Nature abhors vacuums and gardens. Every garden is a Victory Garden. Every writer is a gardener.
Neighborhood blight provided my first real portal to a world beyond a poor family whose books were a Bible, Haliburtons' 2 books of world marvels, and a couple of Readers Digest collections. The village of Sea Cliff on Long Island's north shore had been largely left to decay after hurricanes devastated its once fashionable waterfront boardwalk and cars and trains took city people to much more inviting places. The stores were boarded up, the old Victorian houses and summer cottages were bargains for blue collar people. But the village and its K-12 school had a diversity that today's diversity police could only dream of.
And it had a library, good teachers, lots of first generation immigrants, vacant lots, a beach, and ball parks. An old waiter who opened a used book store in his spare time hired me at age 12. A little factory that made graphite impregnated asbestos gaskets gave me a chance to make money for books and gasoline. A biology teacher from Alabama took me south one vacation. A Boy Scout leader taught me archeology and at 15 I went to South Dakota to dig with the Unversity of SD's field crew. I also took the radio merit badge that required learning Morse Code, a skill that 40 years later would make it possible for me to join an expedition to the Russian arctic. The tungsten refinery in Glen Cove got attacked for its thick chemical coloring of the harbor and offered a scholarship to send a Sea Cliff student to college for 4 years.
I chose Duke because no one in my family had ever been to college and I knew I didn't look or talk like the people who went to the Ivy League schools. Besides, Duke had a big English Department, a soccer team, and it was half way from NY to Alabama where I thought I had fallen in love with a girl from my biology teacher's old school.
Duke was then a B grade university with several A level professors in every field. I took zoology from limnologist Dan Livingstone, history from Harold Parker, English from Bill Blackburn and Reynolds Price, anthropology from Weston LaBarre. Duke in those years also had more diversity than its present diversity police could dream of--lots of rural North Carolinians, northerners who couldn't get in the Ivy League, southern aristocrats. I took English with Anne Taylor and Fred Chappell. My roommate was David Deamer, now a well known expert on the chemistry of life's origins. I participated in a discussion/debate group with John Koskinen who would become Clinton's head of Management and Budget.
Duke sent me on to Oxford for a graduate degree. Not much diversity there except internationally. The class system stunned me and amused me. Still does.
After 9 years of teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with stints at Duke and Bucknell as guest lecturer, my diversity of interests got the better of me, and probably of my writing time. I went on to do experimental land development with environmental covenants, headed statewide environmental groups, built my own house in my own woods by my own creek and pond and lived there 10 times as long as Thoreau lived at Walden. And wrote about it.
I wrote about and write about everything I've done whether that's fiction for Redbook or land use planning for a newspaper in Kazakhstan.
Maspeth, NY USA
Ford Foundation fellowship for translation of German poetry.
National Humanities Series traveling road show
Science Writing Fellow at Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole
Several books selected for book clubs
New River Award for Conservation
Marshall Scholar, Oxford
Resident Adviser for Housing and Land Reform, Kazakhstan
Member of Oregon Mediation Association and active mediator
Coming Out of the Woods, (Perseus Books), a memoir
Invasive Plants, (Stackpole Books) co-author with daughter Dr. Sylvan Kaufman, first field guide to invasive plants in America's natural areas.
No Turning Back: Dismantling the Fantasies of Environmental Thinking (Basic Books)