Author Interviews/Features


Meet Ann Linnea

Ann Linnea    Ann Linnea has been a naturalist and teacher of outdoor skills for three decades. As a high school student, she led grade school children on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. In her twenties she took high school biology students and Youth Conservation Corps students into the mountains of Utah, for environmental education. In her thirties she developed Sense of Wonder Workshops which led teachers and families outdoors in a spirit of curiosity, exploration and discovery. In her forties and fifties, she has continued to lead people into the wilderness on foot, in canoe, by kayak, and via dogsled. Author of a hiking and skiing guide during her years as US. Forest Service naturalist in the 1970's, Ann also co-authored the award-winning Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (1991 Pfeifer-Hamilton). In the early 1990's, she began co-leading workshops with Christina Baldwin (author of the popular journaling guide, Life's Companion) that focus on creating community, gentle exploration of the natural world, rites of passage, and returning gifts to the planet. This work led her to design her own mid-life rite of passage—circumnavigating Lake Superior by sea kayak. Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life, (Little, Brown, 1995, Pocketbooks 1997) portrays her courage and willingness to honestly review and change her life. Together, Ann and Christina founded PeerSpirit, an educational company that offers Circle Practicums, Wilderness Adventures, and Writing Seminars. Ann lives in the state of Washington. This interview was conducted via email by Susan Wittig Albert and originally published in The Story Circle Journal (Vol. 5, No. 2, June, 2001).

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Interviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 06/15/2001

Deep Water Passage grew out of a challenging adventure. Did you undertake your kayak journey with a memoir in mind, or did the book grow out of the adventure? How did your story become a book?

I didn't start out planning to write a book. I simply wrote about my journey after the fact, trying to articulate what had happened to me. During the trip, I was so much in a raw survival mode that there was scarcely time for reflection. I wrote to save the life I had found out there on the lake.

As to how it became a book—I would read selections from my journal to friends and they suggested that the writing was meant for a larger audience. One friend gave me a flyer about submitting an essay to an anthology of women's outdoor stories. My writing was accepted enthusiastically by the editor and so I was encouraged to attempt an entire book.

Your journey around the lake is a physical challenge, but a spiritual one as well. Was the spiritual journey a part of your original plan? And can you tell us something about the process of writing the book?

From the very beginning of the trip I set a spiritual intent. I set it up as a midlife rite of passage to answer some important questions. What should I do next in my life? How can I listen to the larger (divine) plan for my life? And most certainly writing helped me deepen that spiritual journey. In fact, I would say that it was at least as difficult a journey to write the book as it was to paddle around the lake. Over and over again I revisited different moments and turning places, holding them gently like the favorite pocket rock I always carry. With each visitation came new insight, deeper reflection and often considerable emotion. I might add that the arts were incredibly helpful in tapping into those places of deeper insight and spiritual dimension—music, literature, film, theater. For example, the movie, "The Piano," opened a floodgate. The scene near the end where the women slips her foot into the rope, goes overboard, and then reverses her decision and fights to swim to the surface enabled me to write the storm scene as though I literally was reliving it.

You were alone in your kayak, but others—Paul, your paddling partner, and women supporters—enabled you to complete the journey. How did they help? How do you think women help us in our life journeys?

In the writing of the book Betty [a friend who died before the journey] was my ever-present angel. Fran listened to journal entries and encouraged me to seek a wider audience, and Christina provided insightful critique and editing. I can't comment on the journeys that other women take. I only know that for my entire life—beginning with the incredible support and wisdom of my own mother—I have sought and found amazing support from other women. Women are taught to be the nurturers, the listeners, the seekers. It's important to me to add, though, that many men carry those attributes as Paul so well exemplifies. The real key to support in my life is that I deeply value and honor friendships and work hard to sustain and maintain them.

Writing a book is also a journey. Can you tell us about that part of your adventure? You kept a journal of the passage—did that help to guide you?

