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In my mind, my Aunt Mary McCanles is as stoic as the women painted in pioneer portraits. Grim smile, bun puled taut, knuckles gnarled from the hard work of homesteading folded passively on her lap as she sits in her rocking chair for the camera. The romantic notion that wagons west was the adventure we modern descendants missed, that times were once simpler and more decent is among the big western myths. It’s true, Mary had courage and the wit to survive. She worked hard to raise four sons and an invalid daughter on the vast prairie of Nebraska Territory as a widow.
Maybe it’s because of the romance of the west, or maybe because she was my kin, I find it difficult to access her complexity. She’s human and must have been a woman of dichotomies. Aren’t we all? Life isn’t just about our personalities and the places we live, but it’s the intersection between our worst and best traits on our worst and best days. Add to the mix a harsh land and the reality of migration, and Mary had no chance to be a paper doll from a children’s American West set. She was a flesh and blood, heart and mind, physical and soulful woman.
When I think of stories, I think in terms of what if. To me, that’s where the action unfolds. What if a woman followed her husband and his former mistress out west, migrating to a frontier? What if she left behind a home and family she’d never see again? What if her husband was gunned down one afternoon? What if is the blueprint for the external story.
Internally, motivation becomes a driver. Why would she follow her husband and his former mistress to such a place? How did she cope in a new community? Did his death change her? What about love? Did she love her husband because he was the father of her five children or did she marry out of a sense of duty? The internal story shapes the human triumph or tragedy.
For a work of historical fiction, research collects the facts that detail the story. These details include every day occurrences, such as the life of a pioneer homesteader. They can also give clues to personality through eye-witness accounts or remembrances. Newspaper clippings give tone to decipher attitudes and culture. For example, slavery in the US is unavoidable, reading a southern newspaper from the 1850s. The attitudes of the culture emerge in ads advertising poultry and slave auctions like normal events. They were, for the times.
I’ve talked about the story structure I use to write novels — a W that outlines the hero’s journey. Recently, I heard Matt Damon give an interview about an upcoming movie about the Great Wall in China. He called it a classic hero’s journey. Yet, I think even the tale of a woman on the prairie, sweeping a cracked mud floor and boiling laundry can be a hero’s journey, too. Rock Creek, my historical novel in progress, has five heroes. Two are historically accounted as one hero and one villain. I retell their story through the three perspectives of the women who knew them both and experienced the infamous event at Rock Creek one hot July day in 1861.
Only one character has the full hero’s arc — Sarah Shull. The remaining characters fill in the external or internal stories.
Motives for the two men have been debated over 150 years. I have new ideas on plausible motives to expand the narrow thinking of the men who have written the histories. I also have motives for the women. But Mary’s domestic motive has seemed bland to me — I don’t want to paint her as just another stoic prairie wife. And Sarah Shull, as former mistress, has been given several titillating motives and I didn’t want her to be a mythological soiled dove of the West. Nancy Jane has been vibrant to me because she is what any woman unfettered could have been — capable and feisty.
Writing into Mary’s dark intentions one flash a few weeks ago, I hit on an important plausible motive behind her pursuit of Cobb. It continued to worm its way into my imagination to give more fertile ground to consider motives of Sarah. How might Sarah’s knowledge of Mary’s motives shadow her own? That led to me thinking about Sarah’s friendship with Nancy Jane. After spending a weekend with a McCanles cousin whose research and opinion I respect, I was in a brain churning process. Do you know that feeling? That mind-space where you go over your internal and external stories trying to dig deeper for that coveted surprise you know is there, somewhere between the details?
Then a conversation with a trusted friend who knows the full story (something I protect from historians because it is a bombshell and will rock the Wild Bill World) led to a moment of inspiration. You might say, I had a perfect storm this week. When I sat down to tap out that inspired idea, 5,443 words later I actually had my motives emerge fully and I had my ending. That might sound odd — to find an ending to a historical story where we know how it ends. But of course, who would read it if I told the story from start to finish? That’s why novels are never a straight forward telling of the external story.
My W has been mapped out for Rock Creek. I have worked hard to fill in historical gaps; I scrapped the first half of the book; expanded the Nebraska accounts; and wrote Sarah Shull later in life. However, I’ve been stumped as to how to weave the three women’s perspectives to show the men in action and use Sarah’s reflections in old age. It all came together in this new ending I wrote. What blew me away is that Sarah had one last secret for me — a motive of her own I had never considered. And it would not have come to me if I hadn’t allowed myself to think of Aunt Mary in a darker way.
While breakthroughs seem to abound this month for both my novels in progress, I hoping for a breakthrough in my homeless situation. I have come to enjoy my RV with my little office, couch, kitchen, bedroom, shower and toilet. I don’t feel so “homeless” with such basic needs met, yet we are displaced and have to move on by April because the tourist season at Zion begins in earnest and rates go up beyond my earnings as a writer. The Hub was accepted into a VA vocational program and we continue to battle the stress of his PTSD, he being more stressed than me. Progress is slower than our timeline to move. And we have no way to move our big RV, something we said we’d figure out. Well, we’re still figuring! I’ll hope for some perfect storm of inspiration.
The first anthology is making its way back to our capable and talented Trail Boss & Editor, Sarah Brentyn next week. She and all the Rough Writers have been patient and I appreciate that. The Raw Fiction series is meant to be a platform for our anthologies, expanding the literary community here as one that discusses as well as performs feats of raw literary art. The synergy is evident in what we write individually and collectively among such diverse writers. Once we have Volume 1 under our belts, we’ll invite new Rough Writers to join our core of ranch hands and continue to grow.
With all this movement and wandering (imaginatively) across the plains of Nebraska Territory, I can’t help but think of migration. Immigration dominates world news as refugees seek asylum, countries ponder how to balance humanitarian efforts with safety protocols, and the US slams shut its borders and evicts “illegal” immigrants from our neighbor, Mexico. The announcement of 15,000 new jobs for border control is not one that has many cheering new jobs in America. What would we have done had Trump lived 150 years ago and was chief of the Plains Indians? Would the west have known such a migration as the pioneers? Would we have an Indigenous west, open to Mexico, closed to Americans? And we just discovered 7 new earth-like planets only 39 light years away! What will future global migrations look like?
February 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story. It can imagine the dusty or arctic trails of the frontiers past or look to the travel across the galaxy. What issue about modern migration bans might influence an artistic expression in a flash? Migrate where the prompt leads you.
Respond by February 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 1). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Leaving for the West (from Rock Creek) by Charli
“Pa? Are you leaving us?”
Mary glared at her husband. To avoid the new administration’s secession policies, Cobb was leaving his sheriff’s post. Her family and friends no longer visited, political beliefs dividing neighbors and kin. “Answer the boy, Cobb. He’s your son. He deserves your words, not the gossip to come.”
“Monroe, anyone asks, tell them I’m seeking gold with the Georgians.”
“What about our farm, Pa?”
