Ann Haymond Zwinger, noted author and naturalist, died peacefully on August 30, 2014, in Portland, Oregon. She was born March 12, 1925, in Muncie, Indiana, the daughter of William T. Haymond, a lawyer, and Helen G. Haymond, an artist.
Ann Zwinger's daughter Sara sent me her mother's obituary. It was sad to know that she was gone, although scarcely unexpected. She had been in ill health for several years, and had moved to Portland to be with her daughters after the 2012 death of Herman Zwinger, her spouse of 50 years.
They were an amazing and wonderful couple. When Herman died, he wanted no obituary, no funeral service, no memorial service — and so months elapsed before I realized that Herman and Ann no longer occupied their favorite Sunday night booth at the Ritz Grill.
To describe Ann as a "noted author and naturalist" is accurate, but incomplete. Joan Rivers was a Jewish housewife, Bill Clinton was an Arkansas attorney and John Hickenlooper a former geologist and bar owner — but there's more.
Ann and Herman moved to Colorado Springs in 1960 and stayed for the next half-century. During that time, Ann wrote 20 books, authored scores of pieces for national magazines, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1973 and became the first woman to serve on the board of a major utility (American Electric Power).
Ann's first book, Beyond the Aspen Grove, was published in 1970. The author, then a 46-year-old military spouse and mother of three children, wrote about the 40 acres that she and Herman had purchased in 1963 in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. Her subject: the land and its life.
The jacket blurb is accurate: "Beyond the Aspen Grove tells in beautiful and simple language and drawings, of meadow, lake, marsh and forest, of algae and dragonflies, of deer and jays that live in the thin clear air of the mountain world."
It was a seminal work of Western environmentalism. Nothing escaped her notice, no species went unremarked, no birdsong unheard.
Ann wasn't just a dreamy observer, but a polymath who could write authoritatively about the entire living world — and illustrate her words with lyrical yet precise pen-and-ink drawings. Her prose is gentle, affectionate and commanding.
"But to own this land," she wrote, "as one owns a book or pot or a pan, is impossible. We own it only as it becomes a part of the experience of each one of us. It is its own reason for being. The life of the wood, meadow or lake go on with or without us ... Humans are but intruders who have presumed the right to be observers and who, out of observation, find understanding."
In the next six years, Ann wrote Land Above the Trees: A Guide to American Alpine Tundra; Run, River, Run: A Naturalist's Journey Down One of the Great Rivers of the West; and Wind in the Rock: The Canyonlands of Southeastern Utah. Animated by a sense of the fragility and beauty of the Western landscape, Ann was a powerful voice for preservation, environmental stewardship and individual accountability.
Women of her generation are often caricatured as angry and unfulfilled housewives, denied the opportunity to be actors in the wider world. Not Ann — her life was accomplished, interesting and stable. She was unassuming, unpretentious and generous with her praise. She never spoke of her own work, but always asked after yours.
Her books remain. Her voice is as clear and compelling as it was 44 years ago.
"Because we can and do manipulate our environment," she wrote, "we are then charged with the responsibility of our acts; for if we are to survive we must insure that this best of all possible worlds survives with us."
Goodbye, Ann. And if ever I awake to the call of a loon on a cold October night in the high country, I'll think of you and Herman and the land you loved and protected.
And some night soon at the Ritz, I'll sit in your booth and remember — à la recherche du temps perdu.
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