Wild Roots – Coming Alive in the French Amazon

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“Donna Mulvenna has discovered the intangible language of nature that few people perceive. She generously, effortlessly shares this rare gift with us. A new nature writing classic has been born.” — Dr Margi Prideaux – Wild Politics

“I truly hope that for all our sakes some of the author’s insight and passion finds its way into the minds and hearts of readers.” — L G Cullens – Calen’s Eden

Donna Mulvenna had everything she wanted in her modern Australian life: a rewarding career, a spacious home, and an around-the-clock connection to mobile technology. But for all these comforts, she couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing.

So when a Frenchman entered her life and invited her to move to France, she instantly daydreamed of strolling through lavender fields and sipping espresso in Paris. How could she have known he had two tickets to an obscure, mosquito-infested French territory in South America: French Guiana?

After that life got a little crazy. Donna found herself hacking through a perilous jungle, canoeing along anaconda-infested rivers, and overcoming a tropical disease: in a place that became more hostile by the minute. Harrowing ordeals became just another pothole in the road as she battled with bureaucratic nightmares, befriended a bizarre assortment of lively characters, and encountered oddball creatures in a chocolate-colored sea.

Then it happened. Forced out of her comfort zone and cleansed of the beliefs that had sustained her in a materialistic world, Donna dug deep within herself to unearth a long-lost hidden spirit. At that moment, she came alive in the Amazon rainforest.

Written with humor, a respect for nature, and an awareness that we must somehow rebuild our relationship with it, this fascinating and uplifting memoir will make you want to reclaim your life and live out your wildest dreams.


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Are you comfortable in your niche

Book Review by L. G. Cullens, Aug 25, 2016

Are you comfortable in your niche, seeming to have a degree of control, yet sometimes fantasize about acting with abandonment and seeing new places? Maybe it’s an unconscious feeling you suppress out of fear of where it will lead. Come on now, you can tell me. No? Well then may I suggest reading about how exciting real life can be, and maybe expanding your horizons at the same time. No one else need know you’re escaping to another level of being. It’s what the doctor prescribes for a gloomy day.

As we join the author, she has made tentative steps in our artificial culture, maybe even making a few false starts as we all have, and is settling into a guarded lifestyle when she meets a new man. No, this isn’t a romance novel, unless you think of such as a romance with what life can be. The immersing experiences are related in an at first seemingly naïve voice evoking awe, with a magical blend of subtle humor, touches of irony, sense of place, and insight, delivered at a quick pace. Quick to me at least, as I lost track of time reading this book. Getting further into the book, one realizes how much enlightening experience, and breadth of knowledge is being served up. Only those overly full of themselves could resist being pulled along.

As a small example, even a simple act of taking a dip in the ocean is evocative, “I find swimming in their warm waters to be quite pleasant, or at least it was after I stopped freaking out every time something I couldn’t see brushed against me.”

There are questioning natural world and biodiversity threads, subtle with a ring of hopefulness. And for the inquiring mind there’s also a fair amount of interesting fact asides cleverly interspersed. For example, do you know why French Guiana’s geographical location is ideal for launching satellite rockets?

As another example of immersive writing, in this snippet the author is transitioning from a “civilized” world mindset to appreciating Amazonian Nature.

“It wasn’t long before illusions of following in the footsteps of eighteenth-century botanist Jean-Baptiste Aublet took root, and I tentatively slipped from the hammock to sit on the grass. However, rather than appreciate the nature around me, I anxiously looked about for armies of man-eating ants or hordes of tail-waving scorpions, cringing the moment so much as a breeze brushed against me.”

When it comes to Nature observations, the author doesn’t bore you with a mouse in the cupboard. Here she’s talking about a Harpy Eagle.

“As well as being an astonishingly powerful bird – imagine legs almost as thick as your arm – they are possibly the most scary-looking of the carnivorous birds. It is the harpies that are depicted in Greek mythology as horrid winged women with their breasts hanging out who swooped down to take humans to the underworld. However, despite this formidable appearance, they really are quite nice to each other. They form monogamous couples that mate for life, chirp to each other as they build a nest, live together for their twenty-five to thirty-five-year lifespan, and devote two years to care for a single chick.”

