Category Archives: Nonfiction

Dare To Do Nothing: Replenishing the Creative Well

The view from the park at The Lakes in Las Vegas.
The view from the park at The Lakes in Las Vegas.

To say I had been having a busy time of it would be an understatement. Suddenly, I was a university student for the first time in 20 years, I was still a full time teacher, and I was working on the first draft of my new historical novel. I was looking forward to summer vacation from both work and school as a time to focus on my novel full time. I think this is why I’ve never been worried about having a day job—even with my day job I still get summers off to write full time. Then a funny thing happened—nothing.

The novel was stalled. Where my last three novels were written fairly quickly in less than a year (that’s quickly for me, mind you), my current novel was stubborn and not coming as easily as I would have liked. I didn’t understand the characters as well as I thought I did. I felt the plot was lacking, though I couldn’t tell you why. I wondered and worried myself crazy, and while I tried to work on the book I realized I was getting nowhere fast. That’s when I came up with the radical idea of putting my writing aside for a while and leaving it alone. Normally, I allow the story some baking time after the first draft, which I had done, but then when I went to write the second draft there wasn’t much more than there had been for the first draft. The second draft is a little better than the first, but it’s nothing to write home about, and it’s definitely not publishable. For my last three novels, once I made it past the “shitty first draft” stage and had a complete second draft I was, except for revising and editing, home free. This one not so much. I was getting so frustrated I was ready to throw in the towel and forget the novel altogether.

I hadn’t suffered from writer’s block in this form since I first began writing Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009. What if I never have another good idea? What if being a doc student has sucked away all my brain power and I simply can’t write fiction until I’m finished with my degree? What if this is it and my creativity is gone, finished, kaput? You know how writers panic when the ideas aren’t flowing. Then I started thinking about how I’ve been writing novels constantly for the last six years without a break. Since 2009, I’ve published seven novels. And the scholarly writing I do for school is creative in its own way since it takes creativity to figure out how to take information from various sources and construct a well-organized, persuasive narrative. Maybe, I thought, just maybe my creativity isn’t kaput as much as just tired.

I’ve suffered, like many of you, from what they call the Do Something Syndrome at Farnam Street blog. Even on my days off I feel like I have to constantly be working at something—whether it’s writing, editing, schoolwork, marketing, social media, whatever. I started reading a lot about stillness and how doing nothing can help to fill your creative well. Here’s a great post from one of my favorite websites, Zen Habits, called The Number 1 Habit of Highly Creative People where the artists talk about stillness and doing nothing as a way to stay creative. There are a number of other articles out there on the same topic. Doing nothing? I wasn’t sure I could do that, but I was willing to try since my creative well definitely needed replenishing. This hiatus was going to be different from the baking time since baking time is where, though I’m not actively writing, I’m still working on the novel because I’m reading, researching, and finding other ways to immerse myself in the story. This time I was going to leave the story completely alone and give myself a rest from even thinking about the novel.

A page from my coloring book. I like this book, called Creative Coloring Inspirations, because of the inspirational quotes.

How have I been spending my days? Well, I haven’t been working on the novel, which is how I thought I would be spending this summer. I haven’t even felt guilty about not working on it—most of the time. Writers are great at laying the guilt trip on themselves, aren’t they? Whenever I see a book I’ve read for research laying around my desk, I remind myself that I’m filling my creative well and look the other way. Instead, I’ve been sitting on my little patio with my cat Ellie as we watch the Las Vegas desert sky turn from pale blue to slate gray as the thunder-filled clouds move in. I’ve gone to the park down the street with its fake lake (the water is real even if the lake is man made) and looked at the ducks, the boats, the pretty houses, and the mountains in the distance. I’ve been exercising and doing yoga after a bout of laziness. I’ve discovered the charms of adult colorng books (they’re just regular coloring books with more intricate details, folks. I know what you were thinking…). I used to love to color when I was a kid, and it turns out I still do. I’ve always considered myself a wannabe artsty-craftsy kind of person. I love watching the how-to-paint-flowers shows they have on PBS, and I even dabbled in painting with acrylics a few years ago. While coloring isn’t exactly an original piece of art, I enjoy the chance to play with colors and I’ve rediscovered the fun of crayons, colored pencils, and watercolors. I’ve been reading a lot, finishing two or three books a week. I’ve been watching some good TV shows, movies, and documentaries (yes, I watch documentaries for fun). Saying that I’ve been doing nothing isn’t quite accurate, but I haven’t been writing fiction, thinking about writing fiction, or, most importantly, worrying about writing ficiton. I’ve just been enjoying my days and filling them however I want to rather than stressing myself out about what I thought I should be doing.

