Howdy! Yes, I know that this is Children’s Book Week. I will happily address the theme of this special week at length later. In the meantime, it’s fitting that on the blog today is the child of Roy and Linda Watkins—the always gracious Andra Watkins.
You probably know Andra from her blog and from her books: Not Without My Father, a memoir of her historic Natchez Trace walk (click here for the interview post) and her novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, both published by Word Hermit Press. She’s here to answer a few questions about Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, the photo book of her Natchez Trace walk (March 1 to April 3, 2014). This book was published on March 15 (Word Hermit Press).
As you undoubtedly recall, Andra’s goal was to be the first living person to walk the Natchez Trace—from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee—to promote her novel about Meriwether Lewis. Her father Roy served as her wingman. After I talk to Andra, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of Natchez Trace: Tracts in Time, which debuted March 15.
El Space: What made you decide to release a separate photo book of your Natchez Trace journey?
Andra: I finished my walk with hundreds of pictures. I took them to pass five-hour days, and I planned to share them online with readers. As I posted them, readers kept telling me I needed to publish them as a complete book. It makes the perfect companion to both my novel and my memoir. While I don’t plan to publish additional books of photography, it is a quality stand-alone collection for anyone who loves the outdoors. I’m really proud of it.
El Space: You’ve been talking about making memories for some time now. (Click here for one of Andra’s blog posts on making memories.) When you look back at the photos in this book, which memory stands out to you most vividly? Why?
Andra: My last day walking alone. People do solitary things, and so much of the time, we wish it away. I streaked through fifteen-mile days to finish, and I missed the magic of a solo highway trek. Midway, I lay in a daffodil field and realized I was wasting the lessons of my Natchez Trace walk. On my last singular day, rain splotched my face. I realized I was spending my last five hours alone. The Trace saw my thoughts, because at that moment, I came around a bend and encountered a muddy field spangled with thousands of daffodils. I squished into that field, oblivious to mud and thunder. I snapped a selfie with what’s become my favorite reminder to slow down, to experience Life, to notice minutiae: the daffodil.
Photo copyright © Andra Watkins
El Space: Your photos always have so much life in them. What do you look for in a good photo op?
Andra: I learned from my architect husband. My best pictures happen when I look up, even if that means I’m lying flat on the ground to get the shot. I also like juxtapositions of light and shadow. Clouds versus blue sky. I have no professional training, and I don’t know how to use Photoshop. My pictures are minimally worked with filters and capture the truth of what I saw. I don’t look for perfection. I’ll leave that to people who know what they’re doing.
El Space: Any advice for people who want to record their journeys through photographs?
Andra: Photographs are shorthand. Even when I decided to pen a memoir about my Natchez Trace walk, I used pictures to journal. I couldn’t stop to record conversations or deep thoughts, but I could snap photos. When I scrolled through them, I recalled the way my pinky toes turned into pulpy stubs. I remembered the hay fragrance that wafted from a field when a bull chased me. I felt the wind transmogrify my body into a funnel cloud. I don’t think people should experience the world by looking through screens, but they can capture memories they don’t want to forget. The key to the best shots, for me, is really seeing what’s happening around me, without first experiencing it through a screen.
Thanks for stopping by, Andra!
Winner to be announced on May 7.
Author photo courtesy of Andra Watkins. Natchez Trace cover from her website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Daffodils from brokenbullhorn.wordpress.com. Camera image from freepik.com. Sky photo from publicdomainpictures.net.