“Sold, son. We’ll have a new farm out west. Uncle Leroy will bring you all out once it’s settled.”
“Out west? Where they sent the Cherokee?”
“Further west, son. The frontier.”
Carrot Ranch is in the middle of a move. Same online home but new office on wheels. Thinking it would go smoothly was optimistic. The new RV Coach is a 2004 Alfa with real oak woodwork, office slide, master bedroom and a beautiful kitchen. It’s wonderful, yet overwhelming. So far, I locked myself out the first night, couldn’t get outlets to work and thought I had no propane. It’s a big learning curve going from a 19 foot camper to a 36 foot home and office on wheels. Thank you for your patience during this transition!
See you from this new space:
Bobo is having a rough adjustment. We had to go back to the vet because she’s not eating and drinking too much water. After numerous tests, she’s not experiencing kidney disease, which is good news. The vet thinks it’s behavioral — she’s grieving Grenny. The move only added stress. She’s on rescue remedy and a natural mood and joint enhancer. I might need to share it with her! She does like her new spot on the couch, though. She has a real couch! Keep her in your thoughts.
As of October 27, I’d say the Hub and I are no longer homeless. I cooked the first breakfast in four months this morning in a working kitchen. When I did the dishes and stuck my hands in hot, soapy water for the first time since leaving Elmira Pond, I cried. This move is proving emotional to me because I’m realizing how much we lost and went without. I feel like someone who held strong during a disaster, and once everything was over and good, my legs started shaking.
What we lived in for four months was not even the size of a studio flat. I now have a bedroom, and no longer have claustrophobic attacks. I have a full bathroom, walk-in closet, dressers, a recliner, a sofa sleeper (for guests!) and even a ridiculously large flat screen television. Once through the transition, I’ll be back in full swing. I have missed so much, and appreciate the support of this community. It’s my turn to come back and serve all you wonderful writers once again. If I could, I’d fix you all breakfast:
Extended Flash Fiction Challenge:
If you didn’t get to write a raptor flash, the deadline is now extended to November 1.
Raptors wheel on currents of air high above the La Verkin Overlook. Wings outstretched overhead, a visual blip on the terrain so vast that raptors seem hummingbirds lost in the vastness. The plateau beneath my feet is but a step to the mesas stretching to the south and the tallest sandstone cliffs and pillars in the world rising to the east. This mid-terrain is known as the Zion Canyon Corridor, part of the Grand Staircase of three national parks, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon. Below, what the overlook is meant to view, is the Hurricane Valley. To the northwest are the Pine Mountains standing over 10,000 feet in elevation and to the southwest is the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The mantra here is, “Take pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”
Looking up, the raptors soon dive and I find I’m looking down on feathered backs when they swoop past the cliffs and hang in the air over the valley below. It’s surreal and I want to add, “Let your imagination take wing.”
This land is a candy store to me. I want to nibble each chocolate for a taste, not sure which one I really want to devour first. When it comes to westerns, this is iconic and historic country. When it comes to geology, it’s a transition zone geologists call a conundrum. When it comes to raptors, songbirds, migrators, reptiles and more it’s a super highway for many and a unique home for some rare environments. I look up, I look out, I look down and the candy shop is endless. It’s still Mars to me but becoming home more and more. Familiarity is already unfolding.
Because so many western movies were filmed in this area, we all think of the Wild West as being further west than it really was. Granted, the west coast destination of California, Oregon and Washington Territory were west, but much of the activities of heroes like Kit Carson and Wild Bill Hickok took place in the “far west” of the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska or the mesa country of Colorado and New Mexico. Despite the implications that Hickok knew this land I stand upon, his far west was Santa Fe, New Mexico. That’s almost 600 miles east.
Before the US Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, depending upon which side of the divide one stood) Hickok was still known by his given name, James Butler Hickok. He left his native Illinois for the Kansas Territory as a young man, about 1856 (according to biographer, Joseph Rosa). He would have been 19-years old. That same year, 28-year old David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles was elected a third term as sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina. In five years, these two men would clash in what is known as the Rock Creek Affair (among other more fiendish titles).
It’s one of the earliest wild west tales, yet far removed from the iconic wild west where I watch raptors soar.
This makes me wonder — does it matter, the sweeping landscape? Does it make a difference if the gunfight occurred atop a mesa or in a lone road station in the Midwestern prairie? Of course, storytellers know the power of a setting to stage a scene or backdrop action. And yet, I once watched a Shakespearean performance of King Leer on a stark stage of gray monoliths. When the story takes flight like the majesty of the raptors, does it matter that they soar and dip among startling terrain or would they hold their own in nothing but blue sky?
I find myself fixated on the wings of the raptors.
Another day, and I’m drinking coffee at River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin far below the overlook above. Two raptors are engaging in what looks like a dance over the gorge below where the Virgin River has cut a path. The land truly is a series of staircases. And the raptors own the air in between. I find it is the expression of flight that enthralls me most. It could be flat as a prairie and the raptors would still be the focal point. I’m lucky to get to see them, like celebrity visitors to the candy store where I live.
I believe in writing stories as compelling as raptors in flight. What you add or subtract are details that contain the story. Of course, there are many abstract ways to write, too and not all pieces of literature are story-forward. In fact, much of literature is character-driven and some of it is experimental. I’m a proponent of stories because I’m a story-teller. As a marketer I learned that people respond to stories. There’s even science that examines how the brain is hardwired for stories. Naturally I look to the raptors and see stories among pillars of sandstone and gorges of basalt.
October 19, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a raptor. Let your imagination take wing, or dive into natural science. Tell a story about flight, talons or tail-feathers. Create a myth or share a BOTS (based on a true story). Set the raptor in a spectacular place or focus on bird itself. And for clarification, raptors are eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.
EXTENDED! Respond by November 1, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Side-seat Driver (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Ike, look out!” Danni steadied her travel mug so she wouldn’t spill it. Habit. The mug was empty, but there was a small mass on the faded paved two-lane. Morning sun illuminated feathers Danni didn’t want her husband to hit after fixing the alignment on their truck.
Ike barely swerved, smiled broadly beneath his mousy-brown handlebar mustache and began singing, “There’s a dead…chicken…in the road…a dead…chicken…in—”
“Ike, that’s a hawk.” She leaned back into his chest, his right arm never once moved from her shoulders despite her jostling.
“There’s my side-seat driver. Awake now?”’
“Watch the road, Ike.”
Dreaming of Flight (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Beyond the whispering voices Sarah could hear the pounding of horse hooves. Like a falcon pushing off a fence post, Sarah took flight and could see the prairie stretch below. She was the raptor and Cobb the rider. He ran a blood-red bay with black mane and tail that whipped in the wind like a woman’s unbound tresses. The horse put his entire body into the run. Sarah pushed hers into flight. Together they covered endless buffalo grass until her coughing broke the spell. She was in bed.
Some feared to die. At 98, Sarah feared she never would.