Then, a couple of months into my self-imposed exile from writing fiction, I read a couple of novels that gave me some ideas for my own story. I still have things to figure out, but at least I have a few ideas now where before I had nothing. I refuse to start worrying again about when or how the book will be written. If it takes me two years instead of one to write, then so be it. I’d rather spend two years writing the story I meant to write than publish whatever just to get something out. Everything happens in its own time. I’ve always known that, but I find I need a reminder every now and again.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. She is the author of the bestselling novels The Loving Husband Trilogy and That You Are Here. You can reach Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Writing the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name in Historical Fiction

By Laurel Deedrick-Mayne

cover imageHow do we write the love that ‘dare not speak its name’ within the genre of historical fiction? I confess that even writing the love that can be ‘shouted from the rooftops’ has thrown me into flushed-faced fits of laughter… and since this is historical and not hysterical fiction, I have to take a deep breath; maybe recline amidst the mass of rumpled sheets…not those kinds of sheets… (picture me tearing page after page of bad sex writing out of an old underwood) and try, try again. It’s not all ripping corsets and popping buttons.

Writing historical fiction is tricky to begin with— dodging the deadly slings and arrows of ridiculously overly researched, smarty-pants narrative history dumps, often at the expense of our beloved characters. Trickier still: How does a middle-aged-heterosexual woman in 2015 write about sexual awakening of a male soldier in WWII? One can’t even fall back on cliché because…back to my opening sentence: it was love unspoken and unwritten. Homosexuality was a criminal offence under civil law and convicted service personnel risked court martial and dishonorable discharge. See what I mean? There was an accidental history dump.

In my book, A Wake For The Dreamland, the world is on the brink of war and friends William, Robert and Annie are on the cusp of adulthood. Haunted by memories of a boyhood dalliance with a lad and more than platonic feelings for Robert, William feels shame and longing to be ‘normal’. But these are not normal times. Every arena of their young lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the battlefields of Italy.

The moment I knew I was writing a love triangle, I also knew that William would be gay. It seems strange to say this but I knew he was gay before he did. That is to say, I understood that the emotional stakes were very high and that it was up to me, to write his experience in the most authentic and honourable way possible. When I began writing in 2003 there was scant information available on homosexuality in WWII. But there were a couple new documentary films and a few excellent books. I had the benefit of a thoughtful archivist who remembered cataloguing a collection of love letters between two men from the 1940’s. And then, there was mustering the courage to come right out and ask the veterans who were helping me with the military aspect of my research. It wasn’t always easy and I experienced some kick-back along the way. There was the retired Major who, upon listening to my ‘Reader’s Digest Condensed’ version of the novel, declared, “Not in this Regiment!” That nearly sent me scurrying into re-write mode but another veteran friend, 90 years old at the time, reassured me that of course there were gay men in the unit. It didn’t bother anyone so long as they were a good soldier and did their job. I guess if you’re a good killer it doesn’t matter what kind of lover you are. There was the indignant participant at a workshop where I read an excerpt. She demanded to know, “Does your veteran friend know you’ve turned him into a homosexual?” I admit I had some fun with that one.

Where the truth lies, is the no man’s land where historical fiction writers tread. Writing the love that dare not speak its name during WWII and the aftermath was like crossing a minefield that could end in disaster. Confinement to a particular time and place in history: truth; gave me a scaffold upon which my imaginary friends could play out their infinite and intimate struggles and triumphs: lies. It was the ‘story’ in history that mattered to me. Nothing else. I kept reminding myself not to be afraid to be afraid, that this was not a story about war as much as it was a story about love. Those rushes of adrenalin were there to remind me I was on the right track.

Those of us writing historical fiction are excused from that old prescriptive chestnut: write what you know. But if we know something about friendship and love, fear and longing, grief and loss— that understanding will allow our characters to rise from the page and into the very hearts of our readers. The rest, as they say, is history. And my closing advice to anyone is simply this: Soldier on.

* * * * *

Excerpt from A Wake For The Dreamland

It was London where he felt most alive. Where he could walk the line between civilian and serviceman, where he could connect with other Allied soldiers for whom the city held the same degree of safety and danger, possibility and peril, sociability and sex. At the Buckingham Gate Urinal or alongside the Albert Tavern, behind two telephone booths, he could steal a kiss or more…gratify his longing. There, or Charing Cross Station, or the gardens in Trafalgar Square.

