Christine Woodside: Into the Woods
What could be a more appropriate last name for writing about nature and the environment than Woodside?
Christine Woodside says the name has drawn comments and, on one occasion, someone reviewing one of her books suggested she had made it up. For the record, that is not true.
And, there is more. Chris grew up on a road called Riverside Drive in Princeton, New Jersey, and her husband, Nathaniel Eddy, has a last name used to describe a small whirlpool in a flowing water.
Chris, who lives in Deep River, not only writes and edits stories on the natural world, but also conducts workshops in which she uses the natural world as a way of having people focus on their individual goals as writers. She will conduct another workshop at the Incarnation Camp and Conference Center in Deep River in January.
“All kinds of writers come. Some are interested in the natural world, but the workshops are not specifically designed for that,” Chris explains. “People who come are interested in solving creative problems.”
She has had medical writers, grant writers, even artists who want to expand their creative horizons. One attendee was a writer of science fiction and horror.
The day-long workshop begins with a solitary hike in the woods, without a notebook, as a way of letting ideas flow unhindered. Chris provides trail maps, but admits she does worry about whether anybody will get lost.
“It hasn’t happened yet,” she adds.
Chris notes that many writers’ workshops, paradoxically, do not focus on the participants actually writing something. Instead, as she describes them, a famous writer comes to “lay some wisdom” on the audience.
“I want to get away from that to help people generate their own material,” she says. “These are the kind of workshops I wish I had had at the start of my writing career.”
Chris’s writing career started as an intern at a small paper in Philadelphia. It was there that a colleague fixed her up with a Yale divinity student.
“There was an immediate connection,” Chris recalls.
Her husband did get a divinity degree, but has spent his career first as a science teacher and, more recently, as a project engineer at a manufacturing company. Two years after the pair got married, they hiked the entire Appalachian Trail with another couple. Chris describes the experience as a profound reset for her. She returned home to tell an editor at The Day, where she was then working, that she wanted to write about the environment.
“It was not that common at that time, writing about climate, landscape, and development,” she says.
She was able to arrange a hybrid schedule at the paper, working three days a week and devoting two days to freelance writing. In 1999, in her late 30s, she left to do freelance full-time.
“I function well under pressure, and I knew I could find work,” she says.
Chris has written extensively on environmental issues in a variety of publications, including the now-discontinued Connecticut Section of the Sunday New York Times, for which she was a regular contributor. She edits Appalachia, the journal of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and also teaches journalism at the University of Connecticut.
In addition to editing books, Chris has written several herself, including Libertarians on the Prairie, which explores the relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was a vitally involved partner in the writing of the beloved Little House books and an early and influential figure in the Libertarian movement.
“Laura could not have written those books alone. Without Rose, there would have been no books,” Chris says.
Chris has a book coming out this year entitled, Going Over the Mountain: One Woman’s Journey from Follower to Solo Hiker and Back. The book describes her own adventures hiking, as well as hiking and camping with two daughters, Annie and Elizabeth, who are now grown, but were young teens at the time.
“It was about dealing with whatever comes, but it is also about me, a girl from Princeton growing up, growing independent,” she says.
Chris and the girls went camping on their school breaks. Her husband’s private school teaching schedule made it impossible for him to go, but it was also, Chris says, about women learning to be self-reliant.
One time, the trio got so stuck in the snow and couldn’t even make it to the trailhead. They flagged a car that helped extricate them, and they drove back down the mountain.
When asked about the experience years later, both girls said they were really sad for Chris that they had turned back.
“They were clued in that I really needed to do this,” she says.
Chris has hiked up all the 4,000-foot peaks in New England’s White Mountains—48 in all. But she is not hiking for the numbers.
“I am not a peak bagger,” she says. “But I was intrigued that I did it in my 50s.”
Chris still has places she wants to hike, such as in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in Scotland, and in Ireland. She has time.
“I hope to keep hiking until I am in my 90s,” says Chris. “It is the key to good mental and physical health.”
To learn more about Christine Woodside’s writing workshops, visit chriswoodside.com