Carrot Ranch Communications

Home » Posts tagged 'prompt'

Tag Archives: prompt

April 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Winds gust up to 40 miles an hour, blowing steadily for a week. An entire week of rocking in a trailer, listening to the awnings tear and snap. The RV creaks relentlessly like an old Conestoga wagon, and I now know why pioneer women walked — the volume inside the creaking boards and snapping canvas will drive you mad. New Mexico howls, and I’m yet in its grip, wondering if we’ve checked into the Hotel California. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

Our transmission saga began as a jaunty adventure, something penned by Louis L’Amour where the good guys win. We had hope. Now it’s slogging along like a twisted tale by Stephen King. All I can think is what next? We wait. And waiting throws huge rocks in our already rocky path. How long must the Hub wait for healthcare?

Part of our journey was to get him to a VA hospital because they refused to see him in St. George “because he wasn’t in the system.” He’s listed at Spokane as “transient” and he can go to any VA, but only if they set an appointment. But many of the VA hospitals where homeless veterans gather in warmer climates over winter are backlogged or simply don’t want to treat anyone not from the community. Like St. George, Utah where the Vet Center also denied the Hub’s order for CBT because they didn’t have the staffing for it. Yes, this is why veterans die, waiting to be seen.

Trying to replace our transmission has become similar to trying to get the Hub the healthcare he needs. The auto parts companies have merged like other American companies and in these mergers is confusion. They don’t eve know what they do and don’t have in their own warehouses. And then there’s the shipping policies. And next you have to deal with a shipping company that professes customer service, but they don’t do what their website cheerfully proclaims. And website marketing! How many “bait and switch” tactics did we encounter searching for the best price?

Once the ordered transmission finally arrived (150 miles away because of their store-only delivery policy) and we drove to pick it up, it was the wrong one. It was so wrong, the Hub asked if that was truly his order. It was. Everything matched on the order except the transmission they shipped. It’s like trying to get an appointment at the VA for a specific reason only to go through 15 other pointless appointments to finally get stonewalled at the needed one.

I’m so sick of corporations and a political system that cares more about corporate profits than people.

Today, I turned on CSPAN (national politics station) to drown out the noise of the wind and could not believe the audacity of the senator who had the floor, explaining why the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. He spoke of profits and made illogical leaps between profits and being good environmental stewards. Last year I wrote an article for a regional magazine about Lake Pend Oreille’s Water Keepers, a non-profit that works to keep the watershed drinkable, swimable and fishable. The director told me that for all the billions in oil profits that cross the train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the oil companies do not have a disaster plan for a derailment. Oil profits do not make us good stewards.

Nor does it boost our workforce. When the Hub and I toured the ancient Pueblo lands between Gallup and Farmington two weeks ago, we saw acres and acres of capped oil wells and rusting refineries. Fracking has long been a part of New Mexico’s economy, but it’s not profitable to create jobs unless the oil companies make over $50 a barrel (another point I learned, interviewing a state economist for another article I wrote about why Idahoans leave the state to find work). It doesn’t impact what workers average in wages to cope with rising costs. There yet remains a silent housing crisis in many rural places like where we had our rental sold from under us. Rural homeless are hardest to count because many live with families, couch surf or live in RVs like we do. We don’t factor into the sleazy politics who would have us believe profits will save us all.

I’m reminded of a Cree saying to which I might add the line, “When the last oil well belches sand tar…”

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” that I wonder is there’s any hope for our Seventh Generation. Seven generations from now, what will be the result of profit over people? For once, I want to hear an elected official having the audacity to stand up for the betterment of all constituents. I hope against all hope that when we finally get a transmission delivered and installed that we’ll arrive in Topeka, Kansas and the Hub can get an appointment that will directly address his needs.

On days like this, I wonder what Mary McCanles made of her long wagon journey west and if she still believed in dreams after arriving? I’m shifting my focus back to Rock Creek in anticipation that the winds will stop, the transmission will arrive and we’ll yet get to Kansas to the VA, family and historical research. Politics were just as messed up in 1859 as they are in 2017. And oil was on the horizon.

April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 2, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon.  “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”

###

Author’s Note: Leroy actually did find crude oil in Colorado the summer he and his brother rode up a tributary of the San Juan River. He always wanted to push beyond Nebraska Territory, but settled where his brother decided. After Cobb’s death, Leroy returned his family to Tennessee and spent the duration of the Civil War, exploring Colorado. He homesteaded a place he named Florence, and brought the entire McCanles clan out from Tennessee. In the last years of her life, Mary finally accepted Leroy’s invitation and lived out her days in Florence, Colorado. She returned to Nebraska to be buried next to Cobb. Leroy made a fortune in oil.

 

April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Of course the Land of Enchantment would have some oddities. That’s the state nickname for New Mexico, and I’m studying the terrain as we drive from Gallup to Albuquerque. The first trip, when we went seeking a transmission like pilgrims, it looked too unfamiliar and undefinable. My comparisons to rosy Mars and towering pillars of Zion left New Mexico wan and pale, like the corpse of someone I didn’t know. I sought familiarity.

“Is that pavement?” The Hub asks as he’s drives.

Funny, I was trying to discern the same odd plates of black as if a road construction company dumped broken pavement from a defunct highway. Mile after mile of these black piles, I finally answer. “It’s pahoehoe.”

That earns me a sideways glance from the Hub whom I often call the Puritan for his annoying habit of correcting my speech. I like to throw out words he doesn’t know to make him think. I doubt I’m saying it correctly, but he doesn’t know Hawaiian inflection. I’m well-read and articulate but mostly mispronounce the words I know. I just don’t know how to say them. The Hub is a grammatical Puritan, and he’s chewing on pahoehoe. He’s also smart and knows my obsessions, geology being one. “Lava?” he finally asks.

“Yep!”

Pahoehoe is one of my favorite geology words because it’s fun to say, and I don’t trip over it the way I do Quaternary, which is my favorite geological period. It’s when humans appeared as nomadic hunters and gatherers, when saber-tooth tigers were real and hunters could take down mammoths for a month’s worth of tribal meals and hide coats for all. It’s when volcanoes and glaciers were active. Pahoehoe is the form lava can take, having once been magma that oozed slowly across a place, creating nature’s own parking lots. You might say, the natural creation was thousands of years ahead of human technology to produce cars. Now we create our own pavement.