But it was at Cyril and Lou’s apartment, in an enclave of others like himself, that he first slept in the arms of a man, a lover. There, for three days and nights, the sport he endured and enjoyed came as close to killing him as the war ever would— and it was heaven. Spending each waking moment in the pursuit, the act, or recovery from every conceivable means of lovemaking. To sleep: however briefly, only to be awakened by hunger in the belly, mouth, or groin. And listening: to music, to poetry – reading and writing it, too— and eating and drinking and tumbling, tumbling willy-nilly into bed again.

In the city her learned the language of his type: invisible to passersby, visibly to each other. He learned to go from being hunted to being the hunter. He learned to find his way in the dark, to seek an encounter, to be less afraid, less alone, seduced by the allure of safety and privacy where he could be himself without fear of discovery. And yet. While the other fellows were sleeping it off and the mantle clock in the parlour squeezed out the minutes until dawn, a sickening sadness would sneak through his limbs and curl up in a ball at the foot of his heart.

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IMG_9171_Web1_CLaurel Deedrick-Mayne was born and raised in Lacombe, Alberta but has spent her adult life as a city dweller and now makes Edmonton her home. Once an arts administrator (dance publicist, concert promoter and ad copywriter) Laurel has become a juggler: raising a family, managing her private massage therapy practice, serving on multiple arts boards … and writing. This book is a tribute to the generation of her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who took the time to hang on to family letters, clippings, stories, and poetry — all those treasures that inspired this story. A Wake For The Dreamland is Laurel’s first novel.

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Where is the Thicket? Where is the Eagle?

By K. R. Riordan

Prior to 1906, both the White and Green Rivers joined together with the Black River around Tukwila to form the Duwamish River; hence its Lushootseed name Dkhw’Duw’, which loosely translated means: many-colored river.

Supposedly, on March 11, 1854, Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) gave his famous, albeit disputed, speech at a large gathering in the pristine wilderness near the growing city of Seattle, Washington. The meeting was set up by Governor Isaac Stevens in order to discuss the sale of native land to the white settlers. When it came time for Si’ahl to speak, he orated with great dignity for an extended period of time.

No one alive today knows exactly what he said, seeing that he spoke in his native Lushootseed dialect. However, despite the fact a controversy exists regarding the various translations of this famous speech from arguably the greatest chief of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish or “The People of the Inside”) tribe, the message contained within his words remains as clear as an alpine stream flowing down from the Cascades:

“This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know: Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

Chief Si’ahl undertook the great journey on June 7, 1866 on the Suquamish reservation at Port Madison, Washington. A monument is erected at his gravesite.

The first mention of the Duwamish River (the lower twelve miles of the Green River that empties out into Elliott Bay) in the Seattle Room’s media archives was from the Sunday edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on May 7th, 1905 in section II, page.14.  The article was titled: The Duwamish Valley as Future Factory Land: Interest in Dredging of River Directs Attention of Investors to Its Possibilities.

The next time the Duwamish River is mentioned was, once again, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, four months later, on September 5th, 1905, on page 8.  This one was titled: Wants Duwamish to Be Made Straight: Chairman Bridges of King County Drainage Commission Speaks of Work in White River Valley.  In 1906, construction completed on two flood control dams on both the Black and White Rivers, essentially cutting both tributaries off from the Green and Duwamish Rivers, forever.

Actual dredging of the Duwamish River to accommodate what would later become Seattle’s Industrial District began on October 14th, 1913 at the old Country Poor Farm. Twenty million cubic yards of earth were removed to use on the marshlands and tide flats, and two million five hundred cubic yards of sand was brought by the city from numerous sanitary fills.  Dirt from Beacon, Yesler, and Denny Hills was used to fill in the path of the old Duwamish River; some was even shipped all the up from Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

And as I sit at the desk of my twenty story apartment complex rising up from the side of First Hill like a tombstone, gazing out my window at the sprawling metropolis before me, and think about the fact that none of this concrete graveyard has existed for more than one single century, I can’t help but hear Chief Si’ahl’s final questions echoing in my ears: Where is the thicket? Gone.  Where is the eagle? Gone.

