While award-winning writer and plant biologist Susan J. Twiet’s book Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying is about the death of a beloved husband, the author says it is not a sad story. Instead, it’s an exploration of living with love in a time of dying—an invitation to choose to live in the light of what we love, rather than what we fear.
The title of this memoir comes from the day her husband of almost twenty-nine years saw thousands of birds, or so he thought. They were harbingers of the brain cancer that would kill him two years later. Bless the Birds chronicles the couple‘s journey into the end of his life, framed by their final trip together—a 4,000-mile, long delayed, honeymoon road trip.
A prolific author of books and anthologies about nature, plant life and the southwest, Susan says it was her childhood that made her who she is. Her parents loved camping, hiking, and nature study, and they took their small family on the road for weeks at a time to explore the United States, Canada, and Mexico, focusing on the wilder areas of the American West.
Susan says she was born into a family of scientists, artists, and people in love with nature and the outdoors, and that her writing rises from the intersection of head and heart, love and loss, and science. Her mother was a librarian, and her father a research chemist. They lured her into getting a college degree by taking her to Cambridge, England for a year if she would agree to attend school afterwards. Her original idea was simply to take to the road with a camera after high school.
She followed through with her promise and earned a bachelor’s degree in botany and photography, but spent many of her college days doing research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Later, she attended graduate school at the University of Wyoming, majoring in grassland ecology and writing, but academics lost out to her love of botany fieldwork and writing.
The plant biologist began her career in Wyoming studying grizzly bear habitat, which involved collecting and dissecting bear poop. She also cored trees to map historic wildfires, and studied sagebrush. Susan began writing after realizing that she loved the stories behind the data as much as collecting the data. To date, she’s written over ten nonfiction books, many of which focus on interrelationships of the West’s living landscapes.
Susan thinks of herself as a plant geek, one fascinated by the relationships that weave ecosystems, which in turn provide the inspiration for her writing. “Plants are my people,” she says.