An early valentine to a good writer and a true friend

IMG_1154This is the typewriter that was used to write the best ending in all children’s literature:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. 

Charlotte was both.”

E.B. White,  my creative hero, wrote those words in 1952.  His writing style is what I aspire to, every day: clear, concise, concrete.  I like him for his insistence on using the right word–which, often as not, isn’t the fanciest word. That works for me, since I come up a little short in the fancy words department.  I keep my copy of his classic text, Elements of Style, in the downstairs bathroom, for remembering bits of wisdom I may have forgotten.  I love that he concluded his classic children’s story, Charlotte’s Web, with those sentences, those words, simple and true.

True friends and good writers.  When you find them, you do your best to keep them.

I am lucky to tell you that, like Wilbur the pig of Charlotte’s Web fame, I have had a few people come along in my life who are true friends and good writers.  But the person most delightfully and unexpectedly in this collective category is my friend Julie Zickefoose.

Our friendship began, sort of, as we were just getting started in college, when she and my best first college friend and future roommate took a couple of courses together.  Truth be told, Julie and I remained in that “friends of friends” category until we each rediscovered one another decades later, through our 25th reunion class reports–those updates that can be anything from pure professional puffery to extended updates on the progeny, to, every now and then, little expository jewels.  Hers was the latter, a shining bit of prose.  I read it and was reminded of the country girl in Harvard Yard, the classmate with feathers in her cap, who camped out under the enormous yews by Memorial Church, just for the delight of sleeping under the stars.  I read her 25th report and I remembered my freshman year regret, that I hadn’t taken the courses she and my roomie-to-be took, during that formative first semester.

IMG_1169My friend JZ, circa 1977.

While I’ve been living down the street from my college haunts for nearly all my adult life, it turned out that Julie hadn’t been back since our graduation day, way back when.  After reading her heartfelt missive, I was hopeful that she might return for our reunion jubilee.  And when I spotted her at an opening event, up in the balcony as was her wont, with her tow-headed son and  red-headed daughter, I knew we needed to kindle our little connection, just then.

Which, lucky for me, we did.

Fast forward a decade (help!) and here we are, with our 35th reunion bearing down on us.  I know much more about this amazing woman now than I did back then–that her talents are so vast, her humor so infective, her way of making informed naturalists out of anyone she crosses paths with–she is, quite simply, one of the most gifted people I know.  Writer, artist, musician, wild animal rescuer, bluebird protector, NPR commentator, author of two glorious books of her perfect essays and her  extraordinary art (with another book being birthed as I type), blogger extraordinare, nature trip leader, old fashioned mile-high-pie aficionado–the list is seemingly endless.  She is a true renaissance woman.

IMG_1141The first of her amazing collections of essays and art. This book took my breath away.

That Julie finds me worth hearing from and paying attention to is beyond my ken, truth be told.  Most of what she’s amazing at, I weigh in at low-intermediate, at best.  But, lucky for me, she’s the kind of friend that  likes to nudge the people around her to expand their horizons, to redefine their realms.  I’ve been a lucky recipient of some JZ nudges.

IMG_1142I’m a decent noticer.  But Julie’s powers of observation make mine pale in comparison. Julie sees things like nobody’s business.  Then she puts pen and paintbrush to paper, and gives us things like this.  Just transcendent, what she can do.

IMG_1140This is what the home page of JZ’s blog looks like.  It’s a treasure, this blog.  You can find it at

Case in point: that I blog, at all.  I don’t think I would have embarked on this journey, had I not had JZ’s example of how it can be done. Somehow, I knew that once I’d decided to find a place in the cybersphere for my inner circle to check in and see how I was doing, back in the bad mammogram days, I knew this would be the format, and JZ’s example would provide me with my template.  Tell the story, add some visuals, share what needs sharing.

* * * * *

Two years later, it should not have surprised me that Julie had been reading my posts with an eye to snagging what might make good copy for her husband’s family’s collective labor of love: Bird Watcher’s Digest.  BWD truly is a home grown enterprise, filled with birding lore and birding tips and birding adoration.  You can’t pick up a copy and leaf through and not be mesmerized by the gifts of love that every page represents. That Julie’s art often graces the covers is a glorious bonus.