Evidence of my lava theory arrives as a roadside sign, announcing: Fire & Ice! It’s a turn-off to Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave. Where’s there’s an erupted volcano, there’s a chance for pahoehoe, hardened flat black lava. Bandera is one of the West’s best preserved eruptions and is about 10,000 years old, meaning it would coincide with ancient habitation of this region. The Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and other Southwestern tribes claim to be descendants from the ancient ones, and yet all have different languages and cultures. The word Anasazi, often said to mean “ancient ones” actually means “ancient enemies” in Navajo. In the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. Strange truths.

One truth about Bandera is that a collapsed lava tube maintains a 31 degree temperature, thus forming an ancient ice cave.

Another truth is that the resulting core might be an omphalos; a navel of the earth. Despite differing languages and clan cultures, the tribes of New Mexico say they climbed out of the earth’s navel and spread across the land (for creative takes on origin myths see Origin Stories). To the Pueblos, the journey continues, and some of the clan destinations included what we call “ruins” like Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon World Heritage Center. All of these dwellings are said to not be abandoned, but occupied by the spirits of Pueblo ancestors. Many descendants explain that time is irrelevant and just yesterday they began their journey, climbing out of the earth’s navel.

Some sci-fi aficionados might liken this idea to portals in time and space. It’s so ingrained in native culture, that the kivas of the centers were built deep, round and accessible through the roof. When ceremonies were held, the people climbed down from the cedar roof with the reverence of entering the womb. Even today, the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo clans regard these centers as sacred and spiritual. The Navajo say chindis (ghosts) populate these places. On the sandstone cliffs of Chaco Canyon, original inhabitants left behind painted hand prints. Imagine hovering your palm upon the print of your ancestor from 850 AD. Having visited Chaco Canyon with ravens eerily standing guard, I can believe in chindis easily. I can believe in the spirit-world of the Southwest. It doesn’t surprise me that Chaco closes at dusk.

The fact that Chaco Canyon is memorialized as sacred, introduces another truth and oddity: It is illegal to deposit the ashes of human remains at Chaco. My immediate thought was, who would do that? Evidently, “wildcat scattering” of cremated remains has become a thing, with reports of people spreading the phosphorous powder of deceased loved ones in public and scenic places from sports fields to Disneyland to scenic vistas. National Parks at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite offer scattering permits. Others, like Chaco Canyon, forbid it. Thinking on this unusual activity, I’m reminded how reluctant we are to discuss death and mortality. Yet, according to the Internet Cremation Society, over half of US deaths will result in cremation, and surprising (to me) it’s most popular in the western states.

Call me an old-fashioned story-teller who loves to read history in graveyards, but I had no idea.

My grandparents were each cremated, but it’s a vague awareness because they had funerals and were interred in the same cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried. I laughed, bittersweet, with my best friend when we were planning her funeral and she asked about being buried with the ashes of her beloved dog who died just months before she did. The answer was, slip “it” in when no one was looking! We did. The funeral home knew about it and simply looked the other way. Then there’s the story about Aunt Susie.

Aunt Susie was my cousin’s great aunt and when before she died, she asked that her ashes be scattered across the Sierras where she spent a lifetime hiking and fishing. It became a bizarre family burden as each person tasked with wildcat scattering Aunt Susie’s ashes died before completing the deed. Finally, after yet another family funeral, my cousin took charge of the ashes and told her dad that they would take care of it as they drove home from California to Nevada over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At a scenic spot off the highway and over one of the creeks Aunt Susie might have fished (it’s unknown), my uncle pulled over, and an argument ensued. He agreed to drive the ashes, but he wanted nothing to do with opening the plastic bag and relieving its contents. Neither did my cousin. Finally, her 10-year old daughter volunteered. The girl carried the bag to a rise above the creek and began swinging it in a windmill fashion. In horror, my uncle asked, “What is she doing?”

Who teaches another how to scatter ashes? We don’t even speak of it, let alone pass down tips and etiquette. It’s not like, “Put your napkin in your lap,” or  “Say please and thank you.” No one says, “And whatever you do, don’t swing the bag over your head.”

My cousin’s daughter reached a point where physics kicked in, and the ashes indeed scattered, but also dumped over her head. She ran back to the car, face white with residue, eyes wide, sputtering, “Mom! I got Aunt Susie in my mouth!” It might be appropriate to note to the uninitiated that cremated ashes hold no health risk. No, the reason Chaco Canyon does not want unceremonious dumping, windmilling or burying of ashes with or without New Age crystals has nothing to do with health risk. It’s not even because it’s disconcerting to come across a questionable white pile on a public trail. It’s because Chaco Canyon is culturally sacred and memorialized to the Southwestern tribes.

The oddities don’t end here. (And if you, like me, are curious about the growing phenomenon of cremation and what to do with ashes, read Ashes Underfoot.)

In my quest to satisfy my curiosity over why Chaco Canyon would post such a sign as Don’t Scatter Ashes, I came across a 1998 article from The New Yorker by Douglas Preston, one of my favorite authors. But he discusses cannibalism among the Anasazi. Well, maybe that’s why the Navajo feared them as evil. And yet, it’s so unlikely. The Hopi and Pueblos have no stories of cannibalism. Often, the worst human atrocities are attributed to conquered or enslaved peoples as a way to justify their treatment. The leading archaeologist who put forth the theory has not consulted the tribes, and is at hostile odds with most colleagues in the niche field of Southwestern archaeology. Yet, in the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. He has physical evidence of violence, dismembering and even pot polishing.

But why? One truth is that the Chaco culture achieved astonishing feats of engineering and art. Many scholars believed they lived a utopian lifestyle. A scientifically documented drought is believed to have ended the expansion of the culture. Yet, lingering Navajo stories of abandoned places holding chindis, of former enslavement seems at odds with the utopian and advanced civilization ideals. Even archaeologists have puzzled over why uncovered ruins from the era are often intact with valuables, as if people disappeared into thin air. Did they return to the navel of the earth? Did aliens transport them away? Was the culture good or evil?

What if we are asking the wrong questions? This is something important for you to think about as a writer. It’s vital that you ask questions others are not asking. If we all zip down the same paths, avoid the same uncomfortable topics and make assumptions everyone else believes, how will we ever write something new and different? When I began my research into Rock Creek I looked at all the theories and eventually asked enough questions, the questions other historians didn’t think to ask, and I came up with a new theory. For my historical writing, exploring women and others marginalized in history, the field is wide open.