And I can’t help but feel responsible…

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K. R. Riordan is currently a student at Seattle University working towards a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature & Creative Writing. Riordan’s works have appeared in the Percival Review, a literary journal out of Olympia, Washington.

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How to Get Published

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at Writers Block, a group of young writers who are studying the craft of writing. When I asked what the group wanted to learn about, the answer came back overwhelmingly that they wanted to learn more about the publishing side of writing. It took some thinking to figure out how to condense what I’ve learned about publishing into an hour workshop, but I managed to come up with a few thoughts. Here are some of the ideas I shared about writing for publication. There’s nothing earth shattering here, but I think the young writers found it useful because it opened their eyes, perhaps for the first time, to the fact that writing for publication is hard work.

How to Get Published

To Begin:

  • Write something wonderful that someone will want to publish. This sounds obvious, but oddly it’s the step that some writers skip over in their rush to be published. Yes, wonderful is subjective, but if you have a strong grasp of the art and craft of writing, then you’re more likely to win fans with your work. It also helps to learn to be the best judge of your own writing.
  • Find your own voice and your own perspective. What do you have to offer that no one else does? How are you different or unique? That’s your strength. Use it.
  • Read a lot. If you don’t like to read, then writing is not for you. Read stories similar to the ones you want to write. Read about writing. Read about writers. Read the classics. Read your favorite genre. Read the cereal box. Read everything.
  • Be sure to proofread your work—check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Don’t rely on spell check. I can’t stress this enough—sloppy writing will get your work rejected as fast as editors can hit the delete button. Yes, I speak from experience (as both the editor, and, I’m sure, as the writer whose work evaporated into cyberspace).
  • Have someone else (or many someone elses) read your writing and listen to what they have to say. Often, as writers we get stuck in our own heads and we forget that the point is to communicate with others. Remember, just because someone offers a criticism doesn’t mean you have to listen to it; however, if more than one person has the same suggestion for improvement, it might be worth seeing if there’s something to it.
  • Read your writing out loud to listen for the music of your language. We write for the ear, not for the eye. You could have the most perfect looking story or poem—sharp margins, professional looking layout, lovely font—but if the words don’t sound right then they’re not right.
  • It takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to create something publishable. Give yourself time to grow into the writer you want to be.
  • First drafts are never publishable (or usually even second drafts or third drafts or fourth drafts…).
  • If you’re not willing to take the time to make sure your writing is the very best it can be before you send it off for publication, then writing is not for you.

Then:

When you’re convinced that your writing is the absolute best it can be, you’re ready to start submitting to journals, magazines, and newspapers.

  • Figure out what genre your piece belongs in (Is it action adventure? Science fiction? Historical?) and research journals, magazines, and newspapers that publish the type of story you’ve written. God bless the Internet. When I first started writing, we had to do things the old-timey way—we had to actually look through books! Now a list of literary journals is just an Internet search away.
  • When you have your list of journals, read their submission guidelines carefully and follow those guidelines exactly as written. Again, I can’t stress this enough. You want to give your writing the best chance of being published. Editors receive many, many submissions, and often they’re looking for easy reasons to reject a piece. To make your work stand out from the crowd, show the editors that you’re a professional writer and you take your submission seriously.
  • Be prepared for rejections. Sorry, but it’s part of the process. If you don’t have the stomach to deal with the rejections, then writing is not for you. If it makes you feel better, you can find many examples of famous authors who received hundreds, sometimes thousands of rejection letters until they were finally published. Jack London was rejected many times, as was J.K. Rowling, as were countless others.
  • No matter what, keep submitting. It took me four years to get my first piece published. If I had given up three and a half years into it I never would have become a published writer.

However:

If you’ve written a novel, then the process is a little different. If you want to pursue traditional publishing one route is to find an agent who will represent your novel to the publishing houses.

  • You can find agents the same way you find literary journals and magazines—by looking them up online.
  • You need to finish your novel before you start contacting agents because if agents are interested then they’ll often ask to see the whole manuscript.
  • Like with submitting to journals or magazines, you need to be prepared for rejections. If the rejections will deter you, then, once again, writing is not for you.
  • To catch the attention of an agent, you’ll need to write a great query letter. Here’s an article from Writer’s Digest about how to write the perfect query letter.

If you have more of a go-getter’s heart, you may want to look into indie publishing.

