A stewardship for our one and only Earth are an abiding concern for many of our planet’s inhabitants. When an author finds an opportunity to share with the world of readers her own passion for conserving our ecosystems, the book Creekfinding: A True Story is created. We hope you’ll find inspiration for your own exploration and conservation in this interview with Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Don’t miss reading the book … it’s a treasure.
Do you remember when you first had the idea to write this story?
I had been wanting to collaborate on a story with Claudia because I love her art so much. So, I was noodling about what we might do. On November 30, 2011, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published a story on Mike Osterholm’s creek restoration project. As soon as I read it I knew that was the story I wanted to tell and I hoped Claudia would want to do the illustrations.
Have you met Dr. Michael Osterholm? How did that meeting add to your story?
Shortly after reading the article I contacted the reporter, Orlan Love. He said I should talk with Mike and gave me his email address. I emailed him. Within a half hour I received an answer, “Call me. Mike.” That was the first of many conversations. About a month after that conversation my husband and I drove to Northfield, Minnesota to St. Olaf College where Mike was giving a talk on creek restoration.
Have you visited Brook Creek?
I have now visited Brook Creek. When I was writing the story, I read many articles about Mike’s restoration project and watched several videos. I visited Brook Creek in my imagination.
Your word choices are often evocative in a way another word would not be.
“Years later, a man named Mike
bought that field and the hillside.
Mike wanted to grow a prairie in
the old cornfield,
to partner with the sun and soil,
grow tall grasses and flowers.
The word “partner” evokes a sense of working with the land, as though the land were a conscious entity. Do words like this come naturally from your mind or do you find yourself hunting for them?
Mike had told me a story about the oak savannah that he also restored: once they cleaned out the weed trees so sunlight could get down to the forest floor, seeds germinated that had been waiting for a hundred years. It just seemed like he was partnering with the earth. And that word came to me as I was thinking about his work on the prairie.
There are ribbons of text woven into the illustrations, often highlighting a factual statement. Were these statements an original part of your manuscript?
The statements were originally just sidebars. It was Claudia’s decision to include them on a blade of grass or a ripple in the trout stream and I love the way the information looks and works. It’s there if readers want to find it, but it’s unobtrusive if they just want to read the text.
Did you discuss the illustrations for the book with Claudia McGehee, the illustrator?
Claudia lives only 19 miles from me so we talked together with an Iowa geologist about the Driftless. Claudia showed me her early sketches (and I loved them). And I went to her house to see her later sketches arranged on her dining room table. Once I saw them I realized I needed to do some editing — so that was a great part about working so closely. We even removed a sidebar or two that were just getting in the way of the story.
There are a number of joyful words in this book, “laughter” and “chuckle.” Why did you choose these words?
The sound of water has always been joyous to me. When I was growing up there was a seasonal “stream,” maybe a ditch, across the street from our house. I loved waiting next to that stream for the schoolbus. Also, this is a joyful story of restoration. There is also a hint of anthropomorphizing in the notion of “partnering” with the earth. I guess in my head it seemed as if the natural world can be a partner maybe it can also have or express joy.
In recent years, you’ve been working on books about people who are changing our world. Will Allen, Alice Waters, Dr. Michael Osterholm, and your newest book about Chef Roy Choi. Are these stories you feel compelled to tell?
I do. I love these stories of people who act out of passion (and that goes back to Wilson Bentley), do what they must do to make our world whole — restore creeks, grow good food in school yards or urban lots, serve good food in food deserts. I think I do this for myself, to remind myself that, though we have many problems in our world, many things to be worried about, there are people who are working out of love and conviction to make a better world for all.
As a writer, how do you see your role in creating a better world?
I want to write books that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I will never know if I succeed. But if one of my stories remained with children as part of “the furniture of their minds” I would feel good. I hope children will mix that memory with whatever else they have stored up and do something for this world that I cannot even imagine.
Don’t miss the companion interview with illustrator Claudia McGehee or the Bookstorm for Creekfinding: A True Story offering companion books and websites for further exploration or incorporation into lesson plans.