AN EXPLORING LIFE
Have you ever held a live tarantula? Has a wild polar bear ever breathed in your face? Are you curious about everything? Do you love to look, explore and discover things….read like mad….write….draw….make things?
Happily I can answer, “Yes,” to all of those questions. Growing up in Wisconsin on a big lake, with my aunt and uncle’s farm a few miles away, there was a lot to explore. With no television until I was in junior high school, outside, was a great choice.
Before I could sit up, my father read aloud to me. As years passed, he read everything from comic strips with crazy made up words, to musty old books from the basement boxes….classics he called them, the books he loved as a child. I loved the black words lined up in rows in the books with no pictures that made pictures in my mind transporting me to faraway places and great adventures. I began to read when I was four and got a library card as soon as I could write my name going forward.
Soon my dad began to read National Geographic. He let me keep all the maps and tape them to my bedroom walls. When my fourth grade teacher pulled down a huge map hanging over the chalkboard, saying, “I give you the world,” I took it. I wished for a magic carpet to go everywhere.
A diary with a lock and a tiny golden key was my favorite tenth birthday gift. What do you want to be when you grow up? asked a question on page one. I scribbled in…..”I am going to be an artist and an author and an actress and an architect….
Now when my father walked us down the trials in state parks, I brought my sketchbook and pencils and wrote poems and drew what I saw in the woods.
After graduating from college, teaching, marrying, having a daughter and three sons, I was delighted to become a stay at home mom. Our yard was full of kids winter and summer and
like my grandmother who taught me to sew, I began to design and make toys and quilts for my children. Liturgical banners and vestments for churches and cathedrals followed. When my youngest child went to nursery school, I was alone in my strangely too-quiet house. What would I do with all my alone days in the future?
Rearranging my books on their shelves one day, there was the diary my aunt had given me. I read my list …..”artist, author, actress, architect”… I had become an artist, a fiber artist making art from cloth. Maybe I could become an author too, but to be an author, first one must become a writer…Seeing an ad in a magazine that asked, "Do you think you could write books for children?" I answered, yes, took the class, and its last assignment became my first published book about the biome of the deciduous forest of Wisconsin, titled The Goodnight Circle.
That writing class awakened my curiosity. I wanted to write about every biome on planet Earth. Next I chose the Arctic biome and began my reading research. Then one day I turned the facts I learned ...and questions for which I had no answers....into a poem about a polar bear.....
Great Crystal Bear
padding across ice floes,
where is your bed?
Is it a drift of silver snow
in the starry night?
Are the light-curtains waving
in the midnight sky your blankets?
Who tucks you in polar bear?........
Flamingo Knees by Carolyn Lesser
When the poem ended......I knew I had to go and see for myself. Soon I was on a big plane, then a small plane...then into a tundra buggy headed to Gordon Point, outside of Cape Churchill.....with all my gear: a new duffle of Arctic clothes, and massive boots, my journal, pencils, camera, and binoculars, to study polar bears, in the wild, for my new book, Great Crystal Bear.
I had to feel Arctic wind on my face......hear the cry of Peregrine falcons flying from their nest on the butterscotch cliffs in the midnight sun of the Arctic Circle one summer evening.
It was both my curiosity and speaking at schools in the United States, Europe, China, and the South Pacific that took me to other biomes.... prairies, rocky shores, oceans, mountains, and alpine tundras. When I arrived on the South Pacific islands of Guam and Palau, a wonderful guide and I swam through a cave into a lagoon where I swam with millions of jellyfish.
One day, on some plane to somewhere, I remembered the childhood diary and realized my presentations as a speaker had made me an actress, too. My travels became journals full of book ideas waiting their turn in my mind and sight and on my shelves. My address changed more than a few times, as my life took some unexpected detours.
When I was awarded a Science Writing Fellowship at The Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, MA, on Cape Cod, I found home...the landscape of my soul. I rented a house on a pond, stayed way past the fellowship, and wrote the life of the pond beyond my windows....and so many, many memories of my travels, in those “Pond Songs.”
All photos Carolyn Lesser
I continue to write nonfiction for it satisfies my insatiable curiosity and there are places I have been that I would like to show you, especially now that our Planet is experiencing climate change. In my nonfiction, I want to take you back in time...show you how it was. Then catch you up to date about now....Who knows? One of you may become an environmental scientist and help combat climate change.
And now, as I create a new website, I realize I am having a bit of a renaissance…actually more than a bit of one, I have to say, as I have become an illustrator......adding another dream-come-true to the dream pile begun in my diary at age ten.
St. Louis, Missouri is now home. I love living close to my children and my grandchildren, and now spend more time writing and illustrating and less time travelling.
When I found this quotation by Mary Oliver......"What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" I answered quickly....."
"I will do exactly what I am doing and have always done….work and love amid family and friends on this wondrous Planet….live life and love life to the fullest."