  • Indie-publishing is a great option for writers these days. Many best selling novels are indie-published.
  • You can create your own e-books on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. You can also publish your books to BN, iTunes, and Kobo. The entire process takes about five minutes per retailer. The directions are easy to understand. You can also create your own paperbacks on Amazon’s CreateSpace or on Lulu. Again, the directions are pretty easy. Best of all, it’s free!
  • If you’re self-publishing, then everything that would normally fall on the publisher (cover design, interior layout, editing, marketing, etc.) falls onto the author. You have to make doubly sure you’re putting out a quality product if you’re indie-publishing so readers will take you seriously.
  • The Creative Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) is a great resource for writers who want to publish their work independently.

Once you’re published you have to learn the ins and outs of book marketing and publicity and you have to deal with the naysayers. You need a strong constitution to be a writer. It takes courage to put your work out there. I think the young people I spoke to were surprised at how hard it is to be a writer. I think they thought, as I did when I first started, that being a writer meant sitting at your desk scribbling out your crazy ideas and somehow all the other things (getting published, getting publicity, hitting the best seller list) just magically happened.

I wanted the young people to understand that becoming a writer, as in making a career for yourself, takes time. Even the indie authors who are hitting the best seller lists these days are often people who have been writing for years, and I include myself in that list. I’ve been at this since 1994 (21 years now), and it took me four years to get my first publication—a short story in a small literary journal. Then I wrote three novels before my fourth (Her Dear & Loving Husband) hit the best seller list in 2011. Now over 200,000 copies of the Loving Husband Trilogy have been bought or downloaded worldwide.

Was it worth it? All those rejection letters, all those worries that no one would ever read my stories, all those times I very nearly gave up writing for good? Of course it was worth it. If someone had said to me that it was going to take 20 years to get everything I wanted as a writer, I probably would have said, “No thanks. It’s going to take too long.” But the 20 years passed anyway, as time will, and because I didn’t give in I ended up where I wanted to be. That’s really the lesson I wanted the young writers to take away. Don’t quit. Not ever. If you have a vision, a calling, whatever it is, keep going. It will be worth it in the end, no matter how long it takes to get there.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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The Covered Bridge

By Kelsey Lahr

There is a covered bridge across the South Fork of the Merced River, in the south end of Yosemite National Park, where I live. Covered bridges are a rare sight in California; ours is one of only a small handful in the state. For hundreds of years, maybe thousands, the residents of this area crossed the South Fork on the bridges afforded them by logs and exposed rocks. It wasn’t until 1857 that the area’s first (and only) white inhabitant, Galen Clark, constructed a rough, uncovered bridge to serve the steadily increasing number of travelers passing through on their way to the famed Yosemite Valley, newly discovered by the outside world.

Clark built himself a cabin, where he intended to live out whatever was left of his short life. He had moved to the area to die. He came out to California in search of gold, and instead of striking it rich, contracted consumption in the dismal mining camp he briefly called home. He was told he had six months to live. So he moved to a meadow on the South Fork, raised up a rough cabin, and wandered loose through the hills, bareheaded and barefooted, praying for health and waiting to die. He learned the plants and the animals, the course of the river and the lay of the land. He drifted into the grove of giant sequoias that towered upmountain from his homestead, the first white man known for sure to have done so, and he bestowed upon it the name it still bears: the Mariposa Grove, after the mining town of Mariposa where Clark contracted his illness. Through all of this he took no chances; he dug his own grave down the road in Yosemite Valley. He carved his own headstone and planted some sequoia seeds around it and waited to die.

And while he was waiting to die, he began to write letters, suggesting that this grove of sequoias merited protection against the same human greed and stupidity that had driven him, along with some 300,000 other easterners and foreigners, out to the mountains of California in a haze of gold fever. He sent those letters to lawmakers in Washington, DC, to influential thinkers, to business magnates, to anyone he could find an address for. Back in Washington the newborn concept of preservation began to catch on.

In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln decided Galen Clark might have a point. He took a break from fighting the Civil War to sign the Yosemite Grant into law, setting aside the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Yosemite Valley as a land grant to the state of California, to be preserved until the end of the earth—the first pieces of wild territory ever to be granted protection solely for their natural grandeur. Galen Clark breathed a little easier. He could go ahead and die, and the landscape would survive. It was all he could ask for, really.

