About Priscilla

I am a writer, editor, and Earth-advocate whose passion for connecting with nature was reawakened as an adult. As a child I loved to read, and my nature connections developed a contemplative tone. I could sit for hours enjoying the flowing threads of a birch tree’s branches or staring at raindrops dribbling down a window.

Many people are curious about my Mennonite upbringing. My tribe did not belong to the small fraction of Mennonites who wear dark clothes and drive buggies. The vast majority of Mennonites look like everyone else, and we did too.

What these farmers did was sing—four-part unaccompanied hymn singing in every church service. Imagine a three-hundred-voice choir of angels, and you’re pretty much there. Music was embedded in my cells, and until I was thirty I was tempted to become a professional musician. I am drawn to rhythm and flow of language, and the kind of writing that elicits my deep yes is often lyrical.

A Mennonite heritage also gave me a firsthand look at community, both its strengths and its stresses. I grew accustomed to viewing society from the edges, from the perspective of a minority, pacifist people who were never viewed kindly during times of war. While attending Goshen College, a small Mennonite liberal arts school in Indiana (BA, 1979), I learned that pacifism was but the tip of the iceberg and that a life of faith meant working for equality and social justice. Yes, however unbelievable it sounds, I got politically radicalized at a small Mennonite college. Because during my years of intellectual awakening I could pursue faith and reason with equal passion, no wedge was ever driven between them as it is for many students. Science and religion each had its place, its own valuable tools for understanding the world.

Moving to Berkeley, California, in my midtwenties, I received an MA in American religious history from Pacific School of Religion (1985) and a PhD in religious studies and feminist theory from the Graduate Theological Union (1997). My doctoral studies continued a habit since college days of studying several disciplines at once, but by then interdisciplinary inquiry had become the norm and no one suggested anymore that perhaps I didn’t know how to choose. I am now an affiliate faculty in the doctoral program of Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, and have taught at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

Early in graduate school, desperate for income, I realized that the only thing I knew was books, so I became an editor and discovered a profession I have enjoyed for more than twenty-five years. My most consistent client has been HarperOne, the religion arm of HarperCollins, for whom I have copyedited more than 220 books, spending ten thousand hours honing my writer’s ear to language. As a development editor, I consult on nonfiction manuscripts for publishing houses and individuals in North America and abroad and serve as a writing coach for authors creating nonfiction books.

While living in Oakland, California, inspired by a creek running through my hillside land, I became involved in urban creek restoration and then founded and for two years served as president of the pocket-park land trust called Butters Canyon Conservancy. I am now active in the local and international movement to recognize the legal rights of nature.

Going deeper on the path of connecting with nature has led to a spirituality rooted in the larger wisdom of nature. I offer consultations and workshops for those who wish to strengthen their relationship with their own sacred sources and to root their lives and work in an everyday spirituality of nature.

After living in Boulder, Colorado, for seven years, I recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with my partner, Tim, and our blue heeler mix, Bodhi, where we are looking forward to exploring the birds and bosques of New Mexico.

Q & A with Priscilla

why did you write Kissed by a Fox?

At first I just had good stories to tell about a tree or a creek and how deepening my connection with nature had helped me recover from a time of deep loss and despair. So I set out to write a memoir. But at some point I realized it wasn’t just my story. I had a larger story to tell about our culture’s attitudes toward nature—where they come from, how they helped us get into this ecological mess, and how changing our stories about nature might help us recover from it.

what do you want readers to get from the book?

Hope. Most of all, hope. That healing is possible, that nature can provide deep sustenance. And that our stories about nature can change—from pessimistic tales about how we are selfish to the core and how nature is cold, hard, and unfeeling to more hopeful tales about give-and-take, about reciprocity, about mutually responsive relationships with nearby creatures. I want readers to catch a glimpse of how we could live differently—that the rules of public commerce could change as we change our views of nature, and so we could make possible a fuller, richer life for everyone.

was it hard to learn creative writing after being an academic writer?

Creative writing actually came first. I’ve been keeping a journal or diary since I was very young. In my twenties I took one creative writing class, but it took almost twenty years before I got serious about the craft. Then in my forties I had a blast learning all about how to write a character, describe a scene, assess the pace of a narrative. A couple decades of editing had taught me a lot about how expendable words are, how important to use the right ones. Just getting rid of the opening paragraph can often work magic in a chapter, placing readers smack in the middle of the scene instead of boring them with a preamble. (It works for academic papers too.)

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you’ve been an editor for much of your life. is it hard to edit your own writing?

No, I actually adore it. It’s much easier for me to edit words that are already on the page than to dream up words to fill a page. The two processes are really just two faces of writing—listening for the sound, the pace of the words, tweaking until the words flow. The ten thousand hours I spent editing other people’s works were in a real sense ten thousand hours of writing practice. I’m a slow writer; I go inch by inch. A paragraph has to sing before it will inspire me to move on to the next one. So I tweak an idea or a paragraph until the flow is right, and then I can move forward.

what kind of writing inspires you?

In my twenties I was drawn to meditative writing, personal essays—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, May Sarton, Madeleine L’Engle. I was thirty-five before I discovered nature writing. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was a revelation. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams—that’s where I felt at home. Then there were years of listening to poetry, especially nature poets—Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry—and the simple but far-from-simple lines of Billy Collins. And of course Rumi.

your book includes a lot of history and religion and ideas about nature. which books have most influenced your thinking about nature?

Two moments stand out. One is when I discovered David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous many years after it was published. I read the introduction to that book, and I started tingling. I’d never seen anyone describe meditative communion with other creatures so compellingly. That night, still buzzing, I wrote out the table of contents to this book. The second is when Graham Harvey’s book Animism: Respecting the Living World came out in 2006. Until then my life had run on two separate tracks—a spiritual, “feeling” track over here, where I did my meditating and exploring in nature, and an academic, “thinking” track over there. The two tracks had almost nothing to do with each other. With Harvey’s book, they suddenly merged. Reverence for a living, breathing Earth brought them together.

where are you in your spiritual journey today?

The Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness.” You can’t do better than that. In my own path I continue to deepen my connections with nature, giving reverent attention on a regular basis to whoever happens to be nearby—watching, listening, learning from trees or birds or waters or bugs or soil. Giving full and respectful attention—isn’t that the simplest form of kindness? I practice setting aside time for reflection, which means listening to one’s own body, to one’s own deepest self, and to Spirit with the same reverent attention. Spirituality as relationship with self, Spirit, and nature, practicing kindness to all—it’s a very simple path, very humble in that it doesn’t require special props or techniques. And very life-changing.

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priscilla’s cv

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priscilla’s editing experience

author photo by dana rogers

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