|From a pay phone at a gas station in Ocotillo, Calif., Susan Zwinger 69 reports shes researching the Sonoran desert and sacred American Indian sites for a magazine article. This is her life as a nature writer: on the road, living out of a tent and her pickup truck, and writing about it.
Her latest work, published in 1999, is The Last Wild Edge. The book details her solo journeys, spread over 12 years, from the Arctic Circle in the Yukon to the mouth of the Hoh River on Washingtons Pacific Coast. She traveled by pickup, sailboat, kayak, and on foot. The book has been described as a synthesis of science and poetry.
Zwinger earned a bachelors degree in art and English, graduating with honors; an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop; and a PhD in art education from Penn State University. She left a college teaching position in the mid-1970s to focus on the environment, ending up in Santa Fe, N.M., trying to sell her artlarge drawings, mainly of the desert. Fed up, she says, with the arrogance and competitiveness of the Santa Fe art culture, she moved to Seattle and hooked up with the Sierra Club Ancient Forest Committee, which fueled her interest in environmentalism and her writing.
In 1989, just months after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, she was hired as a summer interpretive ranger at Alaskas Kenai Fjord National Park. The place was packed with ecotourists and scientists studying the effects of the spill. I already felt like we were in an environmental crisis and felt the urge to work on environmental issues, she says. When the oil spill happened, it brought to a head all I already believed.
Back home in Washington state, schools asked her to speak about the spill and cleanup. She was also in demand as a writer. Her first book, Stalking the Ice Dragon: An Alaska Journey, (written before her summer in Alaska) was published in 1991 and won the 1992 Governors Authors Award in Washington state. Her other books are Women in Wilderness, an anthology of essays she edited with her mother, nature writer and illustrator Ann Haymond Zwinger; and Still Wild, Always Wild.
Susan Zwinger lives in Langley, Wash., an artists village on Whidbey Island about an hour north of Seattle. When shes not home writing, shes on the road researching, up to five months a year. Camping and living out of her pickup helps cut expenses.
Im broke, but Im having a wonderful lifeodd, unusual, and totally creative, she says.