It’s always fun to discover a hidden gem. That’s how I felt recently when I was introduced to the writings and artistry of longtime Colorado Springs resident Ann Haymond Zwinger.
In fact, I’m kind of ashamed that I hadn’t heard of the acclaimed naturalist, author and artist until now.
Turns out she’s our own Thoreau, communing with nature on her 40-acre Teller County retreat she named Constant Friendship, exploring the rivers and wild places of the world, writing about and sketching the wonders of the flora and fauna all around and conveying the joy she felt to readers in books and essays.
Now everyone has a chance to learn about Zwinger and her writings in a special setting from people who know her. At 1 p.m., Sunday, July 21, Zwinger will be celebrated as the subject of the Cheyenne Mountain State Park series “A Walk In the Woods With . . .”
Zwinger is credited with inspiring generations to love nature through her books like “Beyond the Aspen Grove,” which launched her career in 1970, as well as “Run, River, Run,” her 1975 study of the Green River which won major writing awards and was acclaimed in the New York Times as “authoritative” and a “standard reference work on this part of the American West for many years to come.”
Volunteer naturalist Lucy Bell will lead the free, two-hour walk. She will tell participants of Zwinger’s life and share excerpts of her writing.
Bell will be joined by guest speaker Ava Heinrichsdorff, who, like Bell, is a retired teacher, writer and editor as well as a friend of Zwinger.
Zwinger, 88, will not attend because she is in mourning after the June 7 death of Herman Zwinger, her husband of 60-plus years.
Bell is thrilled to be able to share her fondness for Zwinger with fellow outdoor enthusiasts who attend.
“I’m amazed how many people have not heard of her or didn’t know she lives here,” Bell said. “She definitely belongs in the same company as Thoreau and Muir.”
Bell gets excited as she recalls highlights of Zwinger’s life and career, pointing to passages in a stack of the author’s books.
She points out elegant drawings of wild raspberries and bush honeysuckle and caddisfly and other plans and insects that Zwinger created to accompany her writings.
“She has such an affinity for nature and her drawings really make you notice the details,” Bell said.
Clearly she immersed herself in her subject, and wrote with affection for even the smallest flower or insect as in this passage from “Beyond the Aspen Grove” as she described rock-primrose blossoms near the gate of Constant Friendship surrounded by the Pike National Forest a few miles north of Woodland Park.
Zwinger found a cluster of the half-inch tall plants in bloom and observed:
“They are one of the rewards of dirty knees and stiff joints and undignified postures which provoke one’s family to laughter.”
She went on to describe them:
“The leaves have a deep mahogany tinge. The stems, fine as wire, are deep brilliant alizarin red, as are the tiny pointed buds. As the flower opens it is bright pine, fading to white. If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, one hopes it will be a rock-primrose.”
Heinrichsdorff said hiking with Zwinger could be a challenge because she was easily and joyously distracted by everything around her.
“She takes such delighting every moment of living,” Heinrichsdorff said. “The reason to sketch was to notice and savor every little thing. But it’s hard to go anywhere with her because she’s always stopping to sketch things.”
Folks who attend the nature walk will learn of her life, how she was the wife of an Air Force pilot (Herman) whose career brought them to Colorado Springs where she taught English and Southwest studies at Colorado College and raised three daughters.
They’ll learn how she became a published author in 1970 at age 42 after a casual introduction to a literary agent who inspired her to type a one-page book outline and a two-page sample chapter!
Bell and Heinrichsdorff also will talk about how she traveled the entire length of the Green River from Wyoming to its confluence with the Colorado River in Utah to research her third, triumphant book. And much more.
Due to health issues, she hasn’t hiked or canoed much lately, Bell said. But, thanks to the dozen or so books and devoted fans like Bell and Heinrichsdorff, you can still join her on her adventures.
IF YOU GO
The program is free but a $7 fee is required to enter the park.
For reservations or more information, call 576-2016.