Flat and prickly, comes to mind. In the distance on a clear day, you can see the glacier cap of Mt. Rainier and a shadow of the Cascades on the western horizon, but in Moses Lake, there are no mountains. Trees are better described as shrubs and any ground cover growing out of the black sand has thorns. Of course, there’s sagebrush with soft leaves of silvery blue and twisting trunks of brittle gray bark. This is the desert of eastern Washington.
Geologists note that the uplift of Cascades is what robbed this plateau of moisture, turning the forest to an arid zone. What land-rifting tectonic plates took away to build the mountain range, left a bleeding wound. Lava oozed and cooled in layered columns of black basalt to form gristly black scars that marble the desert. Flat and prickly rocks.
My new terrain fits me. I feel ripped from my home and planted in an arid place to heal wounds that promise scars. Anger, like lava, has oozed. I’m a slave of Egypt promised miracles and wonders only to find my bus broken down in the desert. 40 days, 40 nights or 40 years. I do not yet know my fate, but circumstances have lead me to dry ground far from my beautiful mountain views and cozy nightly bed. Circumstance; it is not my choice to be in Moses Lake. I resist liking anything about it.
My husband points to paper-thin flowers that bloom white like desert moons. “Go take a picture,” he encourages. He stops the car. I grumble as black basalt gravel migrates between my right foot and sandal. Can there be anything uglier than sand that looks like ground road tar? Yet I see the delicacy of the flowers he’s spotted. Next I look up to see the rising moon, waxing near full. It casts a back-light to the sun dipping behind the smudge of Cascades in the distance. Clouds blaze like pink neon, brighter than the cotton candy hues of home. A home I no longer have. And lava oozes again.
The next day I hold to a choice. I can still make choices even though experiencing homelessness was not one of them. After acknowledging my anger I choose to let go of it for a weekend. The first day, I escape into a movie theater and watch The Legend of Tarzan. Buttered popcorn only masks my mood. I recognize the effort as a cheat; an avoidance of anger at best. I ask my husband if we can take the truck and drive out to the dunes behind our RV park where our trailer sits in a pool of condensing moisture. Like my attempt to not be angry, stopping the trailer’s leaks has been futile. And all around me I see flat and prickly land. Desert.
If we had toys — dune buggies, ATVs, motorcycles — the black swells of gritty sand might have appealed to me. Many of our transient neighbors have “toy-haulers” which are massive trailers big enough for house-like beds, sofas, home entertainment systems and space for riding-toys. We are surrounded by luxury and recreation in our homelessness. Many RVers have saved their retirement for this lifestyle, trading homes for RV coaches, costing between $50,000 and $800,000. The sleek Class A motor-homes that tower over our $3,700 dribbling camper makes me feel like a squat mutt among pedigreed wolfhounds. The dunes offer no relief. We have no toys.
Yet, I’m not without. I have my camera, a truck, dogs, husband and freedom of mobility. We head northwest and encounter the biggest coulee I’ve ever seen in my life. Why didn’t I know the mini Grand Canyon lurked but miles away from what I thought was flat and prickly. As I let go of anger, I grab the camera with frequency. As I snap shots, my curiosity blossoms like a paper-moon desert flower. We spent all of Sunday exploring the Grand Coulee from a lake of healing soap suds to three-mile wide dry falls to basalt cliffs to gorges to the Grand Coulee Dam built by order of President Roosevelt.
A growth mindset apparently expands the heart, as well.
Sunday was truly the first day I felt like me again — a curious writer with an eye for natural beauty and human connection. Anger slid off my shoulders instead of hardening upon that perch. We stopped at every historical sign, and I was excited to discover the Cariboo Cattle Trail. In 1858, the same year Cobb McCanles and his brother explored Nebraska and Colorado Territories, Oregon Territory ranchers were driving cattle to miners during the Cariboo gold rush in British Columbia. I thought I knew all the western cattle trails and here was a new one — right through the desert coulees.
When my eyes open to what surrounds me, I see more birds. It’s surprising how avian rich the desert is.
At one stop, four mother hens manage a collective brood of 27 turkey chicks. Perhaps more acclimated to people than the wild turkeys along Elmira Pond, I’m able to snap several photos up close. A killdeer hops across the lawn and poses in front of the turkeys. Imposter. Another traveler stops to shown her son the flock and we laugh about the idea of mothering so many chicks. She claims her one turkey is enough, and her son groans, “Aw, Mom!”
We end up at Grand Coulee Dam, one of the largest concrete structures in the world. After experiencing the Grand Coulee itself, the dam is not as impressive. The Visitor’s Center is, however, and we immerse ourselves in construction and hydrology history. We learn that the Grand Coulee is the result of ice dam flooding 13,000 years ago. To see the scouring of basalt scabs and the remaining walls of Dry Falls, to think this happened during an age when humans lived in this area is stunning. What a science fiction plot. We finish our trip at Dry Falls and take dinner at Soap Lake where eastern Europeans flock for healing in the summer. Eyes open, and story plots are as prevalent as birds in a desert oasis.
