Sun After Rain by Rebekah Lowell
Ever since I was a child, nature has been a favorite place for me. I would daydream in the crooks of trees or hang out in the hayfields as the Timothy grass grew taller than me. As an adult nature was still the place where I found solace, even though sometimes I had to appreciate it from afar when I was kept inside by a domestic abuser. I remember watching the sparrows outside my window while living in a small attic apartment in Providence, RI and wishing I could be free too. I remember the days when I was brought outside, how I’d notice the city flower gardens and try to memorize the shapes of the flower petals and the shades of their colors to hold inside my mind when days alone were long.
Later when we moved to a house in Maine, the setting of parts for my debut novel THE ROAD TO AFTER, I was allowed to wander the yard with my daughters. One of the ways I was able to create a feeling of calm was through nature journaling. When drawing the texture of moss or noticing the shape of an acorn from my yard, I’d focus on my breathing and be present in a moment. I sketched on whatever I could find, napkins, copy paper, while my young daughters drew designs in the dirt driveway, and as they got older, we drew on napkins and copy paper together.
Thankfully, we escaped that situation, and my daughters and I are now free. In this fast-paced world we live in, which can sometimes feel overwhelming, I try to wander outside each day— to appreciate the small moments and not lose track of the seasonal rhythms that help me keep time with life’s heartbeat. Especially on the days when burdens feel too heavy or schedules too frantic, it’s important for me to pause and walk outside and just breathe with the ebb and flow of the wind. Nature is always there, showing me that spring comes after winter and sun after rain; that plants sleep, but fight to grow again; that birds survive the coldest storms; that the ocean tide will come in and go out; that caterpillars will spin a quiet cloak, their chrysalis, and eventually find their wings. The rhythms of nature are dependable, constant, and no matter the struggles of the present moment, I can turn to nature and feel better. I can go birding and notice the feather patterns on a Wood Duck or watch a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher preen themselves. I find comfort thinking of their little bird lives and the way they survive, and then I know that I, too, can survive, and now, even thrive.
In THE ROAD TO AFTER, as Lacey became more real on the page, I knew she would also love nature journaling and would grow as she observed the world outside of herself. That she’d take comfort in knowing a seed will undergo tremendous change to sprout and bloom into sunflower. That by tending her garden, Lacey would learn she was capable of taking care of herself and so much more. By observing how cicadas change, she could see the parallel and understand her own changes.
Nature and poetry seem like cousins to me. I chose to write this novel in verse because the format allows for emotional impact with a tough topic such as domestic abuse, through connecting nature and emotions with metaphor, simile, and visual imagery. Sometimes Lacey’s feelings were better written in clipped, rhythmic thoughts than full sentences. Writing in verse was intuitive and allowing the process flow produced moments of both calm and intensity when needed in the narrative. Poetry allowed for expression, contemplation, and space to think. I’m thankful for poetry and the opportunity to parallel nature to the circumstances in our own lives and the resiliency and strength humans have inside of them to rise above.
I am grateful we live in a world where I hope there will always be butterflies to release, rocks to hold, plants to water, and rivers to wade in. We all can do our part to care for the natural world. We can start by tending our own backyards and neighborhoods. Clean up litter. Cut any plastic circles before recycling them so birds don’t get stuck in them. Plant native plants. Sit outside and listen. Like Lacey, allow nature a few moments of attention and it will nourish you more than you know. If you don’t believe me, try planting a sunflower.
REBEKAH LOWELL is an author, illustrator, and surface designer with a passion for the natural world. As a survivor of domestic abuse, she has found the outdoors to be a healing grounds. Rebekah has a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in Children’s Literature and Illustration from Hollins University. Her artwork has been featured on the Maine Duck Stamp five times and she is also an art educator, locally and online.
Rebekah’s debut YA novel in verse, The Road to After, was published by Nancy Paulsen Books in 2022, and her debut picture book, Catching Flight, publishes with Doubleday Books for Young Readers in spring 2023. When not in her studio, you can find Rebekah wandering outside—birding, gardening, nature journaling, rescuing birds for Avian Haven, and raising butterflies—often with her daughters, who she homeschools. She lives with her family in her hometown of Biddeford, Maine. See more of Rebekah’s work at rebekahlowell.com and follow her on Instagram at @rebekahlowell and on Twitter at @RebekahLowell.