The question the archaeologists don’t ask is that of human psychology. Preston explains how archaeologists cling to the concept of culture. The one archaeologist who pursued the cannibalism theory told Douglas in his article that the discipline needs to adopt a “Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology.” He says archaeologists need a paradigm shift to “…understand the darker side of human nature in the archeological record.” This is where writers need to dare to go, too. I highly recommend reading Preston’s article, Cannibals of the Canyon. Not only is it one of the strangest looks at ancient culture in New Mexico, it’s excellent writing by one of my favorite Western authors. Read his bio and drool (or maybe that’s just me).

Back to the drive to Albuquerque. A second one is on the way. Progressive Insurance finally caught up with us in Gallup, although we managed the repairs on our own, it’s unlikely we’ll be reimbursed. But we all agreed that Camping World will be liable for a thorough inspection once we get to Kansas. The transmission wasn’t on the delivery truck today. Unless it vanishes like the Anasazi, it’s supposed to be ready for us to nab tomorrow. I’ll look at the drive with new eyes.

And don’t worry. I’m not going to expect anyone to write uncomfortable topics this week, unless you have belly-button issues and if you do, write it out.

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

Respond by April 25, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 26). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Need to Know (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni sat on her haunches, studying the bone fragment. The school bus had left, but this piece found by a third-grader intrigued her.

“Is that one of my ancestors?” Michael had returned with Bubbie.

“Mmm, probably not, unless your ancestors ate each other.”

Michael snorted. “You bone-diggers. Navel-gazing at everything.”

Danni stood up and stretched, surprised to hear the pain in Michael’s tone. “I’m sorry. No offense intended. It’s a deer bone, likely, but has pot-polish from being boiled. It says something about what occurred here.”

“Let the place be sacred, Danni. You don’t have to know every detail.”

###

 

April 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

“My car broke down, too. Used to have a Nissan, ran it until it quit. Now I come to town on these tires.” The Navajo woman who’s about my age, just as tall but slender from being her own car points to her gray tennies. “Yeah, gonna need new Goodyears soon!”

The Hub and I laugh with her. She’s carrying two black velvet lined boxes filled with turquoise and stone silver rings. We’re eating breakfast, the cheapest we can find on the menu — $5 for an egg, bacon and roasted green chili pepper sandwich served with dark coffee. It fascinates me that we’re the only white people — Anglos — in Earl’s Restaurant. No one one pays us any mind except the artists who wander through the tables with their wares.

“My daughter is a Marine, and my sons are both Airborne,” she tells us, after learning the Hub is a veteran. He’s Airborne, too. In fact, he’s an Airborne Ranger so I tell her to coin him. Anyone claiming to be a Ranger has to coin up. If caught without one’s Ranger coin, he has to buy beer. She asks him to see his coin and he digs it out of his pocket. She holds it in her hand, flipping it to see both sides. “A Ranger,” she says, handing it back.

I thank her for her service, saying mothers deserve to be thanked, too. “That’s right,” she says, her face showing the love and pride she holds for her children’s military service. 100 percent. Her entire brood serves. I ask if that’s why Gallup, New Mexico has signs claiming to be the most patriotic town in America. She laughs and says it’s about the Code Talkers, too. And Hiroshi H. Miyamura, a Japanese-American Medal of Honor recipient. He’s known locally as “Hershey,” and is still alive, having served in WWII and the Korean War.

Hershey is known as Nisei. With close to a quarter million people living in New Mexico from pueblos and reservations who are Zuni, Toas, Tewa, Ute, Hopi, Apache and Navajo, Nisei sounds like another tribe. But it isn’t. To say Hershey is Nisei is to adopt the term to describe him as a second generation Japanese-American. During WWII the 100th Infantry Battalion of the US Army was 100 percent Nisei. Most had family held in Japanese-American internment camps. Many lost their homes and businesses. It was a cruel response to wartime, and robbed many of dignity.

However, Hershey’s family was never interned. They had their cameras, firearms and radios confiscated, but the citizens of Gallup signed a petition as character witnesses for the two dozen Japanese-American families living here. Hershey was born October 6, 1925 in Gallup, New Mexico just 13 years after it became a state, but his parents arrived earlier in 1906. Gallup was then a railroad and mining town with a nearby cavalry fort. According to the 1940 US Census record, Hershey’s father was widowed and operating a cafe and raising six children. Hershey says in a newspaper interview how grateful he was they lived in Gallup and escaped internment.

Not only is Gallup patriotic, it’s also called the Indian Capitol of the World because of its proximity to the diverse reservations and pueblos, including the largest — the Navajo Nation. From these southwestern tribes come the world’s most stunning art. Among the artists who walk past my breakfast table is a man selling his wife’s miniature Kachina dolls. Kachinas are spirit beings in the Pueblo traditions who assist with controlling the weather for crops. The Hopi, in particular, believe that it requires the supernatural to grow corn in the semi-arid high desert of the southwest.

The Hub is drawn to the dolls and despite being down to the last of our cash, he buys one for me — Morning Singer. The Kachinas represent harmony with the land, not dominance. Hopi men carve Kachina dolls from the root of cottonwood trees and dance as Kachinas to become supernatural. I find it curious that my little Morning Singer was carved by a woman, but collection of dolls has evolved into a large tourist trade and is not the same purpose. I’m dreaming of adding Native Art to Carrot Ranch, but reality is that artists are grossly taken advantage of and I could not stomach being a part of that system.

If I had the money I’d buy directly from the artists. One tall and lean young man in dark sunglasses and a hip-hop baseball cap walks up to us selling a silver squash blossom necklace with chunks of turquoise each the size of a walnut. I’m stunned. The silver-smithing alone is spectacular, and yet it is the high-grade turquoise that captures my attention. I know that a piece of jewelry like this will sell for $3,000 or more in a gallery. He’s selling it for $600 and offers it to us for $200. The temptation is to buy it and resell it at its value in the greater market outside Gallup. No way can I do this. I can’t devalue another artist.

It’s a familiar scenario for writers. Buy my book for .99 cents. Get published and you’re lucky to see 6 percent of each sale with the majority going to the publisher and distributor. And writers can’t bypass publishing and distribution. Gallup artists can’t compete with the online sales of knockoffs because they don’t have a way to get their art to the high-paying markets except through the trading posts and wholesalers. With great empathy, I show my appreciation for each piece as it parades by like an open mic night giving away words for cheap. My lame excuse for not paying the bargain price is, “We’re broke down.” They get it. We’re broke.