Shedding my anger allowed me to make another choice…focus.
Ever since knowing I had to leave my home-office, I’ve had trouble focusing. Once homeless, I despaired of ever finding focus again. Wisely, one of the items I packed for my traveling home was a printout of the Pomodoro Technique. I had tried it before when I was writing up to ten articles a week for a web content client. I even purchased the red tomato timer, but it’s noisy clacking and startling ding turned me off to the whole process. For some reason, I thought I might try it again, using my quieter smartphone timer with a ringer that employs classical music.
Upon reading the pages, I also discovered the added method of tracking distractions — both remembered tasks and true distractions. Here’s how it works:
- Create an activity sheet. Mine includes entries like weekly prompt, client projects, check emails, support Todd’s VA progress.
- Set a time for work. In an atmosphere of zero routine, I’m working to create one. I do not consider my early morning routine work (walk dogs, tidy camper, find breakfast, read scripture). I clearly define my work separate from my leisure or routine.
- Break activities down into daily to-do tasks. Here’s where the timer comes into play. You focus on each task for 25 minutes, so think of your tasks in such increments. The first day I had check email and social media. That was a task that exceeded four increments; a sign to break it down into smaller tasks. Now I list each email address seperately and have a separate task for social media.
- Take breaks. Every 25 minutes, stretch, go drink water, deep breathe, walk in place, move for 2-3 minutes then get back to the task or next one. Every four to eight pomodoros, take a longer break like walking the dogs or doing dishes or riding a bike or eat.
- Pay attention to time suckers. When the timer goes off, either you have finished or not. If not, mark an X next to the task. Those Xs will signal tasks that are taking much of your time.
- Do important tasks first. This comes from time management I used to teach my staff and something I learned in college: work your As off. Prioritize the most vital tasks to accomplish as As. Important but not vital, Bs. Necessary, but not today, Cs. Studies show we have a tendency to work on C level tasks. Instead, work your A level tasks first.
- Be mindful of intrusions. Each time (in the middle of a task) you think of another, write it down on the back of your activity sheet with an apostrophe before it. That way you note it, but don’t go chasing after it. If a task is an interruption (like a fly buzzing or a smart phone notification) note it with an exclamation point. Use an X each time it comes up again. If you have a repeating distraction, come up with a solution like buy a fly-swatter or turn off phone notifications.
This has really helped me! I have trouble focusing when my routine is off or I’m uncomfortable or my setting is new. When I can’t focus, I begin to develop achievement anxiety. It’s been a month since I’ve been homeless and office-less. At last I feel that I’m making a turn-around and can do work that fulfills me. It’s had a settling impact on the dogs, too. Between discovering desert coulees and timing my tasks, I’m feeling productive. And less flat and prickly. Less angry; less despairing.
So let’s continue to explore how weekly flash fiction prompts can blossom in your writing life! Flash fiction can spark creativity; give you a playful break from serious work; allow for discovery; develop setting, plot or characters in a WIP; express an idea; showcase a WIP scene; experiment with new forms (dialog, poetry, punctuation); connect with other writers and readers. All are welcome here, and for whatever benefit or pleasure or tool you use.
July 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a surprise from a desert. You can interpret desert in any way — an arid body of land, an icy wasteland, a relationship void of humanity; shelves with no books. Once you have that spark, write a surprise twist — an un-burned book in the back of seized shelves or a disco in the arctic.
Respond by July 26, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Painted Existence by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
The painted rocks annoyed Danni. Why would someone go camping and bring paint to deface natural geology? She recalled her childhood in the southern Idaho desert. Her dad moved from ranch to ranch and she hardly had time to make friends in each new school. No one would ever paint her name on rock.
Yet name painting was not new. Pioneers scrawled their names in lye upon trail bluffs, as if to let the world know they came this way; they existed despite vast unknowns ahead.
If she painted “Ike” on a river rock would she feel more secure?
Prairie Welcoming Committing by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Desert extended as far as Mary could see. “My God, Leroy, it’s barren.”
Leroy, twisted in his saddle, obvious joy on his face as he looked up to where Mary sat on the wagon bench. The cattle from Tennessee milled past, reddish blots cutting through blonde grass the height of a bull’s back.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Mary could hear stifled sobs from his wife in the canvassed section behind her. Sally stopped looking days ago, pleading to go home. Just when Mary thought she’d join her sister-in-law, a burst of cranes took to the sky. The desert held magic.
If you want to see some coulee wonders, enjoy the slide presentation.