If you’re yearning for an Irish adventure this St. Patrick’s Day, but your budget has you staying in place, why not set out on a voyage to the Old Country with Síle Post’s courageous Áine O’Connor, as she journeys back to her homeland along the Dingle Peninsula, where a bequest and a mission await her?
The rightness of the move washes over her as she works to rehabilitate the neglected garden adjacent the stone cottage she’s inherited. “This was how it felt to be truly rooted in place,” wild salmon conservationist Áine muses. “To feel so close to the earth, the sky, and the sea – understanding the very life force that animates their essence, flows through humans as well, uniting all creation. Isn’t this the reason to live close to the Earth . . . To experience this life force pulsing through our veins, invigorating us to feel, to see, to love – real love.”
That real love of Place infuses Post’s beautifully written Your Own Ones, recently published by Vermont’s Green Writers Press. In environmental activist Dede Cummings, who founded the fast growing house just two years ago, Post says she’s discovered her “kindred literary spirit.”
Cummings, with a long history in publishing as a designer, agent, and author of seven books herself, felt called to create a press that would “make a difference.” "Our mission,” says Cummings, “’to give voice to writers and artists who will make the world a better place,' relies on building a community around publishing books that inspire our readers to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment."
According to Cummings, Post’s Your Own Ones “fits nicely” with Green Writers Press’s growing list of books addressing climate change, notable among them Don Bredes’s acclaimed Polly and The One and Only World, brought out by the press in 2014. “Post’s commitment to environmental sustainability and the local food movement, as demonstrated through the grassroots movement started in Ireland by her heroine in Your Own Ones, is linked to our mission and help us to augment a hopeful outlook for small groups, urban and rural, around the world that seek to work together to bring about change.”
With a Ph. D. from The University of Chicago, graduate studies in Ireland and Norway, a decade teaching American Literature and Nature writing, significant publications with university presses, plus continued work on the boards of several scholarly organizations, Post brings to her fiction an uncommon intellectual curiosity, thematic grace, and narrative ease and richness. Steeped as her work is in place and sustainability, however, it’s never didactic or admonishing.
Not one to sit idly by, Post has another book due out this spring, also from Green Writers Press: The Road to Walden North. Cummings says that this novel (as others forthcoming), “segue with our mission . . . [and] speak to quality of life and the beauty of nature, which is why her forthcoming The Road to Walden North was such an exciting acquisition for us. Post reimagines Thoreau's Walden through the eyes of her heroine, Kate, and many of us will be hopefully entertained and inspired by her writing."
The author, who has spent over half her life living in the White Mountains and Vermont, keeps that same hope close to heart. “I bring to my writing an overwhelming passion for Place,” says Post, as she creates “unforgettable characters who so love their special places, that they scale seemingly insurmountable challenges to protect them.”
The reward for her characters – intelligent, fully imagined souls who summon the courage to face those challenges -- is rich. So is the reward for readers who travel along with them.
What inspired you to write and publish two novels almost simultaneously?
As someone who had taught college literature and writing for well over a decade, I decided, much like Dr. Kate Brown, the heroine of my forthcoming novel, The Road to Walden North, to move from ‘talking the talk’ to ‘walking the walk’: writing my own fiction.
Living in northern Vermont, surrounded by my wonderful organic grower/farmer neighbors, has certainly taught me to adopt a lifestyle based on a ‘local foods-local living’ philosophy—‘grounded,’ so to speak, in actual experience. As one inclined to ‘sow the literary seeds of truth and simplicity,’ as it were, I felt compelled to create stories of local living in fiction.
While the Hardwick local food movement—and the incredible individuals that made it possible—shape the plot and themes of my novel, Your Own Ones, (though set in Atlantic Canada & Ireland), the experience of discovering the simple and the local life in Walden, Vermont, sets the narrative stage for my novel, The Road to Walden North.
Both of your novels have received very positive endorsements from acclaimed author, Howard Mosher. What links your writing?
A recent exchange with Howard Mosher triggered the realization that my decision to focus on writing fiction actually stemmed from the utterly transformational resonance for me of one of his stories. He had me at the title—who would not be smitten by a landscape (place) Where the Rivers Run North?
For almost a decade, while teaching college in Boston, I spent weekends and vacation time in a log cabin deep in the woods of the White Mountains, where I fell completely in love—with the landscape. Howard Mosher’s poignant depiction of the haunting, primeval beauty of the North Country—augmented by Jay Craven’s gorgeous film adaptation, (both of which I picked up one Saturday morning at the charming Village Bookstore in Littleton), struck me in some deeply soulful way. Mosher’s moving account of the people who assumed nearly insurmountable challenges to protect their cherished sense of Place, inspired me to write my own fictional odes to the special places in my life—and the people who endeavor to preserve their ways of living there.
Mosher has praised your “courage to write about big issues.” Tell us about the high stakes at heart in Your Own Ones.