Most artists tell us their own broke stories, like the military mother who jokes that her shoes are her tires. “At least you only need to replace two worn tires, not four,” I jest in return. What is it with artists and poverty? We lead rich lives and create rich stories, rich horse-hair pottery, rich Kachina dolls, rich jewelry, but find no monetary wealth in the pursuit. We later stop at one of the trading posts and I notice the small Kachina dolls are marked off 20 percent. I ask how much and the “sale” price is $15. I bought mine directly from the artist for $5. Is it fair the trading post makes $10? If economics were my strength, I suppose I wouldn’t be a writer. Like one of our Rough Writers, Pete Fanning, wrote last week, “It makes my head hurt.”

I decline to buy one, explaining we’re broke down. I joke that if we can’t get a transmission we might live in Gallup. “Then you can get a job,” she replies. Ouch. Yes, there’s that, too. Despite my long hours, despite the material I’ve created and amassed for future publication, despite the articles and client content I write for pay, I don’t “really work.” The artists this proprietor takes advantage of to profit according to the religion of capitalism where, by God, where those who “work hard” deserve to make more than those slackers who merely create. How to even explain to her that my husband would gladly work, given a fair chance, but no one in his industry wants to hire a 50-something veteran with workplace adaptation issues due to PTSD.

That’s right; we’re a couple of homeless bums broke down in Gallup. But we are rich in other ways profits can never be. I’ll be a story-teller long after her shop closes down because the artists figure out how to work together for mutual benefit, cutting out those who take advantage of them. For now, I’m going to write from Gallup, collect stories as I catch them and explore the history of this region which is so unknown to me. I’m going to support other writers, and promote the value of literary arts from its rawest form to the possibilities of life-long mastery. That’s my job.

April 13, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a ring. Keep the definition to that of a piece of jewelry. Whose ring is it and what’s its significance? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 18, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 19). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Only the Ring Remained (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Don’t you tire of sifting dirt?” Michael leaned back on the porch chair, drinking a Rocket Dog.

Danni knew Ike had stocked his workshop fridge with his Ranger buddy’s favorite beer. A token of appreciation. Or a bribe. “I thought we buried the hatchet, Michael.”

“Just curious. Seems boring.”

“It’s amazing how much evidence past garbage holds.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Garbage? No. The most disturbing find was considered a site contamination.”

“Contaminated garbage?”

“It was run-off from the 1956 Grand Canyon plane crash. A wedding band among Anasazi pottery. Identified as the pilot’s whose body was never recovered.”

###

March 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

Farewell to flying monkeys, the black chimps who once flew from mesas, proving jet seats safe for ejection. You gave me a road to explore land as strange and wondrous as Mars. Farewell to roads that skirt the baggy pants of scree, proving what drives up (the mesa) must drive down. Unless, one decides to fly or become a hermit. I could become a hermit until those Mars temperatures exceed my low tolerance for sun-baked heat or I remember my comfy bed.

Farewell to GhostRider, Utah’s saving grace for piss-water beer. It’s commendable that the straight-laced state legislates responsible drinking, but when my RV lands elsewhere than Mars, I’m going to have a pizza and beer in a bar that doesn’t require I have to eat pizza in order to be served a low-alcohol beverage. Wasatch Brewery, in great Utah irony, brews a respectable white IPA with an adult alcohol content but can only be purchased out of state. I’m onto you, Utah! I found your GhostRider IPA in Nevada, having crossed the Arizona Strip to claim it.

Yes, I’ve been bootlegging while on Mars.

Farewell candy-drenched colors of the sweet and arid desert. How pleasant you’ve been in winter (except when your clay clung like taffy to the truck tires). I never experienced the same day twice on Mars. The light slants at a different angle; the shadows dip into crevices; the partial or full sun filters color from rose to apricot. You are vast and varied, reminding me that creativity has a grand canvas and art is never fully realized, crafting still from the dinosaurs of yesterday to the shed lizard skins of future summer. I close my eyes and feel the vibration of the truck, in my imagination I can always return.

I offer my farewells to a western sun shining gold on thin steel clouds. If I had a GhostRider in my hand, I’d toast a brown bottle the direction of flying monkeys because I can see the mesas monkeys explored. I can see the squared top of Zion’s West Temple, glowing like a rosy aureola. I can see Molly’s Nipple, where I wanted to go, but the Hub couldn’t shoot up there on the black volcanic core. That’s okay. It’s good enough to see from here.

Here, is Fort Pearce. It’s rock ruins on a hill, overlooking a red slash across the desert along an intermittent creek. The red slash is what remains of the Honeymoon Trail, a level lower than where I first crossed it’s path. The fort protected those seeking temple sealing for their marriage, and was established during Blackhawk’s War. Poke around the place and you’ll discover why it was sacred to Native Americans: it harbors a fresh spring, the treasure of any desert. I’ve walked south from the fort to follow the western sun as it sinks.

I, too, sink into the land, pondering farewell.

How does one say goodbye to something that’s marked the soul and psyche? In order to write the land, any land — the microcosms in your own garden dirt or dust motes in your flat or moors in your backyard — you have to be present. Writers understand presence. You can’t write without being present on the page. Writing is not doodling, something you do during a boring meeting. Writing is not knitting, or any craft you can do while watching TV. Writing demands you be here, right now. The sharpest writing cuts through space and time. Therefore, to write the land one must be present with it.

And I am present, in this moment, standing on a spine of yellowed sandstone the color of an old bride’s weathered wedding dress. I’m mentally flipping through the album of memories, wondering when they will fade. It’ll all be here when I’m gone. It doesn’t require my presence, it’s colors don’t depend upon my eyesight. But we’ve had a relationship. Not a marriage, but certainly a fling. I caress the cheek of an exposed rock with my shoe, and sand lightly shudders between the contact. I’m not certain if the land is alive, or if I’m the one it electrifies to life, like it’s Dr. Frankenstein and I’m the monster. It’s my clay, my origin and one day to it I shall return.

Not today. Or maybe today. The Sioux Warriors faced mortality, saying, “Today is a good day to die.” Again, it’s about presence. When we are present, we face the duality of life and death within us. The creek and path below the ridge are at least 40 feet down a precipice. Like baby steps toward mortality, I step down the sand-slick rocks that form a natural staircase. At 20 feet above the creek, I peer over the edge. It’s no abyss, just a hard rock, bone-crushing bottom — with a curious hole the diameter of a soup bowl. It’s so round and smooth, potentially a grinding portal, and it awakens my curiosity. It will be the death of me. Edging closer I make a daring choice.

