20 women writing about the outdoors

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3. Katharine Norbury

At first, it might seem strange that Katharine Norbury, a writer and film editor by trade, would want to delve into the world of nature writing. But life is sudden and sometimes traumatic, taking you by the shoulders and flinging you into a strange new world.

That seems to be what happened to Norbury, anyway. She started life as an abandoned infant, left at a convent in Liverpool, England. Young Katharine was soon adopted and raised by loving parents. However, a letter from her birth mother leads her to begin questioning her origins. It is curt and cruel, saying that “she didn’t want anything to do with me,” in Norbury’s words.

Things were already pretty bad with a miscarriage and a breast cancer diagnosis for Norbury. In fact, she had only just started to recover from a bilateral mastectomy when the letter from her birth mother arrives.

A trek through Wales

What do you do with such a raw deal? Norbury, along with her nine-year-old daughter, Evie, set out on a trek. Together, the pair would follow rivers backward, from the sea to their sources, in rural Northwestern Wales. It was initially meant as a way to deal with all of the built up grief in her life, but soon became something larger.

While moving through the landscape and to the source of the river, she symbolically grows into herself and begins a journey of self-discovery. The human relationships — among Norbury, her children and her family — are reflected in and enhanced by the journey’s connections to the natural landscape of Wales.

Norbury’s trek was published in 2015 as The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream. It’s a poetic retelling of her travels with her daughter, as well as memories of her childhood, bits of her poetry and even pieces of Celtic mythology.