When his cabin was finished he built the bridge, stopping to catch his ragged breath with each board he nailed into place. When that was done  he began to add to his cabin, room by room, until it was an inn, shabby and low-slung, light streaming in through the cracks in the walls, but still a convenient and congenial stopover for Valley-bound tourists. He got to know the local Indians—the Nuchu, he called them. He began to develop a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and hospitable men in the Sierras. And when protection was bestowed upon his beloved Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley, he celebrated.

Today, millions come to see Clark’s beloved sequoias every year, my family among them. “The Forever Trees,” my father calls them, on account of their longevity—giant sequoias can live almost 3,000 years. He loves these trees. He has been working here among them for most of my life. For nine months of the year he is just a regular school teacher, but then, like some kind of superhero stripping off his alter ego, he dons his ranger uniform, packs up his pickup, and heads to the mountains for his summer gig as a park ranger. When I was growing up my mother faithfully brought my sister and me to visit once or twice a summer.

I lived for our summer visits to my father in Yosemite, but those trips had to be earned by enduring another slog through the Mariposa Grove with Ranger Dad and his group of easily-impressed tourists. Long before I was big enough to keep up, he had perfected his guided hike through the Mariposa Grove, weaving together the most colorful moments of natural and human history and presenting them with the flair and timing of a masterful storyteller. I hated it. Those hikes were brutally hot, the fire-shaped landscape desolate to my sensibilities, and the giant sequoias just a bigger version of most other trees.

I never had a conversion moment; like most transformations, mine unfolded imperceptibly over the course of years. When I landed a summer ranger job of my own, affection for giant sequoias was pretty much required. By the time I had put together and polished my own version of the Mariposa Grove guided hike, I had become as awed by the trees as the most easily-impressed visitors. This I consider an unmerited blessing. That adulthood erased the familiarity-bred contempt I had harbored was a piece of pure grace, and one for which I am grateful every time I stop to admire the light on a sequoia I have seen thousands of times. And of course I am likewise grateful that an accident of birth made me the daughter of damn good ranger, and that an accident of death brought about the preservation of the Forever Trees that my father loves so much.

For death accidentally passed Galen Clark by, year after year, decades beyond his grim prognosis. He enjoyed nearly a half century of life near the giant sequoias he loved, all the way until1910, when he died just shy of his ninety-sixth birthday. He is buried in the grave he dug for himself in Yosemite Valley all those years before, and the seedling sequoias he had planted around it back then tower over 100 feet high today, a monument to all kinds of survival.

By the end of Clark’s life, things were changing fast around here. Homesteaders had arrived and laid claim to the land, followed by businessmen, stagecoaches, teams of horses, and stage drivers. The Indians fled at gunpoint. The streams that ran through the meadow were diverted and the land planted over with crops. Galen Clark sold out to some East Coast businessmen who promised to turn his sagging little inn into a full-fledged, first-rate hotel. Manifest Destiny had arrived on the South Fork.

The mortars and pounding rocks of the Indians lay abandoned and silent in the meadows and along the river, ghosts of the bustling gathering places they had been when the women assembled there early each morning to pound acorn and tell stories and compare notes on their husbands and families. But the area continued to be what they had always called it: Pallahchun—“a good place to stop.” The spot was now a frenzied transit site for the growing crowds of tourists stopping off on their way to visit the brand new Yosemite Grant.

As the nineteenth century barreled to a close, people came by the scores and then the hundreds and thousands, arriving by packed stagecoaches and staying the night at the new and sprawling Wawona Hotel before loading up the next morning for another full day’s jolting journey by stage to the Valley. And the men behind this rambling white beauty of a hotel, the easterners who had bought out Galen Clark, were a trio of brothers by the name of Washburn who had come to California from Vermont. And while these brothers were at it, they covered Galen Clark’s simple old footbridge, adding the walls and pitched roof that make it unique even today.

By all accounts, the Washburns were tenacious, successful, and charming. But they were still a long way from home. And this, they say, is the reason those brothers covered the bridge. Covered bridges are a common sight in Vermont, and like anyone a long way from home the Washburn brothers wanted a picture of where they had come from, a piece of the place they had left behind. The bridge, like the Yosemite Grant, endures miraculously to this day.

But to Galen Clark and the Washburns, today’s Yosemite might well be unrecognizable even if they found the bridge familiar. When the Yosemite Grant Act became law in 1864, a great number of the area’s original residents, now gone, still called the place home. Grizzly bears roamed all over, as did, of course, the Indians. The grizzlies, often weighing up to a ton and seen by the settlers as a calamitous threat to life and property, went first. Yosemite’s last grizzly was shot in 1895, and California’s last in the 1920s, in the foothills just south of the park. Today only the grizzly’s much smaller and more docile cousin, the American Black Bear, is found in Yosemite, and California’s only grizzly is found on the state flag.