It’s only 20 feet. The sandstone has no more steps, but I carefully find footholds until I reach handholds. I’m not fit for mountaineering, but ah, the body remembers it. At this point I can still scale upwards, but my heart pounds at the realization I can also fall, and it’s too far to fall without cracking bones. A second decision. I decide to continue down to the ledge. I hope that hole in the rock is worth the one in my head where thoughts of safety fled the scene to let curiosity play. I’ve got flying monkeys in the brain.

Safely on the ledge, I still have another 10 feet to drop. Jumping is for younger, sprier bodies. So I sit and hesitate. I can see there is another ledge only three feet below my shoes. It’s the unknown that is in between. The ledge is a perfect hiding spot for rattlers. Now I think of rattlesnakes! A lizard zips past as if to say, “Yep! Reptiles are now active.” It’s the perfect time of day for snakes to also be descending to the water below. I look back up at blue skies and tattered clouds, deepening in color as the sun nears the horizon. Do, or die. Do, and die. Just do it.

The moment slows like a bullet in ballistics gel. My bare calves tingle at the imagined strike of a startled rattler. I hang them over the edge feeling as if I’ve made bait of my own body. I hop. Then quick hop the remaining rocks to the bottom. The empty crevice stares back at me like the empty chamber in Russian roulette. A surge of adrenaline gives me attitude and I whoop because I made it down a cliff face. Resting my hand on the iron patina of a boulder that fell long ago from the height above, I feel indentations. Looking closely, I’m stunned to realize my hand rests upon a block of petroglyphs, each one formed with rock-on-rock drilled holes.

The desert has just said farewell to me, too. I take this final gift, wrap up the memory in my hope chest, and feel as the pioneer women must have felt. Onward ho.

My thoughts are on Danni. As a character in WIP #1, she’s most present in the archaeology grid. Like a writer, she can hone her focus and spend endless hours at tasks others might not understand. She’s a historical archaeologist, which means her second place of presence is in the archives dungeon. It’s not hard to guess that Danni is an introvert. Ike, is not. He’s her connection to the outside world, the one who reached into the pit and said, “Hello.” He broke her focus and stirred her curiosity. With him gone, she’s out of sorts and craves the cover of her retreats. In such a way, that is how writing can be double-edged — it calls us to the present and yet demands such focus we are not present to anything else.

Like Danni, we all need to strike a balance between the oppositions in our lives. And we are often called to say goodbye. It merely opens a door to hello, that will also lead to a goodbye. Kind of like my favorite Beatle’s song “Hello, Goodbye”:

March 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hello or a goodbye. You can pick any greeting that grabs you from howdy to fare thee well. It will be interesting to see how the collection intertwines the opposite greetings. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by April 4, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 5). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Ike’s First Hello (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Them Wranglers, cowgirl?”

She’d been focused on brushing the next layer, irritated someone would enter her grid to comment on her jeans. Without pausing, she said, “Want a broken nose, farm boy?”

“Farm boy? I’m hurt. I’m a fisherman. Can’t you smell me?”

Danni stopped and stood in the square pit. The corners of Ike’s eyes crinkled and he stood with a fly-rod like a staff. His pants were wet like he’d been swimming with the trout. He wheeled around, bent forward and pointed to the leather brand on the butt of his jeans. “You’re right—I got Wranglers, too!”

###

March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ahead, partial sunlight illuminates sand that has seeped from a massive geological structure aptly named, Sand Mountain. From the north, it rises like a slope out of the shores of a deep blue body of water, Sand Hollow. On its south-side the underpinnings of metamorphic rock expose ridges of red cliff. Those curious blotches of sand seeps are orange and remind me of powdered koolaid. In fact, the scene on the backside of Sand Mountain translates easily to a candy shop given the unnaturally sweet colors. Grape gumdrops push up against the strawberry taffy base not far from the powdered orange koolaid.

Among the sweet treats of this lower staircase of land, beneath the Navajo Sandstones of Zion white as cookie dough and the gnarly basalt of the Virgin Plain black as licorice, is a level that holds something more of child-like interest: Jurassic dinosaurs.

All of Zion, its surrounding mesas and transitional zone, are all Jurassic in age, spanning back 145 to 200 million years. The candy around here is stale and crumbly. Once it was an area with swaths of mudflats, an early flood plane. Conifers, ferns and cycads lined the shores, sand dunes swept to the northeast and fish populated the seasonal lakes and streams. Dinosaurs tip-toed through soft sediments to leave behind impressions in what looks like petrified chocolate.

If there’s anything better than going to a sweet shop, it’s going with a friend. Today, I have Norah Colvin in my pocket.

Norah is not only one of the first generation Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, she’s also the One. She’s the one who discovered a brand new flash fiction challenge three years ago. She’s the one who introduced other blogging friends, and the ranch gathering has become like writing at the local soda fountain where we have learned what malts or sodas each prefers. Through our sweet shop talk, I’ve come to learn that Norah’s grandchildren are dino-crazed. And what a good interest to have! Science, mystery and Jurassic monsters all rolled up in one. What else I’ve come to know about Norah is her dedication to early childhood education. Her newly launched website readilearn is an accumulation of her experience, creativity and passion for teaching.

Our truck kicks up fine red dust as we travel across the hard-packed land. After our last outing, the next destination is my choice, and I want to find dinosaur tracks for Norah. I learned about these tracks when we first landed on Mars (also known on maps as southwestern Utah). Because of anticipating her excitement for such a discovery, I’ve been on a mission to step where Jurassic lizards have trod. We’ll be leaving Mars soon and still, I hadn’t found the tracks. So we are searching among the purple gumdrops and oozing orange koolaid.

Tiny mesquite leaves unfurl among spindly brush and newborn cactus needles blur the outline of the plants with fuzz. Garnet red buds line the tops of prickly pear cactus and tiny yellow bells trumpet from thorny shrubs. White flowers on a single stalk rise up like spears from the dark brown clay. This is Warner Valley in spring. Somewhere out here, the toes of Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus trailed across a mudflat millions of springs ago before this was a desert. in 1982, a man from Cedar City, Utah was walking down a wash and found an exposed fossil of over 400 tracks.

Locating the site is like finding a lost cactus spine in the sand. Unless you directly step on it, it remains hidden. The Hub and I traverse several BLM (Bureau of Land Management, public lands) roads. The reason we had found the Honeymoon Trail earlier is because I was looking for this site. I understood the old pioneer trail was nearby. But, as often is the trouble in this steep terrain, the Honeymoon Trail plummets over the Hurricane Cliffs in what is now regarded as an extreme Jeep trail. Thwarted in our search, we’ve come to the Warner Valley a different way — this is below the Hurricane Cliffs and behind Sand Mountain (which was the first place I search for the tracks).