Oh, and you think you have problems with wildlife in your yard? Try catching an enormous iguana making its way to the chicken pen, or helplessly watching as a colony of cassava ants make off with a good part of your garden.

So you don’t get the idea that only wildlife falls under the microscope, here’s an example of the author’s wry humor.

“French Guiana is also a bureaucratic and bungling nightmare, and that is being optimistic. It took six months to open a bank account and longer for a debit card to arrive. On one occasion the wait was so long I asked, “Do you have a toilet?” “Yes, I will show you were it is,” said the clerk. Finding the door locked I asked, “May I have the key please?” “Oh no,” she said. “We can’t give out the key because one of our colleagues got murdered in there!” And at that moment I could understand why something like that may have happened.”

I don’t know what a pooh-bah writing “expert” might think of this book, but I’d laugh if they missed the point that the dogma we find harborage in is a reflection of our problems. To me everything in these pages melds together in an exciting journey and enjoyable balanced learning experience, and I applaud how the author both entertains the surface reader, and speaks to those that realize there is much more to life on our exciting little blue canoe than we’re conscious of.

I truly hope that for all our sakes some of the author’s insight and passion finds its way into the minds and hearts of readers.

A new nature writing classic has been born

Book Review by Dr. M. Prideaux, Oct 8, 2016

It is a rare gift to be transported, effortlessly, into someone else’s real life.

Wild Roots: Coming Alive in the French Amazon is a journey of beautiful and complete vignettes that we live as a fellow traveller through the French Amazon. In the union we delight in her discoveries, shudder with her horrors, elevate with her inspiration and laugh at her constant wit.

The author travels halfway around the world to begin her adventure with Frank, and discovers that her biggest journey is into herself. Her new life is filled with challenges and insights, big and small, miraculous and terrible, profound and mundane. Along the way she is embraced by the local community and an amazing world of humour, kindness and custom opens for her – a world where wildlife, big and small are part of every moment. Disconnected from the demands of the electronic world, she finds herself in a beautiful, raw and honest way.

We find quite soon that our soul also touches French Guiana’s wildness and we yearn to uproot our lives and follow in her footsteps. The complex weaving of Amerindian, Maroon, Brazilian, Hindustani, Javanese, Chine, Hmong, Creole and European cultures creeps into our being. We long to meet the scarlet ibis, the dolphins, the otters, the turtles and most of all the beautiful serenity of the sloth. We hear of hummingbirds flying through her house, chicks fledgling on her windowsill, coming face to face with a crab dog on the river bank, and a camians red eyes at night. We sit with stillness beneath ancient trees where time slows to the pulse of nature.

Close to the end of Wild Roots the author tells us ‘The wilderness is where water is scarce, a traveler walks in the heat without shade and where wild animals live. It is a magical place where you enter feeling far away, distant, absent, and unresponsive and walk out filled with faith, hope, love, joy, and a greater sense of responsibility.’

Transporting a reader into the world of an animal or a wild place is an art form that takes a special skill and empathy, so that we surrender to the moment. Wild Roots delivers that experience on every page.

The author evokes the raw nature reflection of H is for Hawk by Macdonald and Walden by Thoreau, with hints of the poetry of A Sand County Almanac by Leopold and Desert Solitaire by Abbey. There are moments that echo Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Kingslover.

This is an eclectic, deeply satisfying and remarkable journey of coming to understand the wildlife and the wildness of a place and yourself, told by an incredible and wise author. Good books are read many times. I will read Wild Roots again, very soon.

Donna Mulvenna has discovered the intangible language of nature that few people perceive. She generously, effortlessly shares this rare gift with us. A new nature writing classic has been born.

Her writing style is filled with humor and reflects the kind of person that she is.

Book Review: Mojito with a Twist December 17, 2017

Discover the true happiness in life with Donna Mulvenna as she writes an unfiltered story about her life in French Guiana in her extraordinary memoir, Wild Roots – Coming Alive in the French Amazon! Life in Australia had always been almost perfect and convenient for Donna and yet that feeling of not belonging there or not being happy enough always nagged her. She had a stable job where everybody respected her opinion, but something was missing. When her French boyfriend, Franck, asked her to move to French Guiana with him, she was excited, confused, and paranoid. All the obvious questions bombarded her brain and filled it with doubt. However, love conquers it all and she took the plunge and joined her boyfriend towards an adventurous life in French Guiana. What awaited there was nothing that she could have ever imagined even in her wildest dreams. Initially, she felt extremely overwhelmed with this immense change of lifestyle, but gradually French Guiana grew on her. The raw encounters with nature left her in awe and she began counting her blessings.

