Dec. 3, 2009–Tales of ‘changing paths’–Bill Sherwonit

A summary of our December 2009 speaker, Bill Sherwonit
By Dianne O’Connell

At the monthly luncheon Thursday, December 3, held at the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, nature writer Bill Sherwonit took Alaska Professional Communicators on a tour of some of the journeys–psychological, spiritual and natural–experienced during the writing of his most recent two books.

Speaker Sherwonit grew up in a strict Lutheran home located on the fringes of urban and rural Connecticut. Though he left behind the stern dogma of his youth, he said, a general spirituality and nature continue to inform his life and writing. His book, Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness, published by the University of Alaska Press (September 2009), chronicles his life and personal development along these lines. His book, Living with Wildness, (not “wilderness”), also by UAA Press (June 2008) focuses on the opportunities for living with the wild right here in the Anchorage bowl.

“Wilderness is a place or an idea,” he explained. “Wildness is a quality or a state of being – something within us. … It is only when we begin to get to know something that we can really begin to value it. The Coastal Wildlife Refuge in South Anchorage is so much more than treacherous mudflats, for instance. But you have to get out and experience it to understand it.”

“Writing requires me to pay attention to what is going on around me, promotes a kind of hyper-awareness. I’m going to be writing about this, so I have to keep alert.”

Sherwonit recalled an experience in the Chugach Mountains when a wolverine appeared and stayed close for about thirty minutes. “This was not the time to jump for my journal or camera,” he said, “but rather to just stay with the experience.”

“Absorb first, write second,” he suggested.

“I’m a very introspective, sensitive guy,” the writer told his audience. “I stand before you as a fallen Christian and a failed geologist,” venturing into a rambling, yet interesting, exchange regarding the human species, a bear’s right to act like a bear, and the bundle of contractions which represent humanity – from incredible compassion to horrific terrorism.

Sherwonit holds a Master’s degree in geology, as well as an impressive history as a journalist and writer of essays and narrative non-fiction works. He has called Alaska home since 1982, when he began work at The Anchorage Times. He’s been a fulltime freelance writer since 1992 and has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies. His essay “In the Company of Bears” was selected for The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007.

Sherwonit is also the author of 12 books about Alaska. He lives in Anchorage’s Turnagain area, where he writes about the wildness to be found in Alaska’s urban center as well as in the state’s most remote wilderness areas.

Sherwonit is the December 2009 guest blogger at 49 Writers, a literary blog for and about Alaskan writers. You can also learn more about his books and life at Bill Sherwonit’s website.

The meeting was the first Alaska Professional Communicators luncheon to be held at the AHFC building. The location is, to date, a temporary meeting place until the Board has determined long-term options to replace the former Golden Lion arrangement, explained Board president Connie Huff. A member survey will be forthcoming to solicit membership input.

Members should take note of the location, as the January 7 meeting will be there as well. AHFC is located at 4300 Boniface Parkway, at Tudor Road (next to the Alaska Club). The catering company has also changed, with food provided by Dianne’s Restaurant, of downtown Anchorage.

Bill Sherwonit

Bill Sherwonit