In the Columbia Basin desert, a Velociraptor silently screams, frozen in mid-stride. If the echo of its voice could shunt through time, I might mistake it for a red-tailed hawk besetting a field mouse. Dinosaurs, according to one theory, didn’t die off, but took flight in smaller form — they became birds. If you’ve ever heard a sandhill crane, you’ve heard something prehistoric. I wonder, if my bones fossilized over thousands of decades, what could be discerned from their remaining matter? Would a future anthropologist have any clue as to my voice?
When I attended Carroll College in the 1990s, the movie Jurassic Park was a hit. Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies advised the creators of the film in regards to dinosaur authenticity and spoke as a guest lecturer. He based his presentation on the following clip, posing the question, “Would T-rex have eaten a lawyer on a toilet?”
Horner, a native Montanan, is one of the world’s leading paleontologists, yet he doesn’t hold a college degree. Perhaps because his curiosity and access to finding fossils was not influenced by academia, Horner can imagine what others could not see in the fossils. His idea regarding T-rex and the lawyer was based on what original thought he’d developed from looking at the length of T-rex’s bones. Horner theorized that T-rex was a long distance runner, scavenging after carrion unlike the Velociraptor, which was smaller but more predaceous. This idea rocked the pillars of paleontology; T-rex, after all, was king.
As a student, I recall feeling energized at such a new and daring theory. Like my classmates, I awaited the conclusion. Would T-rex eat a lawyer? Scavengers eat dead and rotting flesh. They typically smell a potential meal at great distances and have the ability to get there. T-rex as a scavenger would have lost the need for reach, thus explaining the diminishing arms. However, scavengers work to clean the earth of organic garbage. Thus, in conclusion, the answer depends upon the lawyer. And if that’s a poor recollection of Horner’s joke from 20 years ago, or in poor taste, please accept my apologies, forgo any unnecessary lawsuits, and accept my distraction with Horner’s latest theory about creating a living chickenosaurus.
The fossil record might be set in stone, but it’s just as messy to decipher as human interaction and communication. It seems we socialize more than ever, yet communicate and think less and less. Trying to decode what trends on social media and why is as difficult as trying to figure out how the tails of dinosaurs mutated. Twitter has more wit and originality than Facebook. I’d like to think that the constraint of 140 characters makes people more creative in their responses. Facebook trends tend to copy, paste and repeat, which feels like social plagiarism. I always want to know who originally wrote the post and why can’t people express their own thoughts?
And yet there is beauty in both our messy attempts at communication and what we find in the ancient baked mud of a desert. Where the Columbia River cuts a gorge nearly as impressive as the Grand Canyon, fossilized ginko trees have left stunning stumps of glistening white and amber swirls. Brave writers craft sentences that leave impressions of beauty and grace, horror and suspense, enlightenment. And sometimes we fail. Sometimes the fossils are too embedded to discern from mud; our words lost on the page. Yet we pick away at the bones in search of new ideas, of voice, a career masterpiece.
This post is not it. A masterpiece, that is. My voice is weary, to be honest. But I have a spark, thinking about fossils and holding in my hand a piece of petrified forest where a Velociraptor once ran. This week, I’m offering something new. Not a chicken theory or a book, but a rock. Yes, a rock. Everyone who enters a flash fiction this week will be assigned a number and a random number selector will choose a recipient for a piece of polished petrified wood from when chickens roamed the earth with tails and T-rex collected garbage. Just a bit of fun.
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you.
Respond by August 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Digging Up Bones by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“Coprolite,” said Danni.
Michael held up the polished stone to the lamp light. “Is it a type of agate?”
Danni leaned in to look at the piece. “Uh-huh. Agatized dino dung from Utah.” Michael quickly set the stone back down on the bookcase.
Danni walked away to the kitchen. “Come on, speak your mind Michael. I know you aren’t pissed about me having petrified poop.” She watched him glare at her displays. Danni had her ethics and collected art, not artifacts. An archeologist knew the difference.
Finally he said, “I never should have let Ike marry a bone digger.”
Gordon’s Stone by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Cobb poured coffee for three and topped his with corn whiskey. “Gordon, you want a topper?”
The young man shook his head. Sarah noted Gordon’s slumped shoulders from across the campfire. She nodded thanks to Cobb when he handed her a cup. The journey on the trail was exhausting; only Cobb had vigor by nightfall. The fire crackled and none spoke. Gordon pulled a stone from his pocket, twirling it in his hand.
“What’s that,” Sarah asked.
“Was Mama’s. An elephant tooth she found.”
“Elephant? Did she bring it from Africa?”
“No, Miss Sarah, she found it in Georgia.”
I’m flirting with Hemingway. He sits, perched on my aged-oak desk at the Carnegie Library in Wallace, Idaho. Before you imagine a leather classic of “The Old Man and the Sea” propped beside my laptop and charging phone, let me tell you, he’s real, and alive.
Hemingway is old; 73 by his own account. He wears a silver-belly Stetson stained from years of use with a general’s star and a Judaic artifact pinned to its crown. Random tourists on the streets offer to buy it. He won’t sell. You might say he’s leathered with tan skin deeply wrinkled and blue eyes hidden by aviator sunglasses. He wears typical modern cowboy garb – denim shirt, straight-legged denim jeans and black pointed-toe boots.
It’s a cold and rainy July day and his brown down vest is zipped. It has a few holes and as he talks, random feathers float between us on the breath of our conversation.
Hemingway tells me he’s been working on his book for 50 years. He’s studied the classics and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is among his favorite authors, as is Charles Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway. Decades ago, when it struck him to be a writer, he wanted to live the most outlandish life he could, experiencing first-hand wild places and life at its fullest. He’s been a soldier in ‘Nam, a miner, a cowboy, a long-haul trucker. He’s lived in Alaska and the sage country of southern Idaho. The Silver Valley called to him and he’s lived nearby in a mining town for many years.
I’ve heard that calling.
When our property managers gave us the boot from our rental because the owners felt the house would sell better empty, I protested loudly. I wailed loudly, too as the inevitable happened and our eviction day dawned. We bought a leaky trailer and bounced from squatting in our former driveway to hosting an airbnb property to accepting the charity of Lake RV who let us stay three nights for free. After the RV place inspected our leaking roof and advised us on how to fix it, we sought free camping in the national forest where we could hole up, repair and I could write.
Hemingway would say this is how a writer lives – in the thick of life’s experiences, not avoiding them.
And this is how I’m meeting real people with real stories. It’s interesting how the most generous in society are those who consciously choose to be empathetic or understand hard times from experience. Those who strive for security or feel entitled to something more than most live in fear of losing, thus are always winning, as if life were a game. But this is not the game of life. This is living. Something Hemingway understood and distilled into stark stories or real people. The author Hemingway, that is. My Hemingway is yet unpublished; an undiscovered American classic.