Our BLM map shows the valley as deceptively flat. We trundle over hillocks, and dip down and up through dry washes. We stop to chat with a motorcyclist, and he confirms the dinosaur tracks are out here, “somewhere.” Another cyclist comes along and encourages us to continue down a road we decided wasn’t going anywhere. Turns out, that road led us to the grape gumdrops and we are on a two-track that feels similar to a carnival roller-coaster. The purple landscape might be a clue: according to geology books this level gains its color and treacherous stickiness when wet from ancient volcanic ash. That sounds Jurassic to me.

We come to a fence, turn up the road and a BLM sign marks the spot — to park, that is. From here, the search continues on foot. The rolling trail continues and I walk past smooth sandstone clusters that look like ruins of Bedrock from the 1970s cartoon, The Flintstones. The closer I get to the cliffs and scree of Sand Mountain, the more obvious the carving of the land by water. The trail dips into a flat wash that continues to travel down as if servile to water when it marches this way. Finally, a broad flat of chocolate malt rock spreads out before me. I have found the Holy Grail of sweets in this gumdrop desert. Norah, this treat is for you!

It might sound silly to take along a friend in a pocket, but truly, as writers we do that. When we go on these journeys of discovery, and writing is both, we think of audience. Many talk about turning off the “inner critic.” Critics are for editing. Creative flow needs friendly encouragement. That’s why I like to write to a friendly audience. And you don’t have to actually know your reader. Norah doesn’t always have to ride in my pocket! Many times, I make up the audience. And the reason is sane and important to writing. You might write first for yourself, but if you want to connect with others, you write next for an audience.

It’s easy for me to match up an adventure involving dinosaurs to a friend who appreciates the Jurassic lizards (or ancestors of birds). So how do I do this with an unknown audience?

My beat used to be organic and local food systems, such as cranberry farms, artisan cheese-makers, grass-fed cattle ranches, urban community gardens, Hmong collective farms, CSAs, farmers markets and cooperatives (farm, producer and retailer). For 15 years, I interviewed people where they tilled black soil, bogged cranberries or fought for food justice. I wrote for publications like Edible Twin Cities, Stress-free Living and This is Living Naturally. I’ve been featured on NPR, interviewed for local news and contributed to regional cookbooks.

Each time, I was aware that I was writing for an audience. If I was alone, prone on the soft earth in a French vineyard that endured Minnesota weather for three decades, poised to capture the sunrise over grapes that suffered, I talked to my readers as if they were blind. I took notes and photographs as if I were their eyes. I included other senses, too and built relationships with the land and those who tended it as if I were match-making with readers. I was the experience, and that’s how I learned to write sensory. It became engaging to the point that I had real readers who wanted to go with me.

And many did. I’d put out a call and take others along. They asked questions I hadn’t thought of which taught me to anticipate what a reader wants to know. One memorable experience was with an accountant who didn’t agree that local food should “cost” a premium until I invited him to go with me on assignment to an organic cranberry bog. We toured the entire day, the farmer introducing us to neighbors so we could see the multiple ways farmers harvest cranberries. We left, but the accountant never fully left the bogs; it was in his system and he became a local food advocate.

What about fiction? I start with the story, and think as a story-teller — what would an audience want to know and what will surprise them? But first, I write my novels for me. Now, I’m writing them for readers. I carry along readers in my pocket to remind me to look at the journey for them. This is one way to write for readers. I’m sure more than a few of you, especially bloggers, have experienced processing a post mentally as if you were in conversation with those you know read. And for those we don’t know, we think of them as friendly. We, the writer, return from the desert with a gift we can share.

And thank you to everyone here at Carrot Ranch — Rough Writers & Friends, Readers and Lurkers — last week resulted in a profound collection of writing that supports the idea that art is free and within us, no matter political climates and cuts. I know many of you read as responses are posted, but if you get the chance, take a read of the Without Art collection as a whole. Thank you. That is the gift writers share, and reading is the gift in return to writers.

March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.

“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”

“Is this a cruel test?”

“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.

“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.

 ###

March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gone Art. If I were to write a post-truth era dystopian thriller, that would be the title: Gone Art. What would a nation be like if every citizen had to work a 9-to-5 job to profit Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Banks without benefit of performing, visual or literary arts? What if paintings in galleries were replaced by flat-screen TVs that displayed 24-hour state news and reality shows. No more screenwriters or actors, but shows, pitting depressed rural communities against urban ghettos to fight for the best ratings. Winners get to loot the losers’ community under the guidance of Big Brother Border Patrol and their high-tech tactical gear.

Performing art might evolve into public floggings of scientists unwilling to believe alternative facts presented by the state. Blackface might return as a dance movement to mock rap while real rappers and spoken word artists labor in privatized prisons under suspicion that art warped their minds and led to consumption of marijuana, spiced rum and Little Debbie Swiss Cakes. Mockery and punishment would be the only state-sanctioned performances, gathering crowds the way public hangings in Victorian London did. Yet, a generation would grow up not knowing what the word Victorian means.

White House ornamentation might include the piked heads that rolled from the shoulders of journalists and novelists and humanitarian advocates who dared to say, “The TRUTH is out there.” Alternative facts will be the new norm for creativity, the only form of creativity allowed, and the greatest masters of its art shall be cloistered to the Cabinet, given free meals, government moonshine and gilded thrones built from the bones of alt artists and Badlands resisters.

Literacy is no longer required. Books are not burned because no one reads them, anyways. Refrigerators and microwaves inform those who need to know, mostly alternative facts pour from the water spickets on the smart-fridge of those in the working class. Daily updates are given in the time it takes to pour a glass of water. There is no water for the poor. There is no birth control, either. Those who fornicate and reproduce are gathered up on farms, fed GMO corn and below-the-poverty-level children of all colors will become the State’s new white meat.

Billionaires will have evolved to drink champagne of fermented oil and eat truffles made of coal. The rest of the working or imprisoned populace will be sick but have Access to Healthcare that replaces any desire for art, nature or fresh food. This song will be outlawed:

What disturbed rabbit hole did Charli wander down, you might be thinking. Like Alice, let me walk backwards and start at another place.