Every day that I wrote Deep Water Passage I would light a candle and carefully place next to it my journals and my charts from the trip. They held the outline, the essence of what happened. Studying them I could revisit different scenes. My next step was to write down a list of questions that came to mind from reading that day's journal. Questions are so important. "Quest" is, after all, the root of the word question. If my answers to the questions seemed superficial, I often wrote in the third person. "Once there was a woman who camped in a place that ancient peoples had camped on for centuries..." It is a technique that has often helped me write down into the layer below my daily consciousness. In my journey around the lake I made sure to write something in my journal each night—even if it was only the bare-bones facts about the day, even if I was exhausted and freezing. I set a powerful intention about that trip and I knew journal writing was going to be key in meeting that intention. In my ordinary life I don't journal every day. Sometimes a couple of weeks will go by without writing, but if that happens a little internal beeper goes off and I find a way to return to the wisdom of the page.

Many of us have taken perilous journeys, and some of us feel compelled to write about them. What advice can you offer?

I want to say to each person, "Your story is a journey. It has incredible value to you and to those around you. To write your story is a gift you must give yourself." Most of the love letters to Deep Water Passage that I have gotten over the years begin by thanking me for writing the book and then launch into a dissertation about the writer's own life story. This is wonderful! It is exactly why I wrote the book—to encourage each of us to claim our lives as journeys. Whether we paddle around Lake Superior or take care of our aging parents or help our teens get through depression or go through divorce or lose a job or whatever, we are on a journey of courage, spirituality and inspiration. Christina teaches a wonderful five-day writing class entitled, "Self as the Source of the Story.. She has had agents ask, "How do you get so many published books out of a class for beginners?" Her response is simply, "They immerse themselves in an environment of safe listening so they can tap into their true stories. With a little bit of structure, amazing stories come forth."

What have been the gifts of your journey? And what would you do differently, if you were to do it over again?

The gifts of my journey were many, but three major ones come to mind. First, I can now usually center myself spiritually simply by going outdoors and being still. Second, I found an inner courage that I know is there no matter what comes up. And finally, I have a reverence for and humility about life that are my beacons for living. I'm not sure it's relevant to speak about how one might do a journey differently. In the moment of all our trials—death, job loss, disease—we take the journeys the best we know how. Then if we can learn from what we did or did not do, we have grown and that is as much as we can ask. People have asked, "What is your next long trip?" My response is, "I don't need to do another grueling physical adventure. I was very lucky to survive. I know that. And I appreciate that I found what I was looking for. God willing, I will be around for the long haul. The adventure of life itself will continue to provide me many journeys."

You've said that your book began as an essay in an anthology. What's the rest of the story? How did it get published? What happened after that?

It took me about three years to write the book. Four or five agents rejected the manuscript. The right agent had me in New York talking to publishers one month after she took on the project. The book was published nine months later. What I did not understand at the time was that the journey of Deep Water Passage was just beginning with publication. The real journey for a book's longevity (next to the quality of writing, of course) is to keep the book in print! If your house decides to put you on the remainder list, your book is dead. You have to continue to care and nurture and advocate for that book every day because no one believes in your .child. as you do. Public speaking, letters to your editor, book signings—all these become labors of love so your message can remain out there. I would highly recommend looking at regional and other small presses. Many of them with good track records only take on books they intend to keep in print. The publisher of my first book, Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (Pfeifer-Hamilton, Duluth, MN), is a fine example of that. In fact, I will first seek out a regional publisher for my next book.

Many people who take a difficult journey are changed by what happens to them—and by the process of writing about it, as well. Did that happen to you? How have you changed?

I honestly don't believe that a person can write deeply personal material and not grow and change in significant ways. The life I am now living—co-owner of a small education company on an island in Puget Sound—is the direct result of my journey around the lake and the claiming of that journey by writing Deep Water Passage. Professionally, I have stepped deeper into the skills I have to offer. Personally, I have changed physical locations and partners, but I am still deeply devoted to my parenting, to my love of adventure and the earth, and to my desire to be of service to God. And I have enormous humility about the ongoing challenge and growth that life presents us with.

I do want to say one last word about the importance of writing about one's life passage—about claiming one's story. It is an incredibly important gift to give yourself and the life you are trying to lead. Women from time immemorial have chronicled their stories. What an incredible gift this has been to us! Let us do likewise to the generations of women following in our footsteps.

Thank you, Ann!