I was afraid that Wild Roots would turn out to be a mini-encyclopedia of the wild animals, plants, and other natural elements and that I would not feel connected with the content or the characters of the book, but I am delighted that I was so wrong. The things that left me paranoid in the beginning became the sort of content that I started cherishing while reading Wild Roots. She has reminisced about her encounters with various exotic and/or interesting creatures (birds and animals) in such a beautiful story-telling manner that they never seemed too informational. The story-telling remained the major part of her memoir and this factor kept me, as a reader, entertained throughout the reading. I particularly enjoyed the part where she mentioned the myth that one should never turn one’s back on a [French] trogon or risk drowning or have some mishap occur in your life. While turning the pages, I got the privilege of meeting harpies, Agami herons, potoo among others.

Her passion for canoeing and kayaking is quite visible and appealing. This interest of hers not only helped her meet her boyfriend but also many exciting friends. Together they went on some extraordinary journeys to have many memorable experiences. But life in French Guiana is not a bed of roses for people who are too attached to a life of comfort and luxury. Living in the wilderness sounds impressive, and reading her memoir, one is sure to consider moving to the French Amazon, but the author has clearly warned about the pros and cons of the same.

The troubles that she went through, like finding a “bald mouse” flying in the room, frogs hopping in the toilet, snakes wandering all around the house, are not something that everybody can cope with. Donna, not only coped with these situations but thrived in those. This is where she discovered herself and her true happiness. While we, living in all sorts of conveniences, are feeling uncomfortable with our daily routines and monotonous lifestyles, she is totally at ease in the wilderness that challenges her to be a more humble person every day.

Her writing style is filled with humor and reflects the kind of person that she is. I enjoyed reading her memoir and would recommend it to the readers who wish to know about a life in the wilderness, French Guiana, French Amazon, and exotic creatures. Reading Wild Roots is definitely the most humbling experience. In the least, it would teach us to count our blessings and connect with nature as often as possible.

To visit the website, click here.

Find your own wild roots.

Book Review by TBiggart, August 8, 2016

I just finished reading WILD ROOTS for the second time! Once wasn’t enough!! I think the first reading just got my mind chewing and the second reading really set the concepts. I have been struggling in my life trying to define what it was that really made me feel alive. In her book, she deals with this concept for herself which helped me to find it again for myself. For anyone following this struggle, they will enjoy and appreciate her struggles and conquests. She brings so much love and humor to her new adventure. Someone once told me to take lots of pictures when you move to an exotic locale because in a while the exotic will become normal. WILD ROOTS is her album of photos in words. This may even be a better way!

Her love of Nature comes through in every page. Whether she is dealing with some newly-met bizarre animal or trying to stay afloat in her pirogue, the reader is struck by her love for all things natural. Her outlook really made me look out my window with different eyes! Even though I am not living in French Guyana filled with wonderful animals, I can find so many interesting familiar creatures to wonder at here at home.

I really lliked the way she starts each chapter with a Centering Thought. This is a brief quote from some well-known person that sets the mind of the reader to what will be encountered in the chapter. Being a plant person, I appreciated her use of botanical names for the plants that she describes. This helped to make the book more personal for me. I feel a very close tie to all she is writing about. It is almost like she wrote the book for me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is searching for life’s meaning and carries a love of nature in their heart. You may feel that she wrote the book just for you!

OUTSTANDING. A must read for a wonderful ride.

Linda E, August 20, 2016

WOW. Donna I want to thank you for the most amazing trip through the Amazon. I felt like I was in your shoes. Your descriptions of the animals and bugs and jungles were outstanding. I look forward to other book that you will pen. I am hooked. again, thank you.

Jan P, August 19, 2016

Great read something different really felt you were there good luck the turtles if only they could talk!

Five stars

Ken Peterson, August 18, 2016

Read the book and I love it. I love the writing style and it’s what make this book a good one.

Excellent read

Ella Smith, August 18, 2016

What a nice book. I really love that.

