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Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Traditions 


By Claire Rudolf Murphy, Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Mary Cronk Farrell, Sarah Conover, Betsy Wharton (SkyLight Paths, 2003).


A groundbreaking collection of short stories about women who were seminal to the formation of these monotheistic religions.



If women had been scribes in the ancient cities of Jerusalem, Mecca, and Antioch, we would probably know a lot more about the women of our religious traditions. Women played key roles in the development of each of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – from their very beginnings.


Set in the Holy Lands, Daughters of the Desert is about ancient women – daring, thoughtful, and wise – who played exciting roles in the early days of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Most of the women included in this collection are descendants of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. The stories highlight women in crucial moments or circumstances of their lives, which in many cases mark pivotal points in their respective religions.



Join Esther as she stands against injustice and her king to save her people, Aisha as she leads hundreds of men into terrifying battle, and Mary as she and Elizabeth dream of the new lives growing inside them. How must Sarah have felt, turning Hagar out into the desert? And how must Hagar have felt, traveling from the safety and security of Abraham's land towards an uncertain future? These stories invite us to come to know and appreciate the struggles and triumphs of these women–mothers, daughters, believers, and seekers.




"Recovery of the wisdom of women in the great Abrahamic religions is long overdue. Daughters of the Desert is a knock-out contribution to that project. Read the stories, fill your heart, share the wealth with others. This book deserves to become a classic of twenty-first century spiritual reading. Cherish it."


  ―Mitch Finley, author of Prayer for People Who Think Too Much and The Joy of Being Catholic


"These engaging stories of women, some of whom are important to all three religions, and some known only to one, help build bridges of understanding between religions and demonstrate the importance of religion in our lives."


                                                 ―Dr. Freda Crane, member, Islamic Society of North America


"How refreshing to find the stories of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. They are like water in the desert offering new voices and new hope to our generation."


―Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, author of Cain & Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace and But God Remembered: Stories of Women from Creation to the Promised Land



"Some stories speak powerful narratives. Others point to new understandings of our world. Still others ask questions of justice, mercy, and devotion within communities. Daughters of the Desert speaks and points and questions in all three ways, with stories about women from three spiritual traditions. Their ancient journeys―Jewish, Christian, and Muslim―startlingly and wonderfully like our own, call us to and encourage us in our own paths to God."


―Gary Schmidt, author of Winter: The Spiritual Biography of the Season and William Bradford:

Plymouth's Faithful Pilgrim 




Weaving Tapestry in Rural Ireland


Author, Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Photography by Laurence Boland, Tapestries by Taipéis Gael (Cork University Press, 2006)


Weaving Tapestry in Rural Ireland enlarges the perception of weaving in Ireland beyond the tweed, presenting the age old-skills of wool production (shearing, spinning and naturally dyeing yarn) as a vital form of artistic expression today. Juxtaposed against full colour images of the tapestries are award-winning photographer Laurence Boland's black and white portraits of the artists at work in a haunting landscape.


This book also explores Taipéis Gael's mission to contribute to cultural preservation in the Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking areas of Western Ireland. 'This book is of tremendous importance,' says Taipéis Gael weaver Margaret Cunningham, 'because many aspects of our cultural heritage have been lost with the passing of just one generation.'


Balancing preservation and innovation, Taipéis Gael's art arises from the music, literature, lore and landscape around them. Their tapestries, wrested from local wool, are also statements about both historical and contemporary issues: the Famine, emigration, family and fertility, social justice, and peace and reconciliation within Ireland.


Special features include informative captions for all illustrations, dye recipes and poems relative to weaving (in English and Irish) as recalled by mentors. Some poems are interpreted in tapestry.