Here in the thick of my own life circumstances I’m surrounded by forest, birds, mines and stories. I’ve traded the barn cat of home for an aloof ginger who soaks up sun on the steps of the Snake Pit. I’m looking for the familiar among all that is new to me. I’m a story-catcher and I’m drawn to seeking stories about my new camp-home. On Monday I came to town to find internet and found all wi-fi places shut down for the 4th of July. Instead Todd and I cruised about Wallace as tourists, taking a trolley ride and going into a hard-rock tunnel to tour a silver mine with real miners. And I couldn’t resist buying a book on oral histories about the very river where we are camped.
In that book, I found Neva’s cherries. Actually Todd discovered her cherry trees. I found the story of the woman who canned the fruit when she lived in a summer shack where our trailer is parked. Neva described herself as an “old maid” in the 1920s. From Ohio she answered a pen pal post in a magazine and came to Idaho to meet and marry her husband. He worked on a narrow gauge logging train for the Forest Service and they lived in Enaville where the Snake Pit cat now resides. During the summer, Neva moved to a shack along the North Fork of the Coeur D’Alene River at the Forest Service camp known as Carters Station. Today, it is a primitive campground, but if you look closely you can see the old foundations of the station and surviving cherry trees.
To a story-catcher, knowing the name of the woman who picked these same cherries is an anchor. Meeting Hemingway in the library and giving in to flirting over shared literary ideas and writing dreams is another.
Hemingway goes outside to smoke unfiltered cigarettes and invites me to coffee if I want to follow. I can do what I came to Wallace to do – catch up on my writing duties or play hooky and explain my absence tomorrow. I could write about cats and cherries as I planned or go outside and find out what it is Hemingway is shy to ask me. I decide to live a little and leave my computer.
Outside, Hemingway tells me about his mother and that I’ve given him an insight he’s searched for all these years. It was a casual mention. How was I to know to his mother and I shared a commonality? But this is true of conversation and the relationship between story-teller and listener; writer and reader. We each make our own discoveries between the words and pages. In the time it takes me to go outside, Hemingway has penned a short story in his notebook and reads it to me. He tells me he wants to be a part of the writers in the Silver Valley, the ones called to be here.
At this point, he doesn’t know I’m a writer, too or that I’ve experienced this calling from Wallace. He just knows I’m a siphon, as he calls me, telling me I would make a good therapist. He says he needs someone to hold his hand to connect him to humans, writing humans. He wants this, but is too shy on his own. He’s confident in his decades of writing, but lacks the human connectivity. Cowboys rarely humble themselves like this, but I understand his sincerity yet vulnerability to connect. I’m thinking to myself, how is it that he’s asking for a personalized version of Carrot Ranch when he has no idea that I’m anything beyond a good listener?
That’s when I give him my card and talk about the group of writers who hang at the ranch. He says, “Oh, I’m just another dime a dozen writer to you…”
“No you’re not,” I say. He’s Hemingway. The stories he told me are incredible. But they are his to tell; his to write. I’ll share my experience but not his stories. They are yet his.
No writer is just a dime a dozen. Many of us have the calling upon us. Some spin stories; others catch them in flung nets to history or diners. We all have our reasons for being here. What’s important is that we show up to what inspires us; that we show up to the page.
It’s now pitch black and my camp is frigid. A large bonfire snaps with pockets of pitch exploding and hot embers burn orange. My laptop screen blazes bright as I peck at keys in the dark of night surrounded by forest and cherry trees and the ghosts of those who lived here in shacks before I arrived in my trailer. It’s a seasonal place and I’m tuning in to that seasonality. And I’m late in my response, but couldn’t resist flirting with Hemingway at the library.
And now, I’m going to put out a prompt I swore I never would because of what unicorns and rainbows once wrought! But I must pause to say that the weekly responses since that early prompt continue to amaze and inspire me. Writers can be shy creatures, unsure as the hummingbird that wants the nectar but hesitates when others are around. I don’t think I hold anyone’s hand at Carrot Ranch, but I hope I offer a hand up or a helping hand among the many who offer it in return. Writing might be a solitary act, but it is connectivity that results. May you live in such a way that you honor your literary art, let it breathe and live.
July 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a cat. It can be a cute and adorable kitten or it can be mean old tom that swipes a claw at unsuspecting humans. Cats are prevalent in the mining country – mousers and companions. Some survive in luxury with cushions in a sunny window, while others fend off coyotes. What cat comes to mind and how does it spark a story?
Respond by July 12, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Seeking a Living History Book by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
Danni left Ike fishing at the steel bridge eddy. She doubted he’d catch trout with weekend river revelers invading. Turning on to a rutted two-track, she popped the clutch into 4WD. Hardly anyone climbed this old mountain road except loggers or prospectors. In the 1930s it was an old train track. If Danni was to connect the writings of the old journal to a definitive place, she needed an old story-teller willing to divulge tales. Atop the mountain she found his cabin and cats. He rocked on the porch smoking a pipe as if he’d been waiting for her.
Mr. Boots and the First Ride by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
“There you are Mr. Boots!” Sarah set down a tin of milk and watched the black and white cat lap the liquid.
“Rider!” someone shouted, and Sarah paused to watch the hustle. A handler readied a fresh horse, double-checking the cinch. Cooks to carpenters stood outside cheering the rising dust from the east. First ride of the mail ponies and Rock Creek was officially a stop. Cobb sat on his mule toasting everyone with corn liquor. He was officially a Pony Express Station Manager.
“So important,” Sarah grumbled to the cat that remained the only creature unimpressed by change.
Local lore claims they used to call the “girls of morning,” snakes. These are the women who sexually serviced the miners and loggers when the Silver Valley bustled with economic prosperity; when logs choked the broad Coeur D’Alene River and hard-rock miners extracted silver by the ton.
The prevalence of prostitutes in old west mining towns would suggest the service was a necessity.
Enaville, Idaho is no longer a town proper. It lacks a post office and no longer sees to the needs of loggers and miners. By 1954 the town’s old 1880s inn built of local timbers transitioned from a worker’s hotel to a sportsman’s bar and café. It is said that the new owners discovered a light switch upstairs to illuminate two bulbs in the skull of a bull mounted among elk and moose antlers outside in the apex of the building.
Red lights. The western invitation to red light service. Call girls. Soiled doves. Ladies of the evening. Girls of the morning. Whores. Snakes.
You can still see the bull skull on the tourist hot spot now known to foodies across the Inland Pacific Northwest as the Snake Pit. Unless you read the history inside, you might not even know this is Enaville. If you read history and absorb the wealth of memorabilia mounted throughout the timbered restaurant, you’ll find that those who came here over the years sought comforts of home – food, drink, stories, a place to sit, a place to warm up or cool down, companionship.
I had no idea I was headed to Enaville in my home on wheels. My camp trailer is something like a first flat, a place you need for shelter and sleep, yet a place you know is temporary. Like many first flats, this one is fraught with problems – the roof leaks, the lights don’t work and many previous breaks were hastily fixed with systems that baffle us. We have given up electricity and running water to have privacy and a semi-wilderness setting. A fair trade for the extra work it requires of us to meet daily needs.
