Women, Bugs and Storytelling

“The Hexapods are funny folk who have six feet. That is they have six when they are grown up, though some of the children have none at all, and some have as many as twenty-two. You can tell from this that they are strange people, and you may call them fairies if you like!

They have wings, – the grown-up ones do, – wonderful wings of many shapes and colors. Luna’s wings are green, – pale, pale green, – and very lovely, with a purple border on them. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful in the world than Luna’s wings. When Van flies, you can see the yellow edge of her brown wings; and when she alights – hesto! presto! you can see nothing at all; for she disappears from sight even though she is near enough to touch. Carol wears her wings neatly folded like a fan, except when she is using them. And Gryl, the little black minstrel – oh, Gryl fiddles with his wings.”

Photo from edithpatch.org, web site about Edith Patch, including list of her children’s books.

Thus begins the introduction to Hexapod Stories by Edith Marion Patch. Patch wrote a series of children’s books, (sadly now out of print, but older copies can be found) which were not written just as whimsical tales of make-believe characters, but as tales that educate, with scientifically accurate details and illustrations, about the natural world. Luna (a moth), Van (a butterfly), Carol (a grasshopper), and Gryl (a cricket), are the characters of three of the tales in Hexapod Stories. In each of their tales of adventure the reader learns about their lives, life cycles, habitats, etc.

Dr. Edith Marion Patch was first and foremost an entomologist. Growing up she studied water, bugs, birds and plants, but it was bugs that became her career, both as researcher and educator. Though women in the sciences were not common in her time, especially in entomology (they still aren’t), in 1904 Edith became the head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Maine, and in 1930 she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America. She was the first woman in both these positions.

In her lifetime she was known not only for her discoveries of species, but for her passion to educate the lay person about Nature. Besides her children’s books, written in the early 1930s, which sold well, in the mid 1930s she had a radio show focused on making the natural sciences interesting to the public.

In a speech she gave in 1936 at the meeting of the Entomological Society of America called, “Without Benefit of Insects,” Patch urged the protection of insects, predicting that by the year 2000, if the heavy use of pesticides was not curtailed, many species of birds and insect pollinators would decline, some becoming extinct. Sadly, her science-based warning was not heeded.

There is a good chance you never heard of Edith Marion Patch. In spite of her popularity in her life time, primarily due to her children’s books, and her prolific attempts to make the natural sciences popular, like many women in science, her reputation is known only to those in her field, and likely not even to all of them. Edith died in 1954.

Preceding Patch by a few centuries, there was Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), considered the founder of entomology and, by some, the first environmentalist.  Merian was the first to observe and understand insect metamorphosis. Her life story is remarkable, made more so by the era in which she lived, when not only were women not scientists, but science itself was suspect. Median’s influence on the general public’s knowledge of Nature was through her beautiful and detailed art.  Though she made many breakthrough discoveries in scientific research of insects, she is known mostly for her art.

A few detail paintings of insect life cycles by Maria Sibylla Merian. (Three articles on the life of Maria Merian – Christian Science Moniter, Botannical Artists, Brainpickings)

In reading about these women I reflect on a contemporary woman in science, botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, born in 1953, a year before Patch died. I imagine they would have enjoyed each other’s company, as Patch would of enjoyed Maria Merian (and undoubtedly knew of her!). I’ve been reading two of Kimmer’s books – Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a member of the Potawatomi Nation, Kimmer’s perspective and writings on Nature blend and reflect the cultural perspective and values of her tribe with her knowledge as a scientist. Her observations of Nature are delightfully detailed, her observations of the relationship between people and Nature poignant. She brings the same awe and passion to her observations and writings that Patch brought to her children’s stories, that Merian brought to her art. Her books are popular, her observations resonant with and educate readers.

There are other women of science who were, and are, remarkable in their contributions to scientific knowledge. What stands out as I read their stories is how many of them desired not just to learn and discover the mysteries of Nature, but to share those mysteries, to educate others.  They are story tellers.

“Dancing with Bugs”, from a series of flower doodle girls I made. Nothing scientific about it, but I like my bug! And I hope it tells a story of joy in Nature!

When I was growing up I wanted to be a botanist (also a historian!) but challenged by math comprehension in high school, I gave up that goal. As a child I had my little nature desk in the garage where I would collect and observe bits and pieces of the natural world, from a dead beetle or butterfly to an unusual rock or plant, a habit I’ve never outgrown! But my goal was not research, but education, to become a ranger or summer camp teacher to “turn on” other folks to the mysteries of Nature. Perhaps it’s a “woman’s thing”…..to teach and share Mother Nature. To be story tellers.  I wonder if I had known of Edith Patch or Maria Merian I would have been inspired and not given up my interest to learn more and share my love for the intricate wonders of nature.  Though they both faced obstacles even greater, in the 1960s girls were still not given much support for such endeavors. I had great science teachers, but math teachers simply told me I couldn’t do math, there was no extra support available, no calculators, and to advance in science, I had to advance in math. Or so I was told.