The Indians of Yosemite must have been powerful—and restrained—hunters to have coexisted for all those millennia alongside the grizzly. It must surely have felt like a potent harbinger to watch as the bears were hunted to the point of extirpation. The Indians fared better, a little. They adapted in a way the grizzlies could not to the destruction of their homes, giving up hunting and gathering for jobs as hotel maids and cooks and cultural demonstrators, as the new economy of the settlers demanded. Today their descendents live outside of the park, and the only village that exists in Yosemite is a small replica that functions as a museum and is used only a few times a year for traditional gatherings.

All of this change, spurred on at gunpoint, is easily denigrated today, in an era when we understand that extinction is forever and that all people are born with basic rights, but in many ways Yosemite is the place it is because of all that bloody change of the nineteenth century. Imagine our four million visitors a year trying to squeeze into Yosemite Valley alongside a thriving grizzly bear population. Imagine them all cramming into the tribal home of an established people. Laughable. Tragic.

Which is why, perhaps, the covered bridge over the South Fork is so captivating. It was built and then covered in an age of dizzying changes, but remains unchanged. To cross it today feels, I’m certain, almost exactly the way it felt a century ago.

When you step onto that bridge, the world becomes muted. The sound of the South Fork below is muffled by the bridge’s walls, and defused light slants in through the cracks and knotholes in the timber, catching and turning to gold the dust of 150 years’ worth of travel that thickens the air still. Some summers you can make out a raven’s nest in the sturdy beams that support the antique New England pitch of the roof.

I sometimes imagine installing myself in this bridge, the only roof I would ever need over my head. It would be livable enough at first, to be lulled to sleep by the shush shushing of the South Fork just below, to write by the light that seeps in between the cracks in the walls, to cook dinner on a camp stove by lantern, whose flame would shine out through the knotholes and be reflected golden into the night by the water below. And then I imagine myself going slowly mad, driven over the edge by a lifetime spent suspended, between times and solidities, on a structure that was made to be crossed.

And yet, there is a feeling of home to that bridge that I cannot deny. I have walked across it nearly every year of my life. Even now I am still caught off guard sometimes by the feeling of familiarity that washes over me when I step onto it, evidence of the habits that have grown from an entire lifetime of involvement in this place. And herein lies the one thing I have in common with those boys from Vermont: for each of us, the covered bridge’s old dust and even older beams smell like home.

______________________________________________________________

Kelsey Lahr has worked summers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park since 2008. She holds a BA in Communication Studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, where she published several poems in the college’s annual literary magazine, The Phoenix. This fall she will begin a Master’s program in Communication at the University of Utah, where she plans to focus her research on environmental communication and the efficacy of environmental organizations.

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Synchronous Fireflies

By Rita Welty Bourke

The shuttle from Gatlinburg drops us at the Elkmont Campgrounds and heads back to Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up the next group. We walk up an old logging road, Rory and I, carrying our camp chairs and cooler. In my pocket is a flashlight covered with red cellophane.  When I called the National Park Service for reservations a week ago, the agent told me I needed that.  I found a red tab from a hanging folder, and I was able to cut it into a circle that exactly fit the flashlight.   

We’ve come to this place to see a light show that is as mysterious as it is rare.  Synchronous Fireflies occur here in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and in Southeast Asia, and in no other place on earth. I’d read a newspaper article about it a year ago. My husband was less than enthusiastic, but that’s often his first reaction to new adventures. Now that we’re here, I can tell he’s glad we came, and maybe even a bit excited.  

Choose a spot where you can see into the woods, a Ranger advises us, handing us a brochure.  As soon as it starts to get dark, they’ll start flashing.  Look for the blue ones.  They’re called Blue Ghosts.  

We thank her for her advice and start up the gently-rising gravel road, looking for a vantage point where we’ll be able to see the fireflies.  

Dozens of people have already picked spots along the road.  Some have chairs, but many sit on logs, rocks, and blankets spread on the ground.  Others simply wander up and down the road, waiting for darkness.  

Away from the city, conversation is easy.  An enormously large man dressed in coveralls tells us he’s been coming here for the last ten years.  The Park Service says the show has peaked, but he doesn’t believe them.  He has a friend in Cherokee who was here last night and said it was wonderful.  

