Mother, Nature by Jedidiah Jenkins
“We cannot feel this, but many of the biggest changes—in nature, in life—go unnoticed. They happen without the moment ever being named.”
If you know me personally, you know that Jedidiah Jenkins holds a special place in my heart.
In February 2020, I picked up his first book, To Shake the Sleeping Self, and immediately felt a special kind of kinship. This first book recounts his experience cycling from Oregon to Patagonia as he attempts to shake himself out of his routine and answer some big questions surrounding his beliefs, identity, and place in the world. A year later, I read his second book, a collection of moving essays titled Like Streams to the Ocean: Notes on Ego, Love, and the Things That Make Us Who We Are, which secured him a spot on my list of favorite authors.
There’s a warmth to Jenkin’s writing that feels familiar and comforting even when it explores dark and somewhat terrifying topics. He can transfer lived, human experiences onto the page in an intimate and beautiful way while inviting others to interpret them from different and often conflicting perspectives. Through his writing, Jenkins creates a judgment-free space for curious minds to play, grow, and connect.
In 2023, after almost two years of stalking Jenkins’ social media for any news of a new release, I finally caught a glimpse of the cover for Mother, Nature.
If the name “Jenkins” sounds familiar, you might be one of the millions who followed along as a young couple walked across the United States in the ‘70s. In 1973, Peter Jenkins left New York City on foot, planning to walk all the way to Oregon with his dog, Cooper. After Cooper was struck and killed by a truck in Tennessee, Jenkins made his way to New Orleans alone, where he met the awe-inspiring Barbara Jo Pennell. The two married and completed the walk together, arriving in Oregon in 1979. This journey was featured in National Geographic twice: “Walk Across America” in April 1977 and “Walk Across America: Part II” in August 1979.
Peter and Barbara Jenkins had three children before ending their marriage in 1987. The eldest was a daughter conceived during their famous trek across America. The youngest was a cute and happy baby boy, and in the middle was a curious child named Jedidiah.
Over forty years after the walk across America, Jedidiah and his mother decided to take a roadtrip, retracing her thousands of miles journey from New Orleans to the Oregon coast. Mother, Nature follows this mother-son duo as they drive across the country, listening to true-crime podcasts and navigating the somewhat tricky relationship between a deeply religious mother and a gay son.
Although the book continuously circles back to Barbara’s inability to accept Jedidiah’s sexuality, Mother, Nature explores so much more than that.
As his mother enters her seventies, Jenkins wants to get to know her on a deeper level. To catch a glimpse of what she was like as a girl in her thirties before she became a mother. I believe many of us begin to feel this way as we age and notice our parents are also aging. We get curious about who they are as individuals beyond their role as our guardians.
As times change, the parent and child relationship can get increasingly strained. Ideas on politics, religion, and society tend to be wildly different between generations, resulting in some pretty heated conversations. It can feel easier to simply disregard your parent’s or child’s beliefs and let the distance between you grow wider as a result, but Jenkins challenges this impulse in a big way.
Through his gentle curiosity, Jenkins carefully peels back the layers of questions many of us are asking.
How do we not only stay in, but also nurture relationships, even when they hurt? When should we stand up for ourselves, and when should we just let it go? How do we set boundaries without them turning into separation? Love (especially between family members) is complex, and Jenkins seamlessly brings forward the beauty in that complexity. Whether you’re a parent struggling to accept the beliefs or lifestyle of your children or you’re a child attempting to navigate a relationship with a parent who loves you yet can’t accept vital parts of who you are, Mother, Nature is guaranteed to inspire and strengthen you in that journey.
At under 250 pages, Mother, Nature is a quick and addictive read. Buy yourself a copy from Bookshop Benicia, and while you’re at it, buy a copy for your parent or child, too. If you finish Mother, Nature and crave more time with Barbara Jenkins, she also released a book in 2023 titled So Long as It’s Wild: Standing Strong After My Famous Walk Across America. Dolly Parton read and loved it. That should be enough to convince you to pick it up.
New Year’s Spritz
- 2oz Lyres Italian Spritz
- 1.5oz Blood orange juice
- 1.5oz Apple cider
- 0.25oz Lemon juice
- Splash of club soda
- Garnish: Blood orange slice and rosemary
- Combine Italian Spritz, blood orange juice, apple cider, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake for about 10 seconds.
- Strain into a fancy glass with ice.
- Add a splash of club soda, then top with your garnishes!