If you have a desire to pass on your love of nature to children or grandchildren, I encourage you to track down copies of Dr. Edith Patch’s books. They are available for download on-line and can be found in bookstores that carry old books.  Delightful and educational, they are stories for children and adults! Reading them to girls will send the message that bugs and birds are cool and becoming a scientist and studying them even cooler!

And if you have not read Kimmer’s books (many of you have likely read Sweetgrass), I highly recommend both. I’m grateful for her perspective and consider her one of the top contemporary Nature writers and a spokesperson for the environment……for the Earth.


A year later

Remember when you watched cartoons growing up, the good and evil thoughts of a person would be depicted as a mini angel and devil sitting on opposite shoulders of some poor, conflicted, cartoon hero? These mini-characters represented the hero’s subconscious and often got into their own little comical battles, one finally triumphing over the other, the victor kicking the loser off his shoulder perch.

A year ago today I had a real life experience with those two. I wouldn’t say they were representatives of good and evil, but definitely two parts of my subconscious…the altruistic and the self-preserving.

Dr. Claire Buchhan, her eyes smiling, take with my iTouch as I was fading away. The iTouchwas for the music I listened t

Dr. Buchanan, eyes smiling, taken with my iTouch (for music during surgery) as I faded away.

It’s been one year today since I had a mastectomy, a day I remember well. There wasn’t too much drama and trauma to my experience, just anxiety, the anxiety I feel going into any surgery, and of course I wondered what life would be like with one breast. Thanks to the wonderful support of my husband Mike and cousin Shaun, and the most personable, down to earth, skilled team of doctors – surgeon Dr. Claire Buchanan, and the anesthesiologist (whose name I’ve forgotten), I felt in good hands, literally, and well cared for. The drama and trauma I witnessed was that of another woman who also had a mastectomy that day. Here is my weird mastectomy story:


Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., looking pretty relaxed for pre-masectomy! I was in good company!

Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., pretty relaxed for pre-mastectomy! I was in good company!

My surgery was in the afternoon and it was dark out when I was wheeled into the tiny, pie-shaped hospital room where I was to spend the night. Mike was not there, he was in the hospital cafeteria eating dinner with my sister-in-law, hospital staff had not reached him yet. I lay alone in the darkness, still groggy, and could hear a woman screaming right outside the door to my room. (She was actually in the next room.)

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m bleeding!”

“There’s a hole in my chest!”

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m going to die!”

These were the words she screamed, repetitively, as loud as she could, with great horror and panic in her voice. I lay there listening, apparently no one was able to calm her or stop her fearful, angry rant.

My first thought was “I need to get up and go to her, they don’t know how to deal with her.” This is the deep-seated social worker persona in me, the one who worked with people with schizophrenia, people having manic episodes, as well as people experiencing fearful traumas, such as domestic violence.

Then the other voice chimed in “Are you crazy! YOU just had a mastectomy yourself!” Nothing practical like “you can’t even get out of bed”, just the voice of reason…why would you even think of addressing her emotional trauma when you just had the same experience she had!

My little altruistic cartoon buddy got kicked out.  Self-preservation won, I not only came to my senses (which were pretty dull from drugs), but I tried to put the plaintive screams out of my head, which was not easy…they went on until 10 or 11 that night. (I learned the next day they finally got a psychiatric doctor to order a sedative, administered by injection, to calm her.)

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

I still felt compassion for this woman, and sad her issues were not addressed better and more immediate. The next day I got a peek at her, sitting in her room, still looking angry, but subdued. She looked life-worn.

On my follow-up visit two weeks later, I asked the surgeon what it was like to tell someone who may have mental illness that they have breast cancer. (I don’t know that the screaming woman had a diagnosed psychiatric disability, her explosive anger and fear may have been triggered by the surgery and/or medications.) My doctor told me she has had people explode at her, threatening her life, when she told them they had breast cancer, and they weren’t people with mental illness.

Life is so messy, there are so many challenges for us all.