Along a broad and rocky river, I’m re-writing my novel Miracle of Ducks. Day dreaming about my characters and plotting requires no electricity and flows with the river at my feet. If I charge up my laptop at the Carnegie Library 20 miles away or during breakfast at the Snake Pit, I can get two hours of writing time on battery. My first two hours revealed a solution to my biggest revision concern – I can rewrite my story to add a new plot crisis and setting change. It seems daunting to take a finished and professionally edited novel manuscript and decide to change it all up. Crazy, right?
Yet it feels more and more sane each day, as does living homeless. What I miss most is a home office. A camp office hardly suffices and the time limits of officing in an old mining town are frustrating, but our camp home is free. Places to park our camp trailer average $20 a night – that’s over $600 a month. Our idea to travel and stay with friends or family is hindered by the repairs needed to the trailer, cost of gas and the appointments I have set up for Todd through the VA system. We have two today.
And when you are homeless, needs are expensive. Hot showers at RV resorts cost $5 or more. Drinking water and ice for fresh food is another $5 per day. If you eat out instead, meals add up quickly. But you have to buy gas, water or food to use a flushing toilet. Bathrooms are rarely “public.” And we Americans are griping about which genders use which stalls? Give me a break! A greater issue is that of restroom access to those who are not paying customers. In other words, if you are homeless, it will cost you to empty your internal plumbing no matter what gender you identify with.
My current situation begs the question – why do necessities feel like luxuries? I can see how a man working hard in the isolated wilderness with few comforts of home would have needed sexual companionship. And the women? They needed a secure bed, a chamber pot, food and human connection. Yes, they were exploited for their needs. And so were the men. The logging moguls and mining barons overworked and underpaid the men who needed work. Necessities are a blend of physical and psychological needs to create security and comfort.
However, my current situation feeds the flesh of my novel re-write. Let me share with you an analogy for revision from a brilliant academic writer. Writing is bones, muscles and flesh.
Bones build the story structure, the plot, the hero’s journey. That first draft is creating bones. When you finish, look at the bones first. Are you missing a femur or metatarsal? Do your bones need rearranging to fit the skeletal structure you intend? If you don’t get the bones right, nothing else you do will improve your story, no matter how brilliant your word choices or snappy your dialog.
Flesh is adding meat to the bones. Here’s where you let your brilliance and voice shine. You can give your bones curves or you can leave them spare. Flesh is your artistry. Flesh can be built up, reduced or re-appropriated. But your flesh will sag if your story doesn’t have good bones.
Skin is what we see, what catches the eye of the beholder. Yet, skin is where writers can spend too much time superficially on their novel. Grammar and spelling matters, but you need bones and flesh first. Have a healthy body and then work on healthy skin. And don’t worry about zits as you write. Think of those spots as adolescent growing annoyances. Once you have bones, flesh and skin, then you can treat the zits. Unless you are a confident dermatologist, take your manuscript to a professional editor.
Miracle of Ducks went through all phases, yet until this analogy, I agonized over how to change anything. It’s flesh work! Now I accept the scalpel, ready to cut and reform the story on its bones. Yes, I will need to make sure scars of such changes don’t show at the skin level and I’ll need my trusty Write Diva Editorial Dermatologist once again. But it will be worth the work. It will be a beauty!
One important change is that of setting. I worked on Miracle of Ducks while I lived in the Midwest and set it in my favorite Lake Superior fishing village. Then I returned to my native west. I also discovered that I have more to say about the west than the Midwest, and there’s a group for such writers – Women Write the West. By changing my setting, I can join that organization and not have to wait until I finish Rock Creek. I feel like my two novels now have a better point of connectivity despite being different genres. It’s a relief to me. And my character gets to experience a topic I can write personal essays about, thus bringing notice to me novel.
This is all worth the scalpel work.
And Rock Creek? The analogy makes me realize I’m still in the setting bones stage. I had a major breakthrough in November because of important historic research I discovered and thanks to Geoff Le Pard who explained possible explanation regarding a historic incident and court dispute. I have flesh, too, but I see where I have to straighten bones before I can stretch the flesh. That continues, too.
And flash fiction is a valuable tool in addition to being an interesting form. I hope you are benefiting from its use. Again, I’m struck by the diversity of applications and creative results week after week. Mobility might be challenged, but the ranch is open and will support writers in all quests to finish those creations we form from bones to flesh to skin. Thank you to all who ride here, as readers, commenters, riders and ranchers.
So what’s up with the luxury price on necessities? Why do I have to buy a coffee to wipe my…you get the idea…? Water? Really? I have to BUY drinking water? What happened to public bubblers? The VA will help “re-home” us in a transitional motel or shelter or apartment. It might take 90 days or two years. Thanks, but no thanks…I do have a rental September 1. But what if I didn’t? 90 days to get into a shelter? No wonder Deborah Lee’s character is camping in a vacant house!
And trying to find a job? It’s a full-time job trying to secure needs. Some homeless people buy a membership at a club just to shower. Some use warm water filched from gas station bathrooms in water jugs and go to a secluded area to bathe. And many agencies won’t help you without a “valid address”! And if you do have an income, as I do, well forget help! We found out the HUD Dash program meant to help homeless veterans takes qualifying for…I disqualify us as a paid writer, no matter that rent is 75 percent of what I make. And renting has nothing to do with my ability to pay. I paid. Every month. I went without many comforts just to pay rent.
The problem is with those renting. The reason veterans can’t get housed when they do qualify for HUD Dash is because landlords won’t honor the qualifying letter. It’s a free market; they don’t have to rent to a qualifying homeless vet. With the growing Airbnb craze where any home owner can rent to the market of vacationers, rentals are diminishing and evictions are on the rise. Those who NEED security and elements of home (electricity, water, plumbing) are left outside because someone else can afford to take his family on vacation and pay triple the rates a long-term renter pays. Yet, Airbnb provides income for struggling homeowners, and I have friends and family who use this service to supplement their income in a difficult economy.
It’s so messed up, even I’m beginning to think I should elect Trump. But no, I won’t go so low. I’m not ignorant despite dirty nails. I love my friends and family – my love knows no gender, color, religion or even political stupidity. I love people. I just wish more Americans who were in power or had the power to help others loved people, too. Not just the ones they want to pass along privilege to. White privilege? Oh, I could laugh and say bunk. But it exists, and even homeless, I’m more privileged than persons of color or on the margins of society.
Wake up, America, Land of the Free. Wake up World. People matter. If you cast aside your humanity for what privilege you have, you are no longer human. No matter your own situation, be kind to others, even to the jerks who vote carelessly or out of fear; even to those who cast the shadows of fear. Feed your enemy a sandwich; give him a free glass of water. Remind him than humanity is not a privilege and all humans have it until they deny it. Don’t let anyone dehumanize you. And write. It’s where your voice lives and your heart beats. Bleed upon that page and make a difference in your corner of the world.
