all our lives, telling us to look now, discover now, create now before it's gone. Islands remind me that this whole earth is an island—lapped by the cold tides of space.

M. Garrett Bauman, Monroe Community College, Rochester, New York

For a writer, probably nothing inspires like a blank page or screen and a deadline. But for revitalization, the natural world in its many manifestations is essential. I've found refreshment in myriad places, from the Colorado Rockies, where I spend my summers, to the peaceful, kaleidoscopic vistas of a coral reef. Antarctica's extraordinary scenery and wildlife linger in my mind's eye, but so do the towering trees of Indonesia's and Brazil's rainforests, the lakes and broad plains of East Africa teeming with wildlife, arctic icebergs and Icelandic fogs, the friendly landscapes of Scandinavia, and Australia's ancient landforms. All stored in the memory bank to draw on at will: wealth beyond measure.

Anne Ehrlich, coauthor of The Betrayal of Science and Reason

Creativity and imagination for me spring from feelings of calm and connection, conditions inevitably arising from my sense of relation to the land, to the water, and above all else to other creatures. There is the exotic and spectacular—the occasional dose of life on a grand scale that hits you like pure adrenaline. Certainly, for me the African savanna remains the greatest show on Earth. But on an everyday basis, I find inspiration in the "ordinary" nature of a nearby park. This time of year my companions there are the hooded merganser, the mallard, and the goose. Yesterday there was the mystery of the great horned owl, and each day novel configurations of life and nonlife, and an ineffable wholeness never quite reducible to its constituent parts.

Stephen R. Kellert, professor, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and author of The Value of Life

"Bird Island" is not really an island, just a brushy draw surrounded by hills, woods, and swamp. Only my daughter, Beth, and I know where it is because it's our secret place. No one can see us because of the topography. In a backpack she carries drinks and sandwiches, and dog biscuits for the current Brittany. The three of us sit and watch warblers rustling through budding Yankee hardwoods or nighthawks slicing across an azure August sky or listen to frogs, jays, and katydids or to ruffed grouse drumming in gray, green, or golden aspens.

We make angels in the snow, and in mud season we cut pussy willows for Beth's mom. Once ticks crawled up our legs faster than we could pick them off. And once, on a hushed, mild October afternoon, leaves fell straight down from 2,000 feet; we've never figured out how they got up there. As a professional journalist, I can't afford to wait for "inspiration," but whenever I return with Beth from Bird Island I feel as if life is passing less swiftly and that, for a while at least, it's OK to write.

Ted Williams writes for Audubon, Sierra,and other national publications

I go to Colorado, to the mountains. That's home.

Theo Colborn, coauthor of Our Stolen Future


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