The short story: I’ve lived with nature my entire life, and, following this interest, went to university for biology. After several years as a traveling field ornithologist, I began to turn my focus to a (hopefully) more stable home-based freelance career in writing. I live with my longtime boyfriend, our two dogs, and three cats in a log home on 130 acres located west of Perth, Ontario.
The long story: I grew up on five acres in the countryside west of Toronto. Nature was always part of my life. As a child, I remember looking for fairy shrimp (we called them “gillfish”) in the cold, shallow water of our small vernal pond in the spring. I recall watching deer feed on the windfall under our ancient, spreading apple trees on a bright winter night. Of tapping the maple trees for syrup, and stargazing on clear nights with my dad. We spent most of our free time outside, my sisters and I, and I think it was this early and complete immersion in nature that really fostered my love of it.
When it came time to go to university, I chose to go into biology, my favourite subject in high school. I graduated with an Honours in Zoology and spent several years working as a field ornithologist. I traveled a lot, my contracts taking me from California to Quebec, British Columbia to Ohio. Finally I decided I’d had enough of the road, and wanted to settle down, spend a full season someplace. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places hiring ornithologists, and I wasn’t keen to restrict myself to a cubicle anyway, having spent these past years with nature as my office. I took some local contracts with bird research still, but I began turning my focus away from ornithology and into something that I hoped would still allow me the flexibility of self-employment but without all the travel.
You could argue that the turning point occurred in 2008, when my boyfriend and I decided to leave Toronto. Mostly by chance, we ended up in a house overlooking a small lake on the borders of Frontenac Provincial Park, north of Kingston, Ontario. It was love at first sight, and we moved in that summer. The area where we now found ourselves seemed to offer an embarrassment of natural riches, with rare or interesting species at every turn. We spent a lot of time outside that summer and autumn, drinking it all in. Though circumstances forced us to leave the following year, we left our hearts behind there. We currently live on 130 lovely acres at the edge of the Canadian Shield, but while I love to hike around them and make new discoveries here, they don’t call to my soul the way the Frontenac Arch does. Eventually, I know, I will return there.
I left my ornithology contracts behind in Toronto, so I began to focus on developing my new career. Prior to the move I had collaborated with my friend David Beadle on a new project, a field guide to moths. I think I used up a good deal of my career karma when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt bought the book for publication in their Peterson Field Guide line. For the last few years that’s been my primary focus. However, I’d always had the desire to eventually break into literary nonfiction, to write the sort of books that authors like Scott Weidensaul or Tim Flannery, idols of mine, wrote. This continues to be a goal of mine, and since completing the manuscript for the moth field guide I’ve been working on some draft materials along these lines.
In the summer of 2009 I discovered fiction. I’d always been a passionate reader since my mom taught me to read at a very young age, but I had made few attempts to actually write any myself, aside from a few short stories my sister and I produced when I was about 12 (I wrote; she illustrated). I’m not sure anymore what the stimulus was; I can’t even recall if it was a deliberate decision to try writing fiction, or an impulse that overcame me, perhaps struck by a story idea as I was driving to visit family (all of whom are more than an hour away, leaving lots of time for the mind to wander). Whatever it was, I gave in to it and started to write a novel. And I loved it. I had an absolute blast writing that first story, thrilling with each new discovery of plot twists and revelations. In retrospect it was a pretty cliched plot with weak character development. But it was fun. I finished it in about six months, and promptly started in on another novel. I fell in love with it all over again. By the time I finished novel number two I knew I was hooked. I got the same sort of addictive rush from writing fiction that I did from reading an absorbing page-turner. I’m now revising novel three (number two having had similar shortcomings to one). Whether or not I ever sell any fiction, I suspect I’ll be a writer for life.
Outside of these pursuits I also maintain a blog about my experiences and observations in nature. I started this in January 2008 during a bout of cabin fever, but it’s one mid-winter project that’s stuck. It’s changed how I view the world while out on walks. I now pay a lot more attention to details that I might once have passed over, the plants and the insects and fungi and everything else. It’s also forced me to learn a lot more about nature than I would have done without it. I don’t often go for walks without my camera now, and I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things. I use a Canon Digital Rebel XTi and three lenses to take all of the photos found on this site. You can read more about my equipment here.