My childhood home, c. 1953

I grew up on a small remote island in Washington State. My parents built our cabin, which had no electricity or running water. The island was isolated from mainland culture. Mail and freight came three days a week by boat. No one on the island had a telephone or television. We had a radio, but it ran off the truck battery and was rarely used. The sounds of nature and the sounds we made did not disturb the expanded silence.


My mother, two brothers and me, before our sister was born

I come from a family of writers. Our mother, Doris Burn, had a dream of writing and illustrating children’s books. Her first book, Andrew Henry’s Meadow, was published in 1965 and won the Governor’s Art Award. Her books are still in print and have been published in many languages.

Our grandparent’s cabin

Our grandparents, June and Farrar Burn, lived nearby in a cabin nestled in a cove around the point. June’s book Living High: An Unconventional Biography is still in print. June’s uncle, Joel Chandler Harris, wrote the Uncle Remus stories.


Our place

Between our cabin and the shore was a sandflat, now mostly covered with moss. The sandflat, woods and beach were our habitat. We were as much a part of the landscape as the trees and clouds and wild dill.

Our cabin today

The Burns built houses for immediate shelter, not posterity. Today, the old log cabin is settling into the earth, with its memories.


School teacher, with students, c. 1956—I am in the front row with my hands in my pockets.

The one-room school on Raven Island goes only to eighth grade. In 1963, my mother, sister and I moved to Bellingham so I could attend high school. The following year I lived with an aunt and uncle in Oakland.

When I encountered mainland culture, I did not know how to make sense of the world around me and I did not know how to communicate with strangers. I was like a boat that had parted from its moorings. Through my teens and early adult years, I went where the winds blew and the tides took me.

In 1979, I was living in Seattle, in my first marriage, with two small children. By then, the silence of the island, which was the air the world breathed and through which leaves fell to the ground, had become a wall of silence between me and the rest of the world.

Part of a mother’s responsibility is to give her children a cultural orientation and impart a sense of belonging. I could not impart what I myself lacked. I sought help from a Jungian psychologist and with her guidance I found a way to make sense of the human activity around me.

Today, thirty-five years later, the silence is lifting and I am sharing my understanding of how the world works—as a belated fulfillment of my responsibility to my children and all the earth’s children.