Featured Author: Jennifer Trudeau

Jennifer Trudeau was named our featured author this month for
her recent nonfiction contribution, "Yellowstoned,"
as well as her fiction piece, "Without
Biting the Fruit of Knowledge."

When I was seven or eight, I took a notebook and a pencil under
a tall white pine in our front yard in northern Michigan. I hid
under this wide tree, a tree with fringed branches that touched
the grass. It was summer. Nobody could see me under there. I lay
on my stomach, writing. I remember how the ground smelled, three
or four inches under my nose, warm soil. That’s my first memory
of writing, directly connected to the earth.

Later I earned a master’s degree in writing from a private
university in Los Angeles, a long way from that tree. Not me, though:
I continued the practice I’d begun under my pine, cranking
out poems lying face-first on the beach next to the Pacific. It
took years to get the sand out of my hair. Last September I wrote
with a pen in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, lying on the soil
over the mega-volcano that is Yellowstone, digging my toes into
the dirt, belly to belly with the earth. Perhaps drawing something
up out of it.

I was raised in the city until that summer with the notebook, when
we moved to a country farm for a while, so I’ve always been
equally at home in either environment. Until I was 10 we lived in
that truly rural place, a place that’s rural to this day.
We bought our milk for a dollar still warm from the cow. It came
in a glass gallon pickle jar. My mom made butter from the cream
we skimmed off. Sometimes our neighbors would let us come watch
the milking. We got eggs from them too; they were fifty or seventy-five
cents a dozen, I believe, with a mix of brown and white shells,
all sizes. This was not too long ago. Often our neighbor’s
wife let us help gather the eggs, or gorge ourselves in her raspberry
patch.

I had two brothers and a sister. Years later I got three more,
another two brothers and another sister. We swam in a river with
fish, or in a deep rock quarry with a cold-water spring. Our chores
included feeding the animals twice a day and weeding the garden.
We grew tomatoes, corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, green beans and
wax beans and something called Swiss chard. The potatoes were my
favorite. I loved digging them up, like buried treasure. You never
knew how many you’d find under one plant. Sometimes there’d
be tiny ones, like grapes. The roads were unpaved and passing cars
raised clouds of dust.

We raised chickens and rabbits and pigs and our own beef, and butchered
them all eventually -- distressing for a child, but something which
demystified death for me at a young age. My mother slit throats
and administered fatal shotgun action with dispatch, a natural assassin.
That’s our warrior lineage; she’s a full-blooded Mohawk.
She’s been a nurse for many years now; her killing days predated
that career, maybe inspired her change of course into medicine.

Mom always understood me and ministered to me particularly, maybe
because I was a special case, or maybe because I really was my mother’s
daughter. All that mortality seemed perfectly acceptable to me.
She’d cut the heart out of whatever unfortunate animal she’d
just greased and drop it in a glass jar with some water and let
me take it to school. Looking back, I can see a bit of incipient
scientific curiosity manifest in that action, my mother’s
as well as my own. None of the other kids was ever as captivated
as I was by the cow or pig organs. Come to think if it, this may
have been the beginning of my life as an outcast.

I remember always having an interest in the natural world, the
earth and its life, its secrets and scents and messes and matter.
That intrigue was evidenced also in my willingness to gut the chickens
Mom decapitated, reaching in with my bare hands, examining their
insides as I pulled them out in one solid handful. Eggs were forming
in some of the hens, small yellow globs, all sizes, like the potatoes.
It seemed saddest to me that we’d interrupted the eggs, that
now they could never completely be eggs. I held them, squeezed them
and smelled them. My brother had pickled whole eggs, shells and
all, in vinegar; they’d turned rubberish. The unlaid eggs
felt like that.

It was all incredible to me, an exquisite education. I still think
so. I suppose I was a freakish child, since I also remember taking
a picnic lunch to a cemetery by myself around this same time, and
once carried a dead weasel to school (the whole thing). Mom moved
on to human autopsies.

Not long after leaving that house with the great pine for the city
again I won my first writing competition and was published. I think
I was twelve. I was given more dead animals to explore in my progressive
city school, but they stank of chemicals that burned my nose and
were hard and gray and had clearly been dead a long time, and had
the consistency of the pickled eggs, rubberish and unreal. They
might as well have given us steaks. The urban education of life
and biology was grossly inferior to the one I already had.

At the University of Michigan as an undergrad I won a couple of
writing awards, nice because they paid rather a lot. As a grad student
in California I wrote as a technical journalist for NASA for a while,
and helped judge a poetry competition.

I suppose I could only have been a serial killer or a writer, with
that background.

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