Your Own Ones speaks to North Country readers interested in protecting their special places, as well as in preserving the cultural traditions and practices long associated with those places, that we have, for generations, called Home. Set in agricultural Ireland, the story of a rural place on the verge of losing its special identity, traditions, and local lifestyle, serves as a cautionary tale for both the Irish and Vermonters, alike.
The term, “your own ones,” refers to the natural elements of those special places—the hillside farms, grazing pastures, maple bush, forested mountains, and river-bend hollows that distinguish the landscape of Vermont from other places—as well as to the people who reside and work in those places: our families, friends, neighbors, farmers, and townspeople.
Idiosyncratic places—and the independent people who reside therein—face the daunting challenge today of losing their individual identity, their time-honored ways, even the topographical features of those special places, in the face of global economic forces seeking to homogenize cultures worldwide.
This issue surely resonates with anyone from such unique places as ours in Vermont, New Hampshire, (or even the traditional areas of Atlantic Canada & Ireland), who has traveled to the seemingly endless sprawl of a large metropolitan area, lined in miles of box stores and shopping malls, followed by residential ‘developments’ with identical houses or apartment buildings, both in this country and abroad.
Your Own Ones chronicles the success story of how, in common economic parlance, Main Street takes on Wall Street, in a deliberate return to their cultural ‘roots’, so to speak—their traditional and local food practices. Who would have thought that (heirloom) potatoes would save Ireland once again?
The “big issues” noted by Howard Mosher refer to the courage of the individuals who people my novel to confront those forces at work in eradicating the particulars of their (and our) special places. Your Own Ones tells the story of how individuals can make a difference, can shape the future of their special places—by simply trying.
Mosher also praises your forthcoming The Road to Walden North as: “Fascinating and original . . . following in the tradition of . . . Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” In what ways does your novel relate to Dillard’s remarkable work?
Heralded as a tribute to Thoreau, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek described phenomena through the lens of a naturalist, similar in kind to Thoreau’s essays, yet like Thoreau’s mix of naturalistic detail with metaphysical and transcendental insights, particularly in Walden, Pilgrim blends ‘observation and introspection, mystery and knowledge’—traits resulting in her winning the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
While obviously influenced by and grateful for Dillard’s example, I attempted to contribute to this tradition by relying on the genre of fiction, through writing a novel that blends the motifs of each chapter from Walden, with a contemporary story of the process of awakening for a set of individuals whose lives intersect, both on the campus of Harvard University and within the forested hills of Walden North, Vermont.
You might think of it as a fictional ‘Reader’s Guide’ to Walden for the modern reader. While many claim to have picked up Walden, even more (secretly) admit to not ever completing the book! It was my intention to provide in The Road to Walden North, an accessible, inviting, and intriguing story that illustrates for contemporary readers, the continued resonance of Thoreauvian themes in our lives today. At the same time, the novel celebrates the natural, the local, and the simple through focusing on selected unique characters living in the woods of Walden North, as well as those intrigued by their lifestyles.
Your heroines are intelligent, accomplished women who have worked hard to reach a place of prominence along challenging career paths. Yet they both step off to take the road less traveled. Tell us about Áine and Kate and the decisions they make.
While some novelists choose to set ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances, I prefer to focus on depicting extraordinary individuals confronted by ordinary circumstances—to see how life experiences, however un-dramatic, mundane even, might shape their actions, their sense of self, and their chosen paths in life. After all, often it is the ordinary, the coincidental, perhaps even the synchronous, events in life that result in life-altering, transformational, and transcendent changes. Of course, the subtle, sub-textual theme inherent in the stories of my female (as well as male) characters is to show that we can all strive to reach what Thoreau called ‘our higher selves’—often by following, the ‘beat of a different drummer’ along the ‘road less traveled’.
At the same time, though, I’d like to mention that both my novels are not overtly ‘preachy’, but rather humorous, actually—reminiscent of the ‘humor of Maeve Binchy,’ according to one reviewer. The female protagonists are depicted as modest, self-deprecating heroines with a great sense of humor, able to point fun at their own foibles and misunderstandings, related in witty dialogue. It’s humor, after all, that helps us cope—even thrive—in challenging times.
|The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, VT|
What’s your next literary adventure?
While I may have ‘many more lives to live’ as a novelist, like Thoreau, (who separated himself from living amid fellow Concordians in order to study and write about their culture in solitude at Walden Pond), I have returned to my special place in the forests of the White Mts., where I am completing my White Mountain novel, NorthWoods, as well as writing a sequel to The Road to Walden North, called The Vermonters. I think of my sojourn here in the Northwoods in the Wordsworthian sense of ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’: a literal Yeatsian return to my ‘cabin of clay and wattles made’ in the White Mountains—my ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’.
This interview appears in the March 2016 issue of The North Star Monthly. Check out their site:
For more information on Post and Your Own Ones, see her website: www.silepost.com
And for more on Green Writers Press, their mission, and their books, follow this link: http://greenwriterspress.com/