“Europe has cathedrals; America has National Parks.” Public television tells me this every night. It’s Utah’s programming, and given that this state has five National Parks and more monuments and state parks than any other state, I feel as if I live among a cluster of medieval European cities with deep art and history. My reality is that I live near deep nature and pre-history, near the tallest sandstone pillars in the world and abandoned Anasazi ruins. Zion is so popular that now the park canyon we explored over winter is closed to all traffic. Tourists have returned because nature penetrates the soul the way cathedrals stretch skyward to God.

It’s late afternoon and the Hub and I brace against the stiff struts of our truck as we bounce across a desert two-track littered with rocks of black basalt. The dog leans into me and I hug her close to steady us both. My left foot is propped against swell in the floor that accommodates the transmission. My bag sits on the swell filled with crackers, cheese and my laptop. We all have bottled drinking water, even the dog. At first glance, the road looked to cut across the flat. Driving it corrects the perception of flatness. We dip through hidden washes and round clusters of sagebrush and mesquite.

We have three goals in our pilgrimage to the desert: shoot, chase rabbits and write. I’m sure you can match each goal to us three occupants in the truck.

At last we pull up on a dry earthen dike. Gnarled brush hints at water beneath the ground, but none surfaces. It’s a dirt reservoir and why this land is hostile to farm or ranch. The Hub parks on the hard-packed red clay and unloads his long-range rifles: 7mm08 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. He unfolds a canvas shooting mat and sets up his rifles and bullets, which he’s loaded himself. The dog runs, finds quail, and returns to drink water. I drink in the landscape, noting where the red mesas of the Colorado Plateau slam into the black basalt of a geological rift created by volcanic action.

We are in between places; a transition zone.

The Hub has his ear muffs, shooting hat with Ranger insignia and he scopes the land we tracked in the truck. It’s remote, unpopulated and a clear line of vision for him to test rounds at a mile. Yes, his target is a mile away. I can’t even pretend to make up stories how he does it, but I know it includes as much science as it does art. He has to crunch numbers, understand velocity and range, master powder loads and select bullet shapes, and ultimately imagine the shot before he takes it. Satisfied, he breaks my nature-stupor, and says “Move the truck across the dam.

Easier said than done. I profess to be a writing buckaroo, but admit to also being a cowardly cowgirl. Sure, I can drive the truck, but I have a bad half-memory, half-fear of a reservoir like this. I hate moments of unexplained danger. I note the signs — rapid heart rate, a feeling of sinking and separating from self. I’m afraid to walk on the hard earth, afraid it’s not really hard, that it’ll crumble. Gulping air I walk it first, relieved it feels compact, but further frightened by holes big enough to swallow my dog. Fear dissipates with curiosity, so I investigate.

I’m peering down the rabbit hole. Only it’s not made by a rabbit or any creature. I realize that water in this arid land not only carves ancient dunes and gathers scree, it also tunnels secretly underground as if to escape the evaporating heat above. This dike, built by a rancher at some time, is now pocked by sinkholes. The earthen structure might feel solid to walk upon but what lies beneath is Swiss cheese. Drive the truck across it, I don’t think so! Instead, I drive across the soft flat of the reservoir, turn around until its positioned just so and call the dog. Once she’s safe in the cab, I give the thumbs up to the Hub. He’s free to shoot.

And no matter my earlier intentions, I can’t write out here. My computer is set up on the tailgate, but the screen looks black in all this sunlight. Never mind. I draw a deep drink of bottled SmartWater and stare at the land like Hildegard visioning at Bingen. Art requires time to stare.

I would have stuck to my original post and led a merry chase down rabbit holes, but I read the morning news before I finished writing. I’m not as stressed as I was earlier in the POTUS’s first few weeks. Like the earthen dike, I had stepped out to test the solidity of the situation, my heart reacting to danger unseen but felt. In a nation divided by politics, navigating social space is like one of those books where you pick your own adventure: option A is alternative facts and belief-based “news;” option B is investigative journalism based on facts and science many don’t “believe;” and option C is propaganda renamed “fake news” and is liberally applied to all options, thus giving the real lies longer shelf-life. I’m weary of trying to teach people how to read critically and take accountability for the options they choose to place in their skulls. And it’s redundant to tell the skeptics and resisters what they already know.

So I’ll stick to my art. Except there will be no more art.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down, reading the about the proposed Presidential Budget in the New York Times this morning (note this date in infamy as the Day After the Ides of March When the Dictator Was Not Taken Out: March 16, 2017).

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities.

Gone. Gone art. The article goes on to cover the horrors of other cuts basically bashing in the brains and hearts of artists, writers, scientists, humanitarian advocates, teachers, diplomats and workers. POTUS wants to eliminate…ELIMINATE…the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I disagree with the New York Times journalist who writes that this upsets the East Coast elites. Now just hold your horses on that thought! Damn it! Why do we Western writers get discounted? Because, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, we’re just tumbling tumble weeds writing hymns to places most New Yorkers never see? Because we can ride a horse and rope stray words into stories?

Western writers are relevant right now, especially when it was the VOICE of rural Middle America who elected this destructive clown in the first place. My western fellow citizens, and most across the nation in other rural bubbles of America, the people I roll my eyes at and call “Trumpers,” I get them. Come on, I’m a 49-year old homeless woman married to a combat vet too-long-denied his benefits to the detriment of his own health, a displaced worker, un-insured, Jesus-believer, science nerd and lit geek who wrote profiles of FARMERS and RANCHERS for 20 years, advocating for local food and revitalization of rural communities. I’m their God-damned writer! I don’t agree with them, especially when it comes to Trump, but I speak our common tongue.

The mother-tongue of a westerner is land and water, spoken in poetic contradictions. We fight among ourselves to prepare battles with outsiders who want to wrestle away control of our western lands we love and live off of, knowing better how to manage public lands than some bureaucrat in DC. But they think drain the Swamp means eliminating Fat Cats. They don’t understand the Fat Cats are draining the swamp of all that does benefit the people. They are eliminating We the People, using fear of others. We are fearing the wrong safety-breach.

Trump has blind-sided the people in pain, feeding them populist ideas. They don’t know what a populist idea is! They might be the poster children for populism, but they are controlled by its fake promise to bring back all they’ve worked so hard for throughout generations. Everything I write is imbued with western thinking. I don’t say I’m a buckaroo because it’s fun; actually it’s a painful reminder of my painful past. I’m a buckaroo because my feet knew cowboy boots in toddler size one and my eyes learned to drink in the landscape that contains the bones of seven generations of westerners.

