One morning about a month ago as my Nielsen men were headed out the door for work/school, my husband called me to the door to see a “surprise” waiting there for me.  What I found was this graceful creature:

LunaWhile anyone might find this a pleasing sight, I should, perhaps, explain why it is of particular interest to me. I may have mentioned that I am a Gene Stratton Porter fan, and along with being a novelist Porter was also something of an amateur naturalist.  Her appreciation for the natural world appears even in her fiction.  In perhaps her most well-known (and my personal favorite) novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, Porter’s heroine earns her way through an education by collecting and selling natural specimens, particularly moths, from the Indiana Limberlost swamp where she lives.  So, while I have had an affinity for creeping things since childhood, my acquaintance with Porter’s novels has romanticized them for me.

I spent a certain amount of time that particular morning, even after the boys had gone, studying and photographing my visitor, expecting that when I opened the door again it would be gone.  I was wrong, however, for when I next left the house, I found the moth remained.  The boys and I continued what became a hobby in the next few days–this constant checking to see if our moth was still in residence.  It had occasionally moved a few inches, but for about five days it stayed on our porch.  The day we came out to find it finally missing left us with a real, but fleeting disappointment.  It didn’t take us long to forget about our visitor altogether.

Yesterday, in a moment of random thought I remembered our moth, and developed a sudden curiosity to identify it.  One brief online search led me to discover that our friend was, in fact, a Luna Moth.  The name alone was an exciting one to me, as it is one of the moths featured in A Girl of the Limberlost, but as I began to read the fine print my interest grew.

Apparently, Lunas are one of the largest moths in North America.  They are not necessarily uncommon, but seeing one is very rare as the creatures generally only live for up to 7 days.  They do not have mouths or eat, they simply emerge from the cocoon, reproduce, and die.

My seven-year-old has a recent interest in unusual animal facts.  A couple of weeks ago while he was astounding us with strange and amazing tidbits of information he was finding in an animal book, he shared that may-flies, similarly, do not eat, but merely live to reproduce and die–their lifespans sometimes being as short as a few minutes.  This spurred me into some thinking and raised a number of questions in my mind (and not just questions of the validity of a life with out eating–although that was definitely among them).  I wondered what function could this creature possibly serve?  What was the point of a life so brief, that was bound to go unmarked.  What was the purpose of a creature that lived merely to create more useless creatures before passing into oblivion.

Yet, here, as if in some kind of answer was the Luna Moth on my porch.  Here was this beautiful, unique, delicate creature that spent what was probably the majority of its life resting at my door.  This visitor in its still, quiet way made me think, and brought me a measure of simple joy. And while I recognize the arrogance in the thought that any of God’s creatures exists merely to give me pleasure, I can say that this creature’s life, however brief, meant something to me.  I don’t intend to forget it.


Yes, the official author page for Kelli Swofford Nielsen is finally launched!

Actually, my excellent web designer, Chad Lanenga, has had this ready for weeks, and I, realizing that I would finally need to have some text on this lovely website…have been dragging my feet.  What should I say?  What could I write that readers would possibly want to hear?

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I heard a broadcast of a radio program on my Chicago public radio station, WBEZ called “This American Life.”  You can find the transcript here, although listening is recommended (see Act One: South of the Unicorns).  I listened, drawn in by the account of magazine editor Logan Hill, who shared his youthful idolization of fantasy author Piers Anthony.  He talks about devouring the works of this prolific author of magical stories.  However, to him what was more remarkable than the stories were the lengthy “authors notes” Anthony would include at the end of his novels.  They were usually unrelated to the book and were more like a personal diary about his daily life and his “farm” in Florida.  Hill talked about being drawn into these notes that felt more like a personal conversation with the author than a formal postscript.

Later in life, Hill met and befriended another Anthony fan who had been similarly influenced by the author notes.  In fact, in the midst of his difficult childhood this man, Andy, had been so enchanted by the pleasant-sounding normalcy of Anthony’s life in Florida that, at age fifteen, he actually ran away from home to join it.  What follows is an extraordinary story of a young boy who, using Anthony’s maps of his fantastical land, Xanth, and their similarity to Florida topography, was able to pinpoint the unknown location of Piers Anthony’s farm, and managing to secure money, airplane passage, hotel room, and transportation, traveled across the country to wind up on the doorstep of his author hero.

Moved by this broadcast, I recalled a surely less tumultuous, but nonetheless challenging time in my adolescence when I escaped happily into my favorite fiction.  Amidst the throng of light-hearted classics, and various fantasy novels, I became acquainted with the works of Gene Stratton Porter.  Porter wrote mostly out-of-print, old-fashioned stories of humble lives touched by friendship and love.  And although the stories did tend to present a somewhat overly romanticized life view with truer than true characters, I loved the gentle journeys of sincere emotion amidst the beauties of nature—in particular the grand Indiana Limberlost Swamp.

Having spent my entire life in the west, imagine my delight when my first departure to live elsewhere took me to Indiana some years ago.  I admit my first thought was that I would be able to visit the Limberlost.  I located the Gene Stratton Porter Historic Site a couple of hours from my home.  Here, visitors could tour the cabin built on the brink of the swamp, where Porter had written many of her novels, including my favorite, A Girl of the Limberlost.  One weekend, my obliging visiting mother-in-law in tow, I made my pilgrimage to the place.

The cabin was merely a roadside stop on a long stretch of Indiana farmland.  The once 13,000 acre swamp (that got its name when “Limber Jim” Corbus, went hunting in the swamp and never returned) had long since been cleared.   However, once I entered the actual home of my writing hero, I was taken back to the world of my favorite stories.  The kind woman giving the tour was just so enthused that I had heard of Porter, let alone read nearly everything she wrote, that she pulled out all the stops (or at least I like to think she did). I saw every room, got all the stories, and even got to sit and play “The Song of the Limberlost” on Porter’s now-antique organ and sit at her desk.

As I learned more about the woman who preferred to spend her time outdoors, who collected wildlife, who was something of an oddity in her small town, who couldn’t cook to save her life, who had a special loving relationship with her husband and daughter, and who sat at a little desk by the windows, where the most light would touch her to think and write, I felt a closeness to this woman.  I had to drive down the road to one of the remaining swatches of swamp, and sit in the trees and take pictures of the moths and butterflies in her honor.

Clearly, as Journey to the Fringe is my first novel, I am far from being a Piers Anthony or a Gene Stratton Porter.  However, I do know that when we read something that we love, that captures or entertains us—imperfect as the text may be, a connection forms between author and reader.  So, if some time in your journey you stumble accidentally upon me, or even more surprisingly you come in search of me the way Andy and I journeyed forth to meet the originators of our favorite stories, perhaps it will be the simple details—like a farm in Florida, or a sunlit writing desk, or one of my nonessential personal ramblings in the vast sea of authors and writers that will make us feel connected in a sometimes disjointed world.