Jessica Lee Answers the Orion Questionnaire

A black and white image of Jessica Lee over a background of green and purple squiggles.

In which we get to know our favorite writers better by exploring the sacred and mundane.

Jessica J. Lee is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review, author of Two Trees Make a Forest, a frequent teacher for Orion workshops, and perhaps the only person we know who, delightfully, wants to be reincarnated as moss.


There’s a spider in the room; what do you do?

Freeze, call my husband, and demand the spider be taken elsewhere. I’m embarrassed to say that I am actually rather afraid of spiders. The spiders in Cambridge, UK, where we were living recently, were the size of my hand and EVERYWHERE, including sometimes our bed. The stuff of nightmares.


What is your most treasured comfort meal?

I have a lot of favorites (buttered toast is up there), but probably lean toward hot pot most often—we have it for Lunar New Year each year, and it’s my go-to for rainy days or if I’m hosting a dinner party. It suits every mood.


Would you jump at an opportunity to go into space? Why or why not?

The part of me that thinks I should have as many experiences as I can says yes, and the part of me full of moral qualms says no.


Have you ever been bitten by an animal, wild or domestic?

A feral cat once when I was younger, but it didn’t puncture through my clothes.


Ocean, garden, desert, or forest?

An impossible choice! If I was forced to choose—forest?


My favorite tree in the world is _____.

There was a small-leaved linden in north London that I have spent a lot of time with. It came down in a storm in 2012, and is now a big fallen trunk and some roots that I still like to visit. Its leaf is tattooed on my arm.


Nature would be better without _____.



What is something you’re looking forward to?

Canoe trips in the Feldberger Seenlandschaft with my daughter. She’s a baby still, but as soon as she’s old enough for our family paddling trips, we’ll be getting out there.


Do you like scary movies?

Nope. Nope. Nope.


Do you have any unusual hobbies you’d like to share?

I am notorious for picking up hobbies and then abandoning them. The only hobbies I’ve ever stuck with long term are ice swimming and sewing.


If you could make pancakes with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

My best friends Rachel and Alyssa.


Can you make any convincing birdcalls?

I wish!


What are some of your favorite words?

Slip. Wound. (Read that second one both ways.) Both words appear in my writing too often.


Who are some of your heroes or heroines, real or fictional?

I try not to make heroes of people I don’t know, but of those I do know, I have huge admiration for the writers Nina Mingya Powles and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and the musician Emmy the Great. They all make incredible work while greeting the world with tender hearts; I learn a lot from them.


You have twenty-four hours suspended from time. Where and how do you spend them?

These days I’d just love to have a day with my husband, daughter, and dog, without the pressure of work creeping in! We could go lake swimming, eat spicy noodles, spend time in the forest.


Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I’ve been both at different times. Right now I’m a new mom who sleeps whenever the opportunity presents itself (which is rarely).


Do you remember your dreams?

Every single one. It’s amazing to have a second life, but can be burdensome when the feelings carry over.


Are you optimistic about the future?

I want to be.


Would you rather drink a piña colada or get caught in the rain?



Sweet or savory?



What’s a question you hate being asked?

Toss-up between “Is your book selling well?” and “How is work going?”


Where did you grow up?

In the suburbs.


Are you the same person you were as a child?

I like to think I’ve spent adulthood becoming the person I most wanted to be as a child. I was a very fearful child.


What song or album reminds you of high school?

The soundtrack to Almost Famous.


What did an average Friday night look like for you as a teenager? 

ICQ/MSN Messenger, the Incubus message board (I still have friends I made there), dial-up internet.


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Right where I am—Berlin.


Do you step on sidewalk cracks?



You’re in a desert island situation for an unknown period of time. You get three items and one book. What do you bring?

An Opinel knife, a first-aid kit, my glasses (I’m very nearsighted), and a guide to the flora of said desert island.


What would you like to be most remembered for?

If I’m honest—my work.


If you could come back as any organism, what would you be?

A moss at the base of a lakeside tree.

Read Robert Michael Pyle’s answers to the Orion Questionnaire.

Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author, environmental historian, and winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, the Banff Mountain Book Award, and the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. She is the author of TurningTwo Trees Make a ForestDispersals, and the children’s book A Garden Called Home, and co-editor of the essay collection Dog Hearted. She is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review and teaches creative writing at the University of Cambridge. She lives in Berlin.