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Susan Cerulean Connects Personal And Universal Ecologies In Her Latest Book

Susan Cerulean holding a cake with lit candles sitting next to older man
Susan Cerulean
Family Photo
Author Susan Cerulean and her father celebrate his birthday.

One of North Florida's most celebrated nature writers has penned a new work that delves into the mysterious parallels between the personal and universal realms. Susan Cerulean's latest book is entitled “I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird”.

That book is one of a long literary litany for Cerulean, whose past works include: “Tracking Desire: A Journey After Florida Kites,”” “UnspOILed: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast,” and her award-winning: “Coming to Pass: Florida's Coastal Islands in the Gulf of Change”. Certainly, Cerulean's personal experiences informed all of these writings. But she says her latest book: “I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird,” struck closer to home than the others.

"I have years of journals sitting with my dad, and in those journals, because I also go outside and sit with the wild birds and landscapes - do workout there - I would begin to notice those two stories side-by-side in my own pages that I write for myself," she mused.

For Cerulean that connectivity seemed a compelling way to bring her traditional themes to an even wider audience.

"In speaking for nature, the earth, the wild places and things, not everyone's interested to hear those stories. But everyone can relate to a story of a family member, whatever that story is. In my case, it was having a shift of responsibility to taking care of my father in the last three to five years of his struggle with dementia."

And even though the book's title may at first seem cryptic, Cerulean insisted it perfectly captures the duality of the storyline.

"At some point the title came to me and it was just sort of intuitive: 'I have been assigned the single bird.' And I thought, 'Wow; we don't have as many birds as we used to have and part of my job is to look after birds at the coast in a variety of ways. And I just have this one father and he needs me. And it felt like an assignment in both cases. The two stories just made themselves available to me."

Cerulean said both her father and the natural world she also cherished, were slipping away. And even her intense love and caring could not reverse or even slow that process.

"We can see the sea level rise on our very own coast. And we can see the amazing number of hurricanes pitched off the coast of Africa our way and with two months still to go in the season. I think that some humans will survive. But humans as we are living now with the resources we're using, we won't be able to keep this up."

But despite this dark prediction, Cerulean remains hopeful. She cited the optimistic view of fellow-writer Richard Powers in his book The Overstory.

"If we can lower ourselves from the pedestal of getting to have and take anything we want to and begin to see everything else here on this earth is sharing a moral authority. Which to me means the right to live ones' life with needs met; not needs exceeded as we live, but with needs met."
Similar to the bird in the title of Cerulean's book who, paraphrasing the words of the song, "takes what he needs and leaves the rest."

Join WFSU and partners on October 20, 2020 at 7 pm ET for a virtual screening and discussion about the future of the Apalachicola River and the Forgotten Coast. Register: