Meera Subramanian Answers the Orion Questionnaire

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

Meera Subramanian is an award-winning independent journalist, author, and contributing editor of Orion magazine. If you want to catch her attention, try wafting some fresh-cut fir branches in her direction. Perfectly ripe avocados might work, too. 


You found a penny. Do you pick it up?

Only if it’s heads up. (I’m not superstitious.)


What is your most treasured comfort meal?

Does popcorn made on the stovetop count as a meal? Topped with Bragg Liquid Aminos, a shake of hippie dust, (a.k.a. nutritional yeast), and a dash of paprika.


What is a species you feel is frequently misunderstood?

By Homo sapiens? Every single other species.


Ocean, garden, desert, or forest?

Yes, please.


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

Yesterday, I scooped one up in a handy spoon when it fell out of a bunch of thyme I’d picked. Back outside it went. Memorably, I did the same with a tarantula once in Grenada, but I used a Tupperware container. I’d noticed—as I sat on a long phone call home during the gloaming, as day turned to evening and I hadn’t turned any lights on—that the great furry spider had appeared in the middle of the living room ceiling. I watched it as I talked to my folks. Watched how it moved ever so slowly. Approached it, once the call was done, with that same gentle movement until it was trapped in the container, a stiff piece of cardboard holding it in place. Then I took it very, very far from the house. 


My favorite tree in the world is _____.

From three points in my life: The maple in the front yard of my childhood home with the world of ants contained within its crevasses; the trio of old growth Douglas firs on the edge of a spring that provided the water I drank and bathed with for years in Oregon; and the weeping beech that offers a place of refuge to humans and other beings here on Cape Cod.


Nature would be better without _____.

…the humans who forget they’re part of it. 


What is something you’re looking forward to?

Getting over the second book slump and finishing this damn book proposal I’ve been working on for way too long!


Do you like scary movies?

When I was a kid, I was thrilled by them: Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, Faces of Death. Then I realized how scary the world was and became a cinematic coward.


Do you have any unusual hobbies, hidden talents, or superpowers you’d like to share?

I can sharpen a knife, milk a goat, and spot a raptor. Maybe not all at the same time, though.


If you could, regardless of the local climate, reach out of your kitchen window and pluck a fruit from a tree, bush, or plant, what would it be?

A perfectly ripe avocado.


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

I’d make dosas—thin, savory south Indian pancakes—with my Indian grandmother in a house in Besant Nagar, Chennai. She died in 2007. 


Can you make any convincing birdcalls?

I’ve had some nice conversations with seagulls, but owls don’t seem to want to talk with me. 


Would you rather be lost in space or lost at sea?

Good god, keep me on this wondrous earth. Bound by gravity. Even if lost at sea, doomed to my death, I could feed abundant marine life, my own little version of whalefall.


What are some of your favorite words?

Zephyr. Gloaming. Zanahoria (“carrot” in Spanish).


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

The four youth climate activists—Xiye Bastida, Jamie Margolin, Rebeca Sabnam, and Shiv Soin—that illustrator Danica Novgorodoff and I featured in the nonfiction YA graphic novel we’re working on together; A Better World is Possible


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

Can they be suspended from other realms of physics, too? Can I be a creature of the sea? Weightless in water, flying through the salty realm that covers three-quarters of our earth? May I? Please?


It’s six o’clock on a summer Saturday, you’re sitting with your feet in a cool creek and someone hands you the perfect beverage. What is it?

It’s a gin and tonic on ice, with an extra lime, and made with the sloe gin I once made from sloe berries picked from a tree (Prunus spinosa), down the hill from that natural spring with the trio of trees beside it, in Oregon. I pricked each one with a pin and filled a gallon jar with them. Poured gin over top. I waited months as it turned the most brilliant hue, somewhere between violet and fuchsia. 


Are you a morning person or a night owl?



Are you optimistic about the future?

On a good day.


What is a smell that makes you stop in your tracks?

Fresh-cut Douglas fir. 


Do you remember your dreams?

Yes. I relish this alternate world, where I shot guns with Ed Abbey, gave a proper goodbye to my grandmother, gathered with people known and unknown. Recently, weirdly, I’ve written two jokes in my dreams. The first one was pretty funny. Made me laugh even once I was awake. But I forgot to write it down (bad writer) and it disappeared into the ether, where all dreams return.


Which of your book subjects or characters haunts you the most?

The teenage girls I met in Bihar, India while working on my book, A River Runs Again. They had such big dreams for themselves, and had found their voices and their bodies. I wanted every one of their dreams to come true. 


Where did you grow up?

Everywhere I’ve lived. I’m pretty sure I’ll be working on growing up until the day I die. 


Are you the same person you were as a child?

I decided to ask my family. My mom responded: “Yes, basically. You were curious, interested in nature, artistic, funny, determined, kind, loyal—and you still are.” Awww, thanks, Mom. <3


What song or album reminds you of high school?

“Hotel California” by The Eagles. “The Last Resort” still wrecks me each and every time. 


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

You really don’t want to know.


You are in a situation where you simply must sing karaoke. What’s your song?

“Riff Raff” by Casey Neill. Ideally in Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, Oregon and there are a lot of people there in muddy boots, stomping and singing along and drowning out my voice.


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

On that forty-acre plot of land with the spring and the sloe berry tree, but maybe transplanted to the coast of Spain, which I am currently crushing out on. Is that possible? Ocean, garden, forest, desert.


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

A Leatherman. A firestarter. A vessel. The Overstory by Richard Power.


What would you like to be most remembered for?

See Mom’s quote above.


What flower would you want pinned to your breast after you die?



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

Peregrine falcon. 

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Meera Subramanian is an award-winning independent journalist and author of A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, and a contributing editor of Orion magazine. Based on a glacial moraine on the edge of the Atlantic, she’s a perpetual wanderer who can’t stop planting perennials and looking for critters. You can find her at