If I’m silenced as an artist, that voice so desperate to be heard that it voted in destruction, will be silenced, too. C. Jai Ferry who writes grit lit is the west’s sharp edge, while Ann Edall-Robson (luckily for her she’s Canadian) is it’s softer nostalgic pool of memories. We need all the western writers in between. We need literature to express that voice in constructive ways, to be heard. We need books young westerners can read and see themselves in, we need to encourage the next Stegner or draw out from the eastern elites, the next Abbey or Thoreau. We need art in the West, the East, the North, the South. We need wild spaces. We need art.

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.

Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”

“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”

“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.

“The wine or my art?”

###

March 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

“Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me…” wrote musicians Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. The song went on to be a classic for the Eagles: “Take it Easy.” That iconic opening was one Jackson Browne struggled with and Glenn Frey assisted by adding the second line as a joke, as a first response. But you know what? Sometimes it’s those unconstrained ideas that jump from our brains to pen that surprise even the writer, yet becomes the right idea.

I’m not standing in Winslow, Arizona, but my feet are planted on the historic Honeymoon Trail that begins there. And it includes a girl, my Lord, and an eventual hoard slow trekking to get married. Between here and there, and beyond me into St. George, Utah expands a vast arid land settled by the Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Pioneers. The Honeymoon Trail led from outlying settlements of the Little Colorado River to the only Temple in town. You see, to obtain an eternal marriage, Mormons must be sealed in the Temple.

Just as I’m not sure what the Hub’s Puritan ancestors would make of the LDS Church posthumously baptizing them all for a greater heaven than they sought in the Colonies, I’m also not sure about sealing. Something mysterious occurs within the grand white Temple that gleams like a lost tooth in a stark red landscape of carved sandstone. I’m not keen on the polygamy, which still exists within the modern FLDS (Fundamental Latter Day Saints) where girls are married to old men and boys are considered competition, thus once of age they are escorted with only a home-school education to St. George and dumped at the Catholic Church social services like a litter of unwanted puppies.

But show me a religion unflawed. We can’t single out one without noting them all.

Belief is powerful. Belief in God is undeniable in those willing to settle the desert and practice the freedom of expression they were denied elsewhere. And how can anyone stand on the Honeymoon Trail as it drifts off into swells and washes beneath a sunset of carnival glass without pondering one’s existence and that of a creator God? When we step off that corner in Winslow, Arizona and try to meet the girl we realize that first-love is no easier to grasp than colors in the sky. Yet, like addicts, once smitten we try to recapture the moment.

My drug of choice is the land. Slowly I inhale dust and sage and sunset. I absorb the wash of magenta-lavender-gold light. The nothingness I hear plays like an orchestra as vast as the horizon, my heart thrumming like water that flows underground in hidden hollows. My eyes blur and ghosts come out to dance lightly among sagebrush and cactus with spines so fresh the plants look fuzzy. The sun dips and my hit subsides but the good vibe lingers. I could stand here on the Honeymoon Trail until coyotes yip and stars out-twinkle a Swarovski tiara.

Alas, my honeymoon is over.

The Hub is agitated and impatient to drive out of this land. If I said nothing, he’d drive and drive and drive. But he married an outspoken woman and unlike those who followed men to the Temple, I protest. Perhaps other women on this trail protested, too. Many believed the promises of Brigham Young, others believed in a better life. Nonetheless they all believed a Temple marriage was worth the hundreds of miles of this trail past poison water, the mouth of the Grand Canyon itself and dangers of the desert. I can’t imagine the Hub persisting across this expanse with a wagon and mule. He’s too impatient, but he’s my impatient partner and he tolerates my quirks and annoyances.

The day he came home and told me his therapist said I was outspoken I snorted and said, “Better than silent.” I don’t believe it was an insult. It was said in context of encouraging the Hub to express his own views separate from mine. Which I see he has no problem expressing. He’s outspoken, too. I’m sure, had we made the Honeymoon Trail trek 150 years ago, the silence of the desert would have echoed our voices from camp to camp. He’s a warrior; I’m a fighter. And we both survive. We do more than that. We laugh raucously and share a love of land, each other and our children.

When do you know the honeymoon is over?

I think of Mary Greene wooing Cobb McCanles in North Carolina where fresh water tumbled coolly over granitic rocks and steep mountains hid beneath a deciduous forest. A fun game it must have been, the excitement of the chase, the power, feeling alive to pursue a man who left the other girls tongue-tied. And they were girls. Mary was 14 when she first saw Cobb shirtless in the glen, riding his steed. Sarah was 13. By the following February, after the harvest dances, Christmas and in time for the early mapling, Mary was 15 and married. At 16, she gave birth to their first son. At 17, her mother died. At 18, she bore a second son, at 19 a third.

The honeymoon was definitely over by the time she was 22, Cobb was elected Sheriff his second term and their fourth son was born. Imagine being 22 years old with no mother, a husband on duty out of the house and often on the trail, and four children under the age of five. And then you hear another is pregnant by your own spouse. Such was Mary’s life in 1856. Counting back the months, Mary forgave Cobb by Christmas. Nine months later she bore a daughter, a difficult birth that nearly killed them both. What might have torn apart other couples, Mary and Cobb seemed agreed on giving their “blue baby” a chance at life. In an age where no one would have questioned the baby dying from a failure to thrive, Mary and Cobb nurtured their daughter who would retain developmental issues and blindness her whole life.

We never achieve the honeymoon again perhaps because it’s a mythical period of expectation exaggerated by a chemical rush of hormones. Maybe the Mormon coupes seeking their eternal marriage forged a stronger foundation for partnership, sharing the arduous journey of the Honeymoon Trail. Maybe they shrugged off the exhaustion of the trail as sunsets offered promise evening after evening until the white Temple rose into view. Maybe they spoke of hopes and dreams. Maybe they held hands and shared each others’ fears. Maybe a few were outspoken. Maybe a few men welcomed a spirited woman, recognizing marraige in such a place would be a daily battle.

March 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story. It can be between a couple before, during or after the honeymoon. Or it can refer to a honeymoon period. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Under a Honey Moon (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

Cobb fiddled for the Christmas festivities, his gaze lingering always on Mary. How long had it been since her husband looked at her like under a couple’s honey moon?

After the final reel, Cobb spoke to his father before joining Mary.  James returned with a rocking chair and set it in front of her. Its hickory gleamed dark and gold. James was renowned for his craftsmanship.

“It’s yours,” he said.

“Oh!” Mary sunk into the smooth seat, rocking silently. She smiled up at father and son.

James clapped Cobb’s shoulder. “My son made that for you.”

“Forgive me, Mary?”

###