June 29, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that explores human needs. Not all needs are basic. Why would others put a price on basic needs, like water? Or perhaps you want to explore why a person might develop a need in order to survive a situation (like a miner needing the companionship of a prostitute). Think about needs and not having access or being in control of them.
Respond by July 5, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Plucking Boyfriends Like Fruit by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
“Your boyfriend was looking for you,” Nancy Jane announced when she entered the new cookshack at Rock Creek.
Sarah paused in sweeping. “He’s not my boyfriend. I’m his accountant.”
Nancy Jane laughed and plucked a plum from the bowl on the table. “I meant the other one!”
“Mr. Hickok! He’s certainly not my boyfriend.” She caught the plum Nancy Jane tossed to her.
“Sit down, Sarah. Eat a piece of sweet fruit when you have the chance, and consider how your needs could be met by having lots of boyfriends. Accountant to one, friend to another. It’s called security.”
Conflicting Needs by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“Ike, I need you to stay home!” Danni clicked her heels across the kitchen linoleum to fetch her apron. Cook. She had to calm her mind and if she couldn’t disappear into a research basement, she’d pound dough for calzones.
“Look, Danni, they need me over there.” Ike leaned against the refrigerator.
Danni snorted, measuring flour. “They have trained soldiers.”
“That’s the problem, Danni, they need help with training. I can’t sit back and do nothing. We need the money.”
“Get a job, Ike! A normal job. One without bullets!”
“You don’t get it. I need to do this!”
Cerulean flashes between stands of winter birch, stark and leafless. As the car draws nearer to the water so deeply blue it makes the sky look like faded laundry, my heart rate picks up. Spring is delayed at its shore, the water so cold it can alter seasons. I wonder what the shore will be like beyond the hardwoods?
Before me sprawls the greatest of the Great Lakes, Superior by its cartography name, and I’ve walked its black moonscape on bare bedrock cliffs along Minnesota’s north shore where waves crash endlessly and shatter fishing boats like tossed toys. Gordon Lightfoot sings, “The lake, it s said, never gives up her dead/when the skies of November turn gloomy.” Yet, it is May and this is not Minnesota.
Nor is it Wisconsin where I once lived a full season along the brownstone cliffs and pink quartz beaches of Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. Miracle of Ducks is set in the quaint fishing and sailing village of Bayfield, a place that smells of blueberry blossoms in May and has shallow bays warm enough to swim, yet fierce enough to kayak surf. I drove through Wisconsin’s north woods on the way to this destination and felt a tingle of home. This lake never gives up her living, either.
I’m in Michigan, my first visit to my eldest and SIL’s new home in the Upper Peninsula. They live in Hancock, a small former mining town across the steep hardwood hills that line the canal. On the other side is Houghton where Michigan Tech plugs into the community like life support. It’s remote and underpopulated, the number of residents no longer fill the expanse of brick and mortar. First the indigenous mined here, then in the 1840s the Cornish came followed by Finns; hard-rock miners with strong constitutions.
If you look at a map of Lake Superior and follow the US edge, you’ll see that the lake folds over itself, bending into Minnesota. A stubborn strip of land juts up in to her middle. That’s copper-laden country. That’s Michigan, the UP, the Keewenaw Peninsula. Once the Superior canal cuts across that tip, the land becomes an island, surrounded by lake water and connected to the US by a single lift-bridge.
My first full day here and the kids take me to the lake, mere miles from their house which once belonged to a miner and his family. We follow the canal until we can see the full expanse of the Great Lake. Trees give way to a grassy knoll and the full sapphire of deep waters flash before me as I were touring nature’s favorite crown jewel.
It’s my first glimpse of Gitche Gumee, the name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shares in his Song of Hiawatha:
“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O’er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.” ~ HW Longfellow
The water laps repeatedly at the sandy knoll, eroding its edge. I’m reminded of photos and a post from the UK that Geoff Le Pard shared in Life’s a Beach. I wonder if his #glorioussuffolk compares to my #gloriouskeewenaw? Erosion is a constant force. It’s obvious in sand and dirt; stunning to consider the Grand Canyon. Over time, over time, over time, it all washes away.
In Calumet, 10 miles out of Hancock, my SIL works for the National Parks Service. The town of 600 once catered to a region of 30,000 people. A cluster of tall churches pointing to God and stars stand empty. The Parks campus is built of Jacobson sandstone and bedrock that once yielded copper. The buildings are stout and dark with age. Downtown is eerie. Big as a city in buildings, but sparsely inhabited. A massive Opera House with intact carriage entry still provides shows. I hear the seats are red velvet inside.
On this day, however, we go to the only open restaurant and have lunch at one of seven tables. Seven tables is enough for a town that still has an Opera House. It boggles the mind. Here, the economy has eroded how people make a living. The Finns stick it out, some living on their family farms in summer, retreating to Calumet in winter to escape the harsh snows. The kids show me a building — a five-story brick structure — collapsed by snow last winter. Even the snow erodes around here.
When we leave the sandwich shop, I ask the man who has been writing in a stack of yellow ledgers, what’s his story? He looks up from his paper and scrawl, blinking eyes as brilliantly blue as the lake. His full head and beard of silver and tough worn skin give him the mark of a man with sisu — a Finn. He pauses so long, I fear he’s found my direct question a rude interruption. But once he starts talking about his novel (I knew it!) he becomes animated and reveals he’s a story-teller.
The man tells me that Keewenaw is Ojibwa for “portage” and that this peninsula has served as a crossroads for many cultures over centuries. His novel is modern and includes the college from where new cultures emerge in this area among the fading Finns, stories of Hiawatha and pasties of the Cornish. This idea of portaging cultures intrigues me, one washing up against another. I think of eroding cultures and how differences can rub.
Across the sea in the UK one finds a polite and full explanation as to the dangers of an eroding edge; in the US we simply state the obvious. Here’s one of my photos and Geoff’s to illustrate:
I rather like the polite explanation, yet I see the practicality in directness. Does one way erase another? Is this why we fear other cultures? Cumin might be replaced by curry; English might be replaced by Arabic; Christianity might be replaced by Buddhism; blue eyes might be replaced by brown. Do we really fear this?
I have an idea — what if we looked at another culture and asked a simple question, “What do you love?” I love my family, my friends, my dogs. I love both cumin and curry and lots of garlic. I love action-adventure movies and long epic novels. I love rocks and Lake Superior. I love north Idaho and Montana. I love people who live in many places and I want to see new land, waters and cultures. I love to cook and I love to eat out. I love to grow food, too. I love birds, ideas, stories, history and writing. I love God. I’m not threatened if you don’t love what I do because I bet I can connect with you on some level the more we rattle off our lists to one another. Maybe I’ll go deep with one person, maybe I won’t get beyond spices or children with another.
We can’t stop the repetitive action of water any more than we can stop the spread of people. Do you think these modern borders have always existed? Do you think our language stagnant? Life itself erodes all we try to not change. Embrace what you love, learn what others love and co-exist in this ever-eroding world.