Excellent read

Amazon Customer, August 16, 2016

Loved the story, made me want to have my own adventure in the wild. An easy and very informative read.

Could not put it down

Amazon Customer, August 14, 2016

I loved this book.

I became so engrossed that I felt as though I was in the French Amazon. The author’s description made me want to be there and experience what she was experiencing. I loved how out of every negative there was a positive. From foraging for food to dealing with scary bugs. Through her eyes she has shown me things in a very different way. It is serious and humorous at the same time. I loved her humour!

This book gives you an insight into the day to day life of people in French Guyana that you would never see if you were just visiting. I particularly enjoyed the history of how the different nationalities have come together to form this part of Sth America and to learn how accepting they all are of each other. Donna shows that in life you never stop learning and how much more you can learn if you open your eyes and are accepting of different things.

I loved it and could not put it down. I highly recommend it to anyone and hope that Donna Mulvenna continues to write many more books.

I recommend reading this

Sunnygirl, August 14, 2016

Well, I can honestly say that it is well worth reading. Donna captures the vivid colours and sounds of the French Amazon. Her passion for the future of this area is genuine, and she puts our greedy world under the spotlight, which is uncomfortable and thought provoking. Will it change my world? I would like to think so. Will it change Amazonia? I would like to hope so.

Sounds like a real adventure

Amazon Customer, August 14, 2016

Sounds like a real adventure, though I’m not sure it’s one I fancy! I can deal with the spiders in the bath and the odd nice friendly british parasite,the NHS has a lot to be said for it too…. and I do like a roof over my head; soft Yorkshire lass that’s me – Donna on the other hand is obviously made of much sterner stuff!

Tired of humdrum suburbia? Weary of the same-old same-old …

Ozbri, August 13, 2016

Tired of humdrum suburbia ? Weary of the same-old same-old ? Read how a spirited woman abandoned security and comfort for the challenge, adventure, beauty and fulfillment of life in the Amazonian jungle__an odyssey told with honesty, spontaneity, humour and wonderment. The reader encounters a vivid and informative description of the environment and culture of the region together with the author’s initial shock, then gradual adjustment and absorption within it.

A personal journey imbued with the wonderment of Nature and Humanity’s sometimes ambiguous relationship with it. The author feels that Humanity’s salvation, both collectively and individually, might perhaps come from the realisation of the inter-relationship of all Life and more sensible utilization of Earth’s beneficial resources.

A courageous and incredible personal journey in absolute jungle survival

Amazon Customer, July 30, 2016

After receiving a complimentary copy of WILD ROOTS I was left stunned how the author lived through the true life adventures and then stunned more with the environment in which she lived. Her home was in the French Amazon which becomes real and has haunted me since reading this book of a fascinating personal journey from where a woman seeking change from the mundane of Western life rat race finds sheer joy in her soul felt freedom and at one with all that surrounds her in an amazing connection with nature, and her willingness to be open to all that has life. Absolutely 5 stars if not just for the courage and tenacity of the author’s lived life but a riveting close up and personal understanding of the great French Amazon. Truly amazing.

She left the Australia to be marooned in the middle of the amazon

Marion, July 22, 2016

She left the Australia to be marooned in the middle of the amazon in primitive conditions that meant do or die-she learns to thrive in this fascinating wilderness.

Highly recommended

A Howe, July 18, 2016

I received this book for free on condition that I gave it an honest review. Well, I loved it! From the first paragraph I was absorbed and my interest didn’t wane all the way through. The writing is very descriptive and there is some lovely humor sprinkled throughout the pages. The writer has contagious passion for her new-found home. We learn of her initial struggle to adjust from living in “civilization,” where we take all for granted, to survival in a truly remote part of our planet. It is really the story of how this experience changed an Australian woman from what she was, and always had been, to what she has become and how contented she now feels because of those changes. She’s learned to view the world and nature in a way she had never previously understood and to appreciate each new day for the joys it brings.

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A chapter excerpt from Wild Roots – Coming Alive in the French Amazon

As the rising tropical sun nudged the last wisps of cloud from the valley, I stood at the top of our driveway, a stream of sweat dripping from my brow. I was buckled over, my hands on my knees, gasping for breath, in air as thick as steam.

Yellow-ridged toucans had called all morning and a cacophony of other birds drowned out my usually quiet and reclusive neighbor.

