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The human spirit belongs in nature: Last House Writing Contest winners explore the elements

The human spirit belongs in nature: Last House Writing Contest winners explore the elements

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Emerging writers find themselves among the elements  

Sunrises, dark woods, ocean swims, skeletons, crickets, owls, ponds…the main characters in this year’s Last House Writing Contest submissions — spanning generations and the globe — were nearly all animal or elemental. Now in its fifth year, the contest called on emerging writers to explore belonging in nature.  

The contest honors author M.F.K. Fisher, whose “Last House” is stewarded by Audubon Canyon Ranch at Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen. Her daughter and one of the esteemed judges of the contest, Kennedy Golden, recalls Fisher’s particular affinity for an owl that would visit her each night at the house: “I’m certain they had conversations – they communed.” 

Grand prize winner offers intimate moment of resilience 

The grand prize winner, Inverness resident Scott McMorrow, explores the resiliency of the human spirit amidst birdsong in his moving essay, “Bird People.” Clark Wolf, host of the radio show At the Table, describes the piece as “very intimate and personal, in keeping with the way [Fisher] wrote.”  

McMorrow, in a quest to find volunteer birder opportunities, came across the call for Last House Writing Contest entries. Among his multi-faceted pursuits, including civil engineering, playwriting, firefighting, commercial fishing, McMorrow likes to write about birds.  

“I’m in a wheelchair,” McMorrow shares in an interview with Wolf. “I had a traumatic brain injury in 2019 and I’ve been paralyzed on one side since. I was an avid outdoors enthusiast before my injury. Now, I don’t focus at all on what I can’t do. I spend my time thinking about what I can do.” For him, that’s sitting in his yard and looking for birds.  

“One of the side effects of my particular flavor of brain damage was uncontrolled sobbing. It was horrible. I was out on my front deck one day, and I heard this bird warble. It just calmed me down; it stopped me from crying. I was on a mission to find out what kind of bird it was. I spent a lot of time trying to see it again. I finally found it. As the story will tell you, it was the purple finch. The purple finch is symbolic of joy and happiness. It certainly brought me joy and happiness,” confides McMorrow. 

Experience nature through M.F.K. Fisher’s eyes 

Visits to Bouverie Preserve are available through stewardship work days and public tours of Last House, available by reservation. Wolf encourages, “When you’re there, don’t forget to look out the window and see — after all this time — what M.F.K. Fisher saw in the beauty, in the nature, in the community, in the surroundings that are our community here in Sonoma County.”  

McMorrow also reminds us: “I think we all belong in nature. Regardless of what we do or what your mobility is or whatever. Everyone should be outside.”  

Adult, youth, and children category winners 

*First place & grand: Scott McMorrow, “Bird People” 
*Second place: Eva Parr, “Land Intimacy” 
*Third place: Sara Alexander, “Le Fave” 
*First place: Isabella Guglielmetti, “Cricket, Cricket” 
*Second place: Biana Toussaint, “Shadow Cliffs” 
*Third place: Katie Kim, “Treasure Hunt” 
*First place: Annika Thakarar (grand prize winner 2022), “The Pond”  
*Second place: Kellie Howie, “Untitled” 
*Third place: Siaansh Bhadaurie, “Givers and Takers”