Here I am a year later. Not an easy year. A month after the mastectomy I had a skin cancer removed from my lip.  Once I recovered from the mastectomy I began the task of closing my mom’s estate, she died a month before the surgery. Like most people with one or more cancer experiences (this was my third go-around with breast cancer), I live with the great unknown. It’s like an umbrella over you, sometimes blocking the sun with its shadow, but you constantly try to close it and put it away somewhere in the corner of your mind. The preventive meds I’m supposed to be taking cause too many bad side effects and aggravate other health conditions. When on them deep muscle and joint pain cause me to be dysfunctional. The oncologist says I’m one of the small number of women who can’t ‘tolerate’ them.  I follow a protocol of supplements. I’m trying to learn better self-care.  My self-preservation cartoon-character was strong and loud that night a year ago, but I too often ignore her in day-to-day living.

It has also been a year of deep appreciation. I’m acutely aware of multiple little blessings in my life. Often over shadowed by the BIG challenges, they accumulate and fill me up.

I hope the woman in the room next door has had even half the blessings and love I’ve had this past year. It would sooth her soul.

IMG_3641Note to readers: Very grateful to those who took time to do the poll in my last post. It was very helpful to get feedback. Equal votes for Nature and personal stories, photos appreciated (sorry for that lack of in this post), a few requests for more recipes, and comments that let me know I’m doing ok and should continue to give voice to my muse! Thank you!  I have lots of December nature topics floating around, hope to catch one soon!



International Women’s Day

There no doubt will be many blog posts and articles written today about the state of women throughout the world. It ain’t easy being a woman in so many ways, and in so many places, but the world, and my life, is full of awesome, remarkable women of all ages and in all places. I share my facebook post for the day with my blog readers……for all the amazing women of my life! (As for the men among my readers, I know you have raised remarkable daughters, loved extraordinary women, appreciate your own ‘inner female’!)

International Woman’s Day…..To my woman friends, nieces, soul sisters, sister-in-laws, cousins……celebrate yourselves today!

womenYep, this is one of my doodle girls. I have a series of cartoonish character’s, doodling seems to be the upper limit of my artist talents, I’ve come to accept that! :o)  For more doodles you can check out my Doodle Page!

To read something a little more ‘substantial’ about International Women’s Day check out last year’s post. International Women’s Day, 2012

You Are Remarkable! International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, now a UN sanctioned multicultural event blended into many cultures, yet started as a socialist political statement.  There will be events honoring women in science, history, government, and various other professions.  There will be joyous celebrations to simply bring women together, and serious discussions about the plight of women worldwide. In spite of this annual celebration of women, women still struggle throughout the world for equality in the workplace, basic human rights, and often for their lives.  Women are exploited everywhere.  It is a bittersweet day if you look closely.

However, I pondered this morning about the women in my life, a long list covering a broad range of ages, social-economic backgrounds, political leanings, religious beliefs, education and professions, moms and non-moms.  To be honest, it takes my breath away when I think of the women I know.  If they were in a room together it would be a room of power, energy, healing, multidimensional experience, love and compassion. Most of all of laughter!

Having not had my own children, I’ve been privileged to know many remarkable young women as friends, including my nieces. I have an ‘official’ goddaughter, but there are other young women I consider ‘goddaughters’ in that they are a blessing in my life. This group of women beam with energy and light, have creativity that is boundless, are full of hopes and dreams.  I stand back and marvel!

There is a cadre of women in my life a bit younger than me; I guess they might be considered in ‘mid life,’ who balance lives of motherhood, entrepreneurship, professional jobs, etc.  I am astonished at the vitality and intelligence of these women.

Then there are the women I have ‘grown older’ with or met at this time of life, women with a depth and richness to their very beings that comes with experience, hardships, joys and disappointments, heart aches and hearts that are full.  I notice many of them growing more open, more honest, with themselves and others.  They are my peers on this journey but they are also my mentors.

Sadly, my list of ‘elders’ grows shorter each year, and includes my mom, who, even with her changing mind, still exhibits a resiliency and strength that is awe-inspiring. There are a handful of elderly women I am blessed to know. They teach through example that in acceptance there is peace and strength.

Most the women I know will not be reading this, but those who do, (and I know who you are!) you should take this personal and know that I find you beyond remarkable, you are my role model, my inspiration, you play your part on whatever stage of life you are on with grace and aplomb I find awesome!  You have a story I would be honored to write, a story that would inspire anyone who reads it.

(Footnote: A few years ago I wrote a short bio for my friend Marsha, who needed a bio for her web site and press releases about her art.  I have interviewed and written about people for articles I’ve written, but the process of a focused interview with a friend, was something we both enjoyed.  I really would like to write your story, let me know if you are open to it, I would like to start a collection of short bios on the women I know. You can read Marsha’s bio on her web site: The Art of Marsha Hollingsworth)