"Not only has Sayres captured the spirit of the collective voices and imagery of the Taipéis Gael weavers, she and photographer Laurence Boland have created a feast of words and images so rich that I could smell the sod, stroke the sheep, and hear the weavers' voices as they wove the legacy of their land and their lives"


                                        — Marilyn Murphy, President, Interweave Press, Loveland Colorado


"In this beautifully wrought chronicle, Meghan Nuttall Sayres has drawn from the past to celebrate the present and future of Taipéis Gael, a tapestry weaving collective of international reputation in Donegal, Ireland. This group of dedicated artists has created a body of work whose compelling imagery, both pictorial and abstract, evokes a powerful sense of their ancient land – a land of rock and of sea, of wool and of natural dyes, of textiles past and of textiles yet to be created. Sayres has woven tapestries, photographs and the very words of the people themselves into a visual and narrative feast from which I could hardly bear to emerge"


                                                 — Sarah Swett, tapestry weaver and author of Kids Weaving



Meghan Nuttall Sayres has woven tapestries with the wool of her sheep, which she spun into yarn and colored with natural dyes. She has explored this craft in the deserts of the American West, Mexico, Turkey, and Iran, as well as in the Burren and bogs of Western Ireland. She volunteered for Taipéis Gael for several years, having organized exhibitions and tapestry tours for their cooperative in the United States.


Her articles and essays on weaving and Taipéis Gael have appeared in New Hibernia Review; Ireland of the Welcomes; Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot; Handwoven; and Spin Off magazines. She is author of Anahita's Woven Riddle, a novel set in 19th century Iran, about a nomadic carpet weaver. She divides her time between Washington State, Ireland, and the Near and Middle East.


Laurence Boland is a member of the Press Photographer's Association Ireland and the N.U.J.





The Shape of Betts Meadow: A Wetlands Story


Author Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Illustrations by Joanne H. Friar (Millborrk Press, Lerner, 2002)



When Gunnar Lundquist bought an old cow pasture, he used a crane and bulldozer (and a little help from Mother Nature) to turn the lifeless patch of dirt into a thriving wetlands pond and marsh.



"One soft, fine day

a doctor named Gunnar

bought a meadow called Betts.


The land was as dry

as an old cowpie, empty

of critters – even the coyote."


So begins the award-winning book The Shape of Betts Meadow, an inspiring book that tells the story of a wetlands—once lush with wildflowers and native grasses, rich with wildlife attracted to the stream that coursed through the valley. When this land was taken over for pasture, streams were rerouted and as the water left, so did the natural plants and animals.


In this true story, Dr. Gunnar Holmquist, together with his mother Lavinia, purchases Betts Meadow. Gunnar sets aside his stethoscope and happily sits himself behind the wheel of a dragline crane to begin a deeply satisfying job. As you'll see in this book, one person can make a difference.



Author's note


Lavinia Holmquist and her son, Gunnar, decided one day to nurture a small piece of land. They thought of it as their gift back to the earth. Lavinia gathered together a large part of her savings to buy Betts Meadow, a 140- acre dry pasture, ringed with a forest of tall, old pine trees. It was a beautiful place, but it seemed that it had been changed from what it had once been: a wetland. Gunnar, a medical doctor, soon became a wetland doctor.


Gunnar put aside his stethoscope, picked up his camera, and took photographs of Betts Meadow. These photos showed that about one hundred years ago three streams had coursed through the meadow, and beavers had been at work there. Later, someone had blocked the streams to dry out the land for cattle to graze. Many species of plants and animals left with the water.


This poem is the story of Betts Meadow after Lavinia and Gunnar Holmquist made their decision to take care of it.






From Booklist


The story is simply and elegantly told, and it has an immediacy lacking in many books about the subject: "Dust clung to Gunnar's mustache. Grit tickled his teeth and throat." Both the art and the text make this a pleasant change of pace on the subject.


                                                    -Todd Morning, Copyright © American Library Association 




From School Library Journal


While many books document the destruction of habitats, this simple text offers hope that people can make a difference. The full-spread illustrations are adequate. This book might be paired with Molly Cone's Squishy, Misty, Damp and Muddy (Sierra Club, 1996; o.p.), which includes many fine photos of the wetland environment. Sayres concludes with brief introductions to wetland plants and animals found in Betts Meadow in Washington state. She includes addresses of conservation organizations and lists some books with information about wetlands restoration. All of them are quite lengthy and aimed at a much older readership. On its own, this picture book can encourage readers to participate in preserving and enhancing their natural surroundings.


               -Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.





John Burroughs Nature Book 2002

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Award

Children's Book Council (CBC) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12