Aller, aller (go, go),” she yelled, as she plucked eight-week-old puppies from the lawn and hurled them through the doorway into her house. “Come,” she panted, waving me over.

“Oh gosh, are the puppies all right?” I asked.

“They’re fine,” she said. “But there’s a harpy eagle in the valley and I don’t want it to eat them.”

“Harpy eagles don’t eat dogs,” I blurted out, louder than I intended, and she looked at me like I was about to kidnap her child.

Interactions between humans and harpy eagles have always involved equal measures of awe and fear, and a touch of misunderstanding. Even squirrel monkeys are said to drop from branches in unison to evade their claws, and nature lovers claim their lives altered by the sight of one. But they do not eat dogs; preferring more exotic prey such as sloths, monkeys, and macaws.

A short distance along the overgrown track, I spotted a small gathering of silent French, Creole and Polynesian neighbors, who on seeing me approach, broke from their stock-still stance to point toward a stand of tall ironwood trees.

Adjusting the focus of my small pocket binoculars, I looked across the long narrow valley and followed a line of tangled branches and glistening leaves until… “Oh, my!” I gasped and took a step back. Were those steel-grey eyes fixed on me?

Her sheer size and power were awe-inspiring. I am assuming it was a she, the female of the species being bigger and stronger than their male counterpart, standing at over 3 feet tall. She had an oversized hooked beak, and she gripped the branch with talons that made Edward Scissorhands’ pincers look like pre-school scissors.

Her strong legs and muscular shoulders were those of a heavy-lifter. I could see why her appearance implies overbearing ferocity; a characteristic depicted in Greek mythology as a half eagle, half female beast with talons made from metal that carried souls to the underworld.

Her striking plumage was gray with a pure white breast. She boasted a facial rosette of pale gray feathers, some of them sticking out from her head at odd angles. For a moment, her huge owl-like face looked to exude a gentleness and calmness, but the moment her 3D binocular vision saw something move, her demeanor switched to vigilant, which sent a shock wave of alertness reverberating across the jungle.

She acted like a diva, haughty and cool, tough and independent, and above acknowledging most things. But I knew she had seen us.

As I stared at the magnificent raptor, I recalled a dramatic incident in a BBC documentary a few years back. A harpy attacked the filmmaker while he installed a camera in a nest. Despite wearing neck protection, a helmet, a stab-proof Kevlar vest, leather thigh protection, and elbow and wrist guards, a defensive swoop from a female rendered him almost unconscious.

The documentary’s producer later said, “People frighten most birds, but not this one. On each of her toes, she has a talon as large as my thumb. We knew we were never lunch, but at the same time, there was absolutely no fear on her part.”

Time stood still while I watched her crest bounce up and down as she preened and shifted her weight across a sturdy branch. After an hour, she spread her wings, which looked like two sheets flapping on a washing line and flew deeper into the valley, disappearing from view.

I remained in a high-noon cowboy stance, ready to lift my binoculars should she reappear. But something else extraordinary happened.

My neighbor, of generous proportions, who seldom ventures beyond her garden for fear of overexertion, erupted into hooting laughter and danced around in a high-spirited, hip-swinging, foot-stomping carnival shuffle.

She stopped, placed her hand on her chest and grinning from ear to ear said, “I have waited my whole life to see a harpy eagle in the wild. I love them!”

Even naturalists sometimes wait their entire lives for a glimpse of one of the Amazon’s big three in the wild: the jaguar who rules the forest floor, the black caiman who is the king of the swamps, or the harpy eagle, who reigns supreme over the canopy.

Because spotting a harpy eagle in the wild entails trekking over rough terrain, with unfamiliar sounds, strange insects, and a tangled web of foliage, we prefer to admire them from the comfort of our homes. Watching television documentaries and surfing the internet keeps us informed and entertained, without requiring us to seek them out in their natural habitat. But sometimes we forget a harpy eagle’s existence goes well beyond our entertainment. They have inherent value in the important role they play in balancing the ecology.

No one knows how many harpy eagles still exist in the world. Everywhere, their habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate, and fears exist they won’t be resilient enough to survive it.

But standing here, in one of the world’s last great wildernesses, where a harpy eagle can still thrive; a group of quirky, nature-loving neighbors had the rare privilege of watching one fly across the valley.

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