IMG_1138See those owls? They’re my Fresh Pond screech owls. Oh, and I own the original art.

Am I lucky, or what?

But really, who else would believe that a blog post of mine, titled “Note To Self: Be Less Snarky,” might make good BWD copy?  JZ was convinced it would, so that was that.  She not only nudged me to agree, but she got me to overcome my hatred of the sound of my own voice, as she walked me through some tricks that I never knew my phone had up its sleeve.  And with that, BWD offers up our little article in audio form, as well as in print.  She didn’t even mind that I talk too fast!  Well, that, or she and her clever tech elves at BWD know how to slow me down, if only digitally.

IMG_1139Here’s the list that begat my snark, that turned into JZ’s delight, that made me see the error of my sarcastic ways and reminded me to be grateful for all the teachers in this world, Julie and Bob Stymiest in particular.  They make the world a better place. I have much to learn from them.

* * * * *

So, folks, I’m there, on the pages of the current issue (Jan/Feb 2015) of Bird Watcher’s Digest.  It’s a sweet little publication, which I seriously doubt you’ll be able to find at your local newsstand.  I suggest you hop on over to the BWD website,  From there you can get to a free issue preview.  Better yet, from there you can order yourself a subscription to this little homegrown oeuvre of the publishing world.  And after you’ve got one for yourself, order one for everyone you love, even if they may be only vaguely aware of the pigeons and sparrows that we share our world with.  It will be a gift that keeps on giving, I promise.

And to the woman I’m delighted to call my friend, thank you, dear Zick.  You are the very, very best.

 IMG_1144Every one of us has a “spark” bird, the one we saw that stopped us in our tracks, that made us seek out the beauty in the avian world.  This one, the scarlet tanager, was mine.





6 comments on “An early valentine to a good writer and a true friend

  1. Lindsey says:

    I’m glad to have learned of Julie’s writing through you, and check it out regularly. Lovely. And Whit read Charlotte’s Web this year in school and from page one I was telling him I couldn’t wait for him to read the last line. When he finally finished it he came and found me, face shining, and told me he’d read the line I love. “I can see why,” he said, seriously, smiling. “It’s so good.” oxo

  2. holly* says:

    Blessed is the sister of the hand and heart pushed by the amazing JZ .. for she shares and the trickle down is having my own copies of the books and now I’ll check on the “digest” .. It was our grandmother Crie who turned me on to the birds and gifted me her own guide with the sighting dates and times, notes to self. That I could compare my own sightings on the coast of Maine the first 35 years of my life kept me connected in some way to her past. She was a teacher and clearly valued what makes a good friend and being a good writer. She had that beautiful smile when she pointed out an American Bittern at a fields edge and tiny warblers at the fire tower. I am pretty sure she smiles down to see all that you have accomplished and she enjoys your writing.
    Here’s to the friendships that made the glue to hold it all together ~
    P.S. I gifted that guide to our sister so it would stay in the family and now it is O’s

  3. Kristen says:

    Oh how exciting and fun! As a bird lover myself, I am excited to click through to that link. I’m also happy for learning about your friend’s writing/website. Great story you share here, and an important reminder that you never know where things can lead.

    • khm says:

      you won’t be disappointed. Julie Zickefoose is a treasure. And seriously, get yourself a subscription to Bird Watcher’s Digest. It’s a sweet little publication, very educational for low intermediates like me!

  4. juliezickefoose says:

    Well, I’ve just come back from a week in Florida to a monochrome world and a sweet Valentine from Hodge. Phoebe has been buggin’ me to read this ever since you posted it. She reminded me again this evening, when we were talking on the phone. I told her I’d have to hang up because I knew I would cry when I read it. And where did you get the picture of me being nursed by a calf? (LH?) With yard-long hair, down to my knees? (Me, not the calf). And I’m coming to see you in March, so look out. MWAH BABY it’s YOU. I love you too much. And I’m going to keep nudging. I’m so, so proud of this beautiful blog and beautiful you. xoxoxo jz

    • khm says:

      Lisa made me a birthday book, freshman year. She pasted in pictures of friends (more hers than mine, truth be told) and that photo of you was in there. I’ll show you when you come, come spring. Fingers crossed that you get more a lamb than lion visit back to 02138. Can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s