Guest Blogger Miranda Weiss | A Column on Columns

When Tide, Feather, Snow, my natural history
memoir, came out in 2009, I thought
there could be no greater thrill than to have strangers from all over the
country contact me about the relationships they had with my book—relationships
that had nothing to do with me. Then, seven months later, my first daughter was
continued to write, sometimes sporadically, but not publish much for the next
few years. During that time, after my second daughter was born and I was
immersed in raising an infant and toddler, I was writing—personal essays, a
very drafty draft of a second memoir, but with two very young children, I
didn’t have the wherewithal to do anything with the pages.
spring, my youngest daughter turned three and learned how to ride a
two-wheeler. I watched her ride down the street away from me and felt something
had switched. Motherhood wasn’t as demanding as it had been. I was eager to
write and publish. And I knew I needed to start modestly and with deadlines. I
needed to have someone—aside from my children—waiting for me to give them
I pitched
a summer series to one of Homer’s two weekly newspapers, the Homer News, and found myself as a
reporter for three months. My beat: the Homer Spit, a four-and-a-half mile long
finger of land that juts into the middle of Kachemak Bay and is home to Homer’s
harbor, the town’s largest hotel, and the port that serves as the gateway to
Cook Inlet. Each summer, the Spit turns into the region’s center for tourism,
fishing, shipping, and dramatic biological and geological processes. I wrote
about octopus and erosion, halibut and landing craft, and about how the Spit
shapes kids who grow up out there. Each week I had to come up with 800–1,000
words and an image too. Each week there was space I had to fill.
As the
series drew to a close, I panicked. What was next? I was writing again—nothing
grand, not the pages of a next book—but something that felt like it was leading
me somewhere. At the same time, I still felt I wasn’t ready to make a
commitment to another big project
Late in
the summer, as I was reporting on the last piece in the Spit series, an editor
I had worked with at The American Scholar
contacted me and asked whether I would be interested in writing a weekly
“letter from Alaska” column for the magazine’s website. Yes, was the answer. Whatever
the Spit columns loosened in my head allowed me to write my weekly columns as
well as pitch and write relatively furiously over the next months, publishing
in Alaska Magazine, Alaska Dispatch, Edible Alaska, and The
This is a
column in praise of columns, a shout out to small spaces to be filled with
writing, especially when you need them most.

Miranda Weiss is a science and
nature writer who lives in Homer. Her natural history memoir,
Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in
Alaska, was a bestseller in the Pacific
Northwest. Her
Northern Lights column
about life in and around Homer appears weekly on the website of
American Scholar. In addition, her work
has appeared in
The Washington Post, The Economist, Alaska Dispatch News,
and elsewhere.
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