I didn’t always think of the Civil War in the US as a culture clash, but it was certainly an erosion between different regions, people and their needs. When I read historical newspapers during Cobb’s time in North Carolina, I read inflammatory stories of the likes in modern media. The kind of stories to get people worked up against others. To play on those fears that others’ ideas or values or ways or beliefs or home-cooking might erode theirs. I believe Cobb came west to escape some of those ideals he no longer conformed to. Yet, in a curious posting, Sheriff Cobb McCanles advertised for a “Found Negro Man” and is holding him in the Watauga County jail until the owner “proves property.”
It’s a notice that makes my skin crawl. Reading history books — written by white men — Watauga County, North Carolina holds to a false innocence that it had few slaves in antebellum times. Bull shit. I found the slave records and every single man of means, including Mary’s Greene family and Sarah’s Shull family, owned slaves. Slaves were not even considered people but property. The line, “prove property” sickens me. I’ve wondered what to do with it. Actually, the posting remains a mystery — it’s published six months in advance of Cobb leaving. Despite their position and wealth, none of the McCanles family ever owned slaves. Cobb’s mother came from a wealthy plantation that did and she chose to marry an educated man who didn’t. In part, this is what leads the McCanles clan to be at odds with southern neighbors.
They are not abolitionists, but Cobb does a curious thing. He posts this ad for the required 6 months and when it’s time to set the prisoner free, Cobb leaves. If a slave is unclaimed, he’ll simply get claimed by someone else. Even free men of color were wrongfully enslaved after gaining their freedom, or would enslave their own wife and children to protect them from being owned by another. It would be dangerous in the volatile year leading up to the Civil War to have dark skin and no owner. Here’s an interesting thought: Rock Creek was a portage through which many cultures came — French traders, buffalo hunters, Mormons, immigrants, northern pioneers, southern pioneers, and yes, free black men.
History has a weird way of remaining silent, after all it is written by men with prejudice. Read any historical account of Rock Creek and you get the sense of “for” and “against.” Two states even battled in the arena of public opinion regarding who was the real villain, Cobb or Hickok. No one considered they were each men of their times and cultural influences, men with their own hearts and reason. No one considered Jane Wellman or what she was capable of doing. No one considered Mary as being isolated from her southern roots because she followed her Unionist husband west. No one considered Sarah as a business partner to Cobb. And no one considered who James Gordon was.
The shoot-out at Rock Creek left Cobb McCanles, his cousin James Woods and his ranch hand James Gordon dead. I can locate James Woods in historical records; I can’t find James Gordon. In frustration, I wondered if he was secretly female because he is the only person at Rock Creek who is as historically elusive as the three women. Then it struck me, that weirdness about history. History is silent of what it doesn’t approve of. What is so offensive about James Gordon that even today, no one ever bothered to re-inter his grave. Park officials claim his burial site is unknown, yet I found plenty of newspaper accounts of old locals who did know its location. Why did no one ever give an outcry for the wrongful death of James Gordon? Cobb was villainized, and his cousin an associate. Why is James Gordon not in the Census record though he lived in Rock Creek? He wasn’t female; maybe he was black.
That’s my imaginative theory, but it’s plausible and makes sense as for why Gordon was ignored by historians. It also explains what happened to the man in Cobb’s custody. He came west with Cobb and Sarah. He died violently, unfairly, but he did die a free man.
We can’t replace what gets eroded over time, but we can read the records to understand what is missing the way geologists read canyon walls to understand what it once was, what it now is, and how it will further change. Erosion is a process of life. No sense pining for fallen rocks or refusing to budge until the water eats the sand beneath our feet. We can change with the landscape and each day go to the edge with a sense of wonder, goodwill and love.
May 11, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion. It can be natural, cultural or something different. Is the force personified or does it add to the overall tone? You can use the word in its variations, or avoid the word and write its action.
Respond by May 17, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Free to Go by Charli Mills
Gordon stood with hat in hand. Cobb sat and ignored the fidgeting young man.
“Cobb,” Gordon said and at his name, he rose, smiling.
“Gordon, sit. Mary, get Gordon a cup. See, quit calling me ‘Sir’ like some knight or slave-owner and I’ll respond.”
Gordon expelled his breath. “Yes, S…Cobb. Am I really free?”
“Nebraska Territory’s not a slave state. I pay you same wage I pay any hand. You bunk with the other hands.”
“But can I leave?”
Cobb leaned forward, holding the man’s worried gaze. “Gordon, you’re free to go, but remember, gold is a hard master.”
Snow-melt seeps from mountain glens spongy with spring moss and early ferns. A multitude of trickles gain momentum and cascade as effervescent waterfalls. Water the color of soft green sea glass slams into black metamorphic outcroppings and tumbles over granite boulders, stones, pebbles and sand. Stand along the roar of the Pack River in early May and you feel the vibration of life.
Sand is what makes the region of north Idaho unique. It filters the water and leaves no muddy residue like other western US rivers flowing in spring torrents. It’s my first excursion up the Pack River since the spring melt began with March rains. The Pack is near to cresting in the flood planes and higher up in the Selkirk Mountains it jumps normal channels to reconnect broken oxbows. The color is stunning, the clarity a polished lens, and the sound a concert of rushing vibration.
I once wrote of this river as my Peace of Idaho. The Pack is close to my home and my heart — it’s where I go to cool down or cool my heels; to read or watch the Hub cast a fly for trout; to let the dogs expend their energy. The Pack River is also where Grendel was attacked by a bear last summer. Maybe that’s when I began to shut down. I let fear and grief and worry shut me out of my favorite place. I refused to go up the Pack after that, after Kate. Instead I pulled weeds for a property I do not own. Now I seek its solace once again.
While it is healthy to reflect and recalculate, it’s equally healthy to take action and confront the issues. Change what can be changed, make new choices and carry on with the original intent. A friend from Minnesota visited, lured by my stories and photos. She reminded me of what I can stake claim to. Thus I made the choice to reclaim my Peace of Idaho. I live in bear country, not in fear. It’s a lesson I take to my current circumstances — risks might exist but they do not rule me. I am a writer and I can resolve, explore, express. I can create.
A rush of water goes straight to my head, and all else is distraction.
Feeling ready for a triumph, I took my friend and her daughter on a Pack River tour in my white farm truck, stopping at key points along way. First was the swimming hole, the place that calls me to strip down to my bare writing soul. I’ve been writing an experimental fiction for The DICTION AERIE ™ a new lit-blog I think many of you will like. The editor, John Hessburg, is a dear friend and a multi-talented American essayist, poet and adventure guide. He’s inspired me to re-purpose pieces of my Pack River essays into a fictional exploration of this one swimming hole through the web of multiple perspectives. For those of you who recall my flash fiction character of Ramona, her story will unfold here, at the swimming hole. My experiment is called, An American Idyll: the Pack River Chronicles — first of “The Rio Trios.”
