Horn of Plenty: Seasons in an Island Wilderness by April Newlin (Dr. April Rieveschl)

From the publisher: “In a series of encounters over seasons and years, Newlin captures the island’s intricate details from the terror of raging wind to the tickle of a snail’s foot. She camps on the edges, hikes the interior, and wades the lagoons, immersed entirely in fourteen rugged miles of woods, ponds, and marsh. In her prose, the island begins to coalesce as an intense and transformative place, a wilderness beyond the grip of mainland sprawl.”

Dr. April Newlin Rieveschl, once resident of New Orleans and graduate of LSU, writes as April Newlin. She is a nature writer. “This is a genre that is non-fiction literature about the natural world,” she explained. “It can include personal essay, natural history, narrative and journal writing. It is interdisciplinary in the sense that nature writers come from many different disciplines – creative writing, biology, ecology, history, astronomy, etc. Some of the better known writers would be Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Rick Bass, and Terry Tempest Williams.”

Horn of Plenty is a work of natural history, combined with personal narrative, about the wilderness island, ten miles off the coast of Mississippi, called Horn Island. With no roadway access, no facilities, no water or electricity, April and her husband traveled by boat to reach this remote site, remaining for days and even a week at a time to research and experience this piece of natural wilderness.

Horn Island was first popularized by the watercolor artist, Walter Anderson whose work hangs in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, at the Walter Anderson Museum, and also has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. For Horn of Plenty, Donald Bradhurn, winner of the Ansel Adams Inaugural Award for conservation photography, contributed his photos to April’s book.

How did she come to write? “I have always had an abiding love of the natural world,” she said, “imprinted from an early age during summers in Waveland, Mississippi and during many family vacations to wondrous landscapes such as Yellowstone.” About 15 years ago, she started reading the nature writers and from there, began her own work. Along the way, she had the help of a very special western writer named Ann Zwinger who became her mentor.

In 1996, April sent in her first submission but never received a response. “Then one day,” she said, “my husband was perusing nature books in a bookstore and came across my essay, in the anthology that had not responded to me, American Nature Writers.”

“In time,” she said, “I became more daring and decided to write a column in the local weekly near our beach house in the Florida panhandle.” While living in New Orleans, running her practice and raising their two sons, she wrote the column Wild Sense, for a full seven years. She has also written for many other venues including magazines such as Audubon and journals such as The Michigan Quarterly Review and Isle, a publication of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Her latest piece, “Hatch”, will be out next fall, in an anthology of nature writing edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Cohen. She has also become a Master Naturalist in Florida in both Coastal Systems and Wetlands. And, she received a Florida Press Association award for outdoor writing. She and her work are featured in the educational video for the National Seashore Parks along the Gulf Coast.

So, why write? “Because I want to give voice to the beauty and wonder of the natural world, to remind people of their connection to place, and to invite them into that way of being in the world. This is where psychology and nature writing intersect for me. We, as a culture, have become increasingly disconnected from nature and I think that diminishes us. As Thomas Berry said, ‘you can’t have healthy people on a sick planet.’ Theodore Roszak wrote that our relationship with the natural world is but a shrunken vestige, that we have repressed and forgotten the richness and essence of that connection. When place becomes familiar, it becomes part of who we are, it expands our sense of self, it shores up our sense of identity. Heinz Kohut’s concept of self-object works here – the natural world ‘functions’ for the self to shore it up, stabilize it, expand it. I think that it is in our relationship with the other than human world that we discover and realize many more aspects of our own humanity. Have you ever found yourself in the gaze of a wild animal, locked eyes with a bald eagle, come eye-to-eye with a 300 pound loggerhead as she surfaces and breathes? These moments will take you to places within yourself that you cannot get in any other way. Some researchers say that our experience of nature is carried with us after we return to our daily lives, that it enhances our mood and changes how we feel – they call this ‘the wilderness effect’ and it is palpable. Those who live close to the land know their place like an ‘other.’ Knowledge of the birds and their song, of the plants and their seasons brings a familiarity that becomes love. E.O. Wilson calls it ‘biophilia,’ the love of life, of living things. And he says that this is part of who we are, that, you might say, it is instinctual. For me, writing about the natural world couldn’t be a more natural endeavor.”

“I’m listening to the roar of Ida this morning as she swings past on her way inland. I always have a sense of living on the edge here, but never more so than during one of these storms.” (Newlin to Nelson in personal communication.)

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