Throughout my life I have been interested in the ocean. Growing up and living on Cape Cod has made it easy for me to study and learn about the sea. More importantly, I have always enjoyed sharing what I know with others. While this has primarily taken the form of teaching, I also enjoy the written word.
I am often asked how I prepare one of my publications. How long does it take to put together a field guide? How do I select the sections that appear in a book? How do I write science books for an audience that may not have any scientific training? How do I decide which drawings and photographs appear in a book?
The writing process for me is ongoing and continuous. I am always writing, even if I do not put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. What I mean by that is I will write my ideas in my head first. I have to think through a writing project before I write a single word. I also must feel comfortable with the content. Usually it’s a topic that I have studied and taught for many years.
For example, I have been teaching classes on coastal ecology in one form or another since my late teens, even before I completed my work in graduate school. I have been observing, collecting, and researching coastal marine life as far back as I can remember. After my formal training and a summer job at the Marine Biological laboratory in Woods Hole, I became quite familiar with the marine plants and animals of Cape Cod.
The group I focused on was the marine algae, in particular the macroalgae or seaweeds. I saw the need to write a user-friendly field guide on the subject that anyone could easily use to identify the common species on the Cape. “Seaweeds of Cape Cod Shores,” sponsored by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History was the result. I decided that pencil drawings, rather than photographs, would be more useful in printing out key identifying features. Talented artist Nancy Minnigerode provided the excellent illustrations in the book.
My next project was designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the acquisition of one of my favorite places, the beautiful Crocker Neck conservation Area and salt marsh by the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts. This area was purchased as part of a town-wide open space plan. Here I worked with photographer Chris Dumas in putting together “The Ecology of a Cape Cod Salt Marsh.” Because I conduct several walks at this site each year, I constructed the book as a tour guide through the woodland section and into the marsh. Consequently the reader can follow the trail and use the book to help identify the plants and animals along the way. The book was also written as a general salt marsh guide so even if you never visit Crocker neck you can still learn about the ecology of a salt marsh system.
My most recent publication is “Discovering the Cape Cod Shoreline,” again with photography by Chris Dumas. I have spent many enjoyable hours exploring the intertidal zone, salt marsh creeks, and sandy beaches of Cape Cod. This book consists of a series of essays on the plants and animals found in those habitats, as well as their ecological relationships. As I wrote in the first chapter, “I never tire of making new discoveries at the shoreline.” It is my hope that the reader will see that these dynamic systems are very diverse and interesting and will have a similar experience.