Thus walking down to the river in full flush, to witness the swimming hole as turbulent water, was a powerful affirmation. Change happens, and I won’t be washed away. I thought about Ramona and Viola and the bear while I stood on the wet sandbar. My friend snapped photos and we laughed over the roar of water. I walked along the edge and stepped into a congregation of sand fairies. Suddenly I was enveloped by a fluttering cyclone of tiny purple wings. Stunned, I stood and watched dozens of periwinkle butterflies flutter and re-settle upon the sand bar. With wings folded up, they match the sand; open thy exhibit the color of their name. In my Ramona stories, there are twin fairies. Kate’s last name was Ferry. I stood on sacred ground and felt the mysteries of life surround me.
After that, I had no residual fear of the bear that bit Grenny. I stayed alert, and encountered more periwinkles at the site of Grendel’s attack. I even helped my friend find an Idaho garnet embedded in a stone of grizzled granite. We followed deer tracks in the sand and pondered over the canine tracks. We marveled at the Pack River jumping its normal course and at the flood damage to what used to be a long, flat sand bar for bonfires and camping. Now it had a ragged scar. Like Grenny. Scars mark, but wounds heal. We might not be the same as before, but who ever said we were to remain unchanged? When we left the river’s edge to go back to the truck, I noticed the bear poop, nodded and accepted that bears live here, too.
Poop seemed to dominate the rest of our stops. Moose poop, elk poop, itty-bitty deer poop, and a fairly fresh pile of more bear poop. This amused my friend. As we climbed higher into the mountain canyon we could hear waterfalls. I pointed out the tall dead trees that towered like charcoal ghosts above the forest and explained that those sentinels were what remained of the 1910 forest fires in this area. I told her to look for burned out stumps to get an idea of how much bigger the old growth trees had been. She spotted some and wanted her picture beside the stumps, even getting into one large enough to park a small car within. She said all writers who visit north Idaho should experience standing in the trunk. My friend understands the essence of inspiration!
We crossed a major waterfall and sat along side it for a while. The energy of the water is healing and invigorating. I wanted to sit in the waterfall, but it was fresh snow-melt and cold. We couldn’t get much further, the road was blocked by snow. I had to back up, a tricky feat given the narrow passage and the sheer drop to the Pack River below. I paid close attention to that side, but drove off into the barrel ditch on the other side, dropping into a culvert hole. That wonderful Selkirk Mountain sand spun my tires and I was soon stuck. 4WD to the rescue and my friend who helped pack tree limbs beneath the sand-stuck tire. We soon were free and laughed off our moment of uncertainty.
Isn’t that so in life? Uncertainty, a moment or a season, passes too.
In my own uncertainty, I know this truth — writing is not a fleeting periwinkle. As much as I talk about platform, career and craft, I also understand writing’s creative hold on my psyche. There’s a part of it I can’t describe but have to feed and unleash. When fairies hold me captive for mere seconds, I want a lifetime to explore the experience.
All of you who write, read or comment here, I want to express my gratitude. Some days, I walk the trails of Carrot Ranch marveling at the gifts you each bring in your willingness to share among a literary community. Thank you Prompt Hands: Lisa Reiter, Norah Colvin and Anne Goodwin for stepping in to run the ranch while I renewed my head, heart and attitude. Thank you Sarah Brentyn for carrying on with the process of editing our first anthology. Thank you Ann Edall-Robson for challenging and inspiring me to develop clearer writing retreat opportunities and for sharing event planning expertise. Thank you Sacha Black for inspiring me and your willingness to talk shop about craft and marketing. Thank you Ruchira for not giving up on me when your links didn’t show up and for including me in your writing process. Thank you for the kind emails Irene Waters and Jules Paige. Your care and concern held me up. Thank you Sherri Matthews for keeping me on track with writing, hope and inspiration — thank you for the foxes, dreams and friendship. Thank you Larry LaForge, Pete Fanning, Deborah Lee, Bill Engelson, Geoff Le Pard, Jane Doughtery, Ula Humienik, for carrying on the writing week after week. Welcome Elliott Lyngreen and Gulara Vincent, thank you for sharing in my absence. Thank you to all the Rough Writers & Friends who participate when possible, share among circles and read the words here. To the unknown readers, I might not know your name but your presence is felt and appreciated! Thank you my dearest patrons, Nae, Aunt M and Cuz K. Thank you Paula Moyer for family kinship and friendly cheerleading. Thank you Katherine and Susie for your wisdom and prayers. Thank you to my three amazing offspring (and SIL) for staying calm when Mum freaks out, for the plane tickets to see Runner graduate with his Masters and for your belief in me. Thank you Pat for your uplifting visit. Thank you for all the regional writers who’ve shown up to Wrangling Words or Open Mic Night or shared lunches in Sandpoint. Patty Jo, you are my Clark Fork rock. Thank you Binders, especially my Montana Binders and our dauntless national leader, Leigh.
Community matters to writers. Carrot Ranch is a hub. May you benefit from being here among a vibrant and diverse group held together by the literary arts, no matter how few 99 words might be.
We all thrive in community, not in isolation. Writing can be a solo act at times, but it’s true calling is the connection between writer and reader, a relationship not solitude. Writers thrive in a safe community and that’s what the ranch is. A place to explore; a place to take risks in craft; a place to experiment; a place to connect. Inspire and be inspired. No judgement, no criticism or critique, free range to play and practice. There’s no obligations or expectations. Participate in the way that fulfills your writing needs. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, to appreciate a different perspective and take risks.
Let’s get to fairies and butterflies. Which side do you stand for — supernatural or science? If you walked through a congregation of periwinkles would you write something practical or magical? Do you ever watch bees collect pollen or fear getting stung? While my friend stayed over we sat under the apple tree overlooking Elmira Pond and listened to the steady hum of bees and traffic. Nature is always close to us. This week, take a closer look around you for inspiration.
May 4, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story. Periwinkles, bees laden with pollen, ants building hills. What can insects add to a story? Do they foreshadow, set a tone, provide a scientific point of interest or a mystical element? Let you inner periwinkles fly!
Respond by May 10, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Hail From Hell by Charli Mills
“Thunderheads, Nancy Jane. They’re so black.” Sarah scanned the sky where clouds spread like spilled ink. No wind, yet the clouds grew.
“Get on your horse, now Sarah. We gotta ride like them Express fellas.” Nancy Jane had already unhobbled the two horses and was handing the reins of one to Sarah.
“But the elk?” Sarah had ridden out with Nancy Jane to hunt the migrating herds near Rock Creek Station. She’d half dressed the one she’d shot.
“No time, Sar. Them ain’t clouds.”
The horizon darkened; the black expanding. “Not clouds?”
“Ride! We gotta outrun them hoppers hell’s released!”
Author’s Note: the Nebraska prairie experienced extreme autumn invasions of locust. Pioneers recorded swarms that filled the sky. Yet, the locust went extinct just a few decades after settlement.