I wanted to intrude myself into the pieces and write them primarily as encounters with the natural world. What interested me from the start was what people make of nature, what their reactions to the natural world are, what that says about us as human beings and about human nature. That was equally interesting to me, as interesting as the ecological importance of various habitats or creatures . . . I’ve always been very grateful to have had the chance to do those local columns. They allowed me the freedom to develop myself as a writer—nobody ever told me what to write or how to write it. And then the exposure it gave me led to magazine articles and eventually books.
I always say—and I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it up—that I didn’t know the difference between an oak and a maple until I was 25 at least. And I didn’t see any reason to know the difference until then.
We are all part of nature, and that’s become a cliché, but in some fundamental, deep ways that people don’t want to recognize, I think we need nature . . . I feel the value in what I write is to try to remind people why it is that we care so much about the natural world—what’s really at stake, what really touches us. And that’s a complex and sometimes contradictory thing. I like to try to use myself as sort of an everyman figure and express all of those complexities and contradictions.
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In 1994, I moved from Brewster to Wellfleet . . . The ocean and the beach had always most fascinated me, and I had written about them a lot as well, so I was sort of naturally drawn here. The other thing is that Wellfleet, as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, has 60 percent of its land protected as federal land. It’s a very different situation when you live in a town like this. Among other things, it gives you this psychological buffer—almost two-thirds of this town is already protected. You don’t have to worry that it’s going to disappear the next day.
I do identify myself with this place. This is my home. I’ve traded quahogs for oysters (laughs).
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The radio show (WCAI’s A Cape Cod Notebook) has let me be a little more honest as a writer. One way or another, most of the material I get for my writing comes out of journals I’ve been keeping for more than 40 years now. There’s always a lot more in there besides natural history, and now I sort of have the chance to use that. There are number of these radio essays that have nothing obvious to do with the natural world at all.
It’s like a radio haiku, I suppose: Can you say something significant or worthwhile or stimulating or intriguing in three and a half minutes? I think you can. I think the best radio people do that.
Nature is resilient in a way that we can’t anticipate and will continue to surprise us. Even when we’ve given up and we’re in despair, things will happen. I take a lot of heart and hope from that.