For Pacific Beach resident Karin Zirk, it’s all about writing, nature and community. All three have coalesced into “Falling from the Moon,” her debut novel published in January and released as an e-book in October.
The book is set amid Redwood Summer, a three-month environmental movement organized in 1990. A group of people led by activist Judi Bari gathered in an effort to protect redwood trees in Northern California that were being cut down by timber companies.
At that time, Zirk was in San Francisco and living out of her 1971 Volkswagen camper van when she learned about Bari and Redwood Summer from a promotional flier posted at the co-op market Rainbow Grocery. Zirk decided to join the protest.
“I never met Judi Bari, but I heard from other people what was going on and I’ve continued to follow this trajectory throughout the years since,” Zirk said.
“I definitely did a lot of research to learn other perspectives of what had happened, because I was not involved in organizing, so I didn’t really have the big picture. … I also read some books on environmentalism in general that were written much more recently and that basically credit Redwood Summer with creating the modern environmental movement.”
“Falling from the Moon” is a fictional story that follows Sapphire Larson, a 25-year-old visual artist who is searching for her father. Along the way, Larson encounters a diverse group of characters such as environmental activist Lauren, Vietnam veteran Grizzly Bear Garth and a troubled man named Mole. It’s a complex tale about alternative cultures and self-discovery, exploring themes of environmentalism, community and restorative justice.
Though this is Zirk’s first novel, she previously authored a collection of poetry called “Notes from the Road.” The chapbook, published in 1992, chronicles her experience living in her Volkswagen van from 1989 to 1991. During that period, Zirk visited 40 states, meeting people of diverse backgrounds and experiencing diverse ecosystems.
Aside from her cross-country trek, the New York-born Zirk has lived in California most of her life. She spent her elementary school years in the Bay Area before moving to Chula Vista. She graduated from Bonita Vista High School and attending a few community colleges in San Diego before moving back to Northern California. Years later, she earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego.
Thirty years ago, she returned to San Diego to be closer to family and settled in Pacific Beach, which she quickly became attached to. In addition to being within biking distance of UCSD in La Jolla, she developed an appreciation for PB’s ecosystem and residents.
“What I love about Pacific Beach, besides the beach and the bay … is that people in Pacific Beach are doers and they’re entrepreneurs and they’re going out and creating a world the way they want it to exist,” Zirk said. “Just being around people like that … helps me stay motivated.”
Zirk’s passion for the environment jumps off the pages of her books and into her day-to-day life. After buying a house near Rose Creek in 2004, Zirk was riding along the bike path when she saw a group of people picking up trash along the water. She briefly stopped to express her interest in helping and gave them her phone number to receive information about the next cleanup.
It turned out that the group’s leader, Robert LaRosa of The Nature School, had been looking after the area for more than a decade but was soon leaving town. A month after their initial meeting, LaRosa called Zirk and asked if she would want to take over maintaining the creek. With a mix of panic and excitement — “I just got handed a creek; I had no idea what to do!” — Zirk connected with other local environmentalists and created Friends of Rose Creek.
Zirk is executive director of the group, which holds events and cleanups and leads bird and nature walks. The gatherings were put on hold in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but slowly started again in June with small groups, social distancing and other safety precautions.
Zirk said she has cultivated a large network in San Diego through her writing and environmental efforts and that that community has been very supportive of the release of “Falling from the Moon.” However, after a successful kickoff event for the book at the beginning of the year, in-person readings, presentations and book festivals scheduled for this year were canceled because of the pandemic, making it hard to connect with new readers.
“These opportunities for me to reach people outside of my social circles and my network were really just kind of all shut down,” Zirk said.
Yet there are a few silver linings to the pandemic for Zirk, who pays the bills through a job in the technology field. She now works from home, eliminating her long commute. She has carved out more time to write and has picked up her camera to revisit another creative passion: photography. On breaks, she frequently visits Rose Creek to spend time in nature and capture its beauty.
Zirk hopes her virtual promotional and marketing efforts will help put print or digital copies of “Falling from the Moon” into the hands of new readers.
“For a lot of people who haven’t experienced alternative culture, this novel is an unthreatening way to experience it, because you don’t have to go out and be around all those weirdos,” Zirk said, laughing.
You can buy a print copy of “Falling from the Moon” on IndieBound or order through a local bookstore. The digital version is available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. For more information, visit FallingFromTheMoon.com.