As I write this letter, it was exactly a year ago that I first felt a lump in my right thigh. Four weeks later, it was diagnosed as soft tissue sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Now, 11 months on, I have made it through five rounds of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation, and two surgeries. I lost some hair (it’s coming back), some weight (it’s already back), some of my quadriceps muscles (physical therapy in progress), a few brain cells (or is that just middle age?), and—most important—one large tumor (and it’s not coming back!).
What I have gained is harder to quantify. I did discover that it was possible to do nothing. There were days on end when I had no energy and spent a lot of time just lying in a hospital bed or sitting in an armchair in the living room. I had thought that I would keep working from home while also catching up on my reading and video-viewing. But the fact is I had very little appetite for such activities.
I actually spent a fair amount of time watching the sunlight and wind play on the leaves and branches of the live oak and bay trees outside the window. I can’t say it was profound or revealing or anything of the sort. It was beautiful in a low-key, trance-like way. Soothing, basic, and somehow reassuring: nature and physics going on without any assist from me. When a bird flew into the branches, I didn’t feel the usual urge (or ability) to go get the binoculars to see what kind it was. For a few months at least, it was enough just to know the birds were there.
Being able to completely let go of intention and activity in those moments, and have the tranquil space in which to do so, is what gave my body the chance to heal. And I had that “space” for healing due to the dedication of the people who took care of me and picked up the ball for me. That includes the staff here at Bay Nature—Marc, Dan, Tracy—who kept me posted, asked for advice and feedback when necessary, let me butt in when I had the energy, but mostly kept the magazine running through July with little help from me. Being able to trust them to do that was another huge piece of my healing process.
Now I’m fully back at the hive of constant activity known as Bay Nature, and getting used to my new role as Publisher. Dan has assumed primary responsibility for editing the departments and most of the features, while I’ve kept the special supplements (such as the report on the South Bay salt ponds in the last issue and the section on soil in this one) in my portfolio. But we work collaboratively on it all, and we’re both looking forward to challenging each other to branch out and bring some fresh voices into the magazine in the year(s) ahead.
We’re proud of what Bay Nature does already, but we would like it to do a little more. Now that we have gotten through the challenges of the past year with Bay Nature (and its publisher) still alive and kicking, it is about time to take a few chances and go beyond the realm of natural history to embrace a variety of other perspectives on local nature: humorous; poetic; political; literary; agricultural; youthful. This won’t happen overnight or automatically. But our mission is to explore the nature of the Bay Area and, after all, exploring means going places you haven’t gone before. Perhaps you, our readers, have some ideas about where you would like to see us go; I would love to hear your thoughts (email@example.com).
In the meantime, thanks to all of you for giving us the opportunity to keep telling these stories from that endlessly fascinating world outside our windows. I hope you keep on enjoying them.
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Veteran environmental activist, writer, editor, publisher, educator, and coastal wetlands scientist Phyllis Faber has made countless contributions to the Bay Area environmental movement.