He gives us hope.  The government website said the fireflies had shown up earlier than in previous years, they thought because of the mild winter.  We can’t guarantee anything, they said.  And we can’t refund your money if they don’t show up.      

A few brave souls have gone into the woods, and the big man does the same.  Rory and I continue along the road in search of the perfect spot.    

Logging companies set up shop here a hundred years ago.  They harvested the lumber, and when the trees were gone, they sold lots.  Wealthy people from Knoxville and other parts of East Tennessee bought them and built cottages in the valley between Little River and Jakes Creek.  This section of Elkmont became known as Millionaire’s Row.  

The National Park Service acquired the land in the 1930s, and the owners were given lifetime leases.  By 1982 the Park Service had purchased the last of the cottages, though they allowed the original owners and their families to continue using them for another twenty years.     

The buildings that still survive are in a state of dilapidation.  Paths jutting off the gravel road lead to what’s left of these once lovely cabins and summer homes.  Roofs have caved in.  Trees grow out of foundations and up through floors.  Windows are broken, gutters sag under the weight of rotted leaves and vegetation, vines cover whole buildings.  Some structures have completely collapsed.      

I go off the trail to have a closer look.  Some of the houses are so unstable I keep a safe distance.  But then I go closer, wanting to see what remains of lives from so many years ago.   I peek through windows and see scraps of wallpaper still clinging to walls.  An old bedstead, a cracked sink, discarded pans and crockery, old newspapers and magazines, bits of rubber hose, broken screen doors on rusted hinges, three-legged chairs.    

I’ve always wanted to be in the forest at the moment when some man-made thing, a cabin, an out-building, a shed, collapses.  I want to know why, at that moment, did it happen?  Did an animal jump onto the roof, and that tiny half-pound was all that was needed to cause the building to crumble?  Had gnawing termites so weakened the foundation that a gust of wind brought it down?  Did a tree fall, and open the building to the elements?  Wind, rain, sunshine, insects…. or is it all these things that will bring about the ultimate destruction of these homes that once comprised Knoxville’s very own Millionaire’s Row.  

I go back to where Rory is waiting.  He can’t come with me into the woods.  Poison ivy is his enemy, but not mine.  I can pick the stuff up in my hands and rub it on my arms and nothing will happen.  

I love being able to walk along this old logging road and take detours down paths so I can see more closely how nature is reclaiming what was once hers.  Her goal is to erase the footprint of man and for that I applaud her, but at the same time it makes me sad.  The trees that were logged are being replaced by new trees.  The vacation homes built along Little River are collapsing.  

But not Spence Cabin.  It’s one of 19 properties the Park Service recently marked for preservation.  As of June 2012, the cabin has been completely restored and made available for rentals.  I can’t resist.  I leave Rory again on the gravel road and go off to see what they’ve done.     

There’s a new flagstone path leading up to the house, landscaping, fresh paint, a cement walkway around the house, a stone patio beside Little River which is bubbling down from Mount LeConte.  I walk to the cabin next door, one slated for demolition.  A tree has fallen on the back corner, so one whole wall sags.  If I come back next year, it will surely be gone.  

Darkness is still hours away.  We sit on our camp chairs and eat the dinner I’ve prepared: Capellini Pomodoro, served on clear plastic plates.  Rory calls it Glorified Spaghetti.  I take offense.  

It’s not spaghetti, I tell him.  I used olive oil instead of marinara sauce.  Cherry tomatoes and black olives.  Organic chicken strips instead of hamburger.  I brought bran muffins made with ripe bananas and fresh blueberries.  Unsweetened iced tea.  

When he finishes his plate, he asks for more.  I take it as a sign that he likes it.  I think it’s delicious, though I wish I had a nice chardonnay to go with it.  But this is a federal park.  No alcohol allowed. Rangers walk up and down the road.  

The sun sinks behind the folds of the mountains and the temperature drops.  I have a sweater, Rory a jacket, but many are not prepared.  They cover themselves with blankets.  They walk up and down the road, trying to keep warm.  The temperature plummets. 

We begin to see fireflies in the forest, and the cold doesn’t matter anymore.  Conversations, once so lively, begin to lull.  A woman sitting on a blanket thirty feet away from us is the exception.  She’s telling a story about taking one of her children to the emergency room, and how awful the nurses treated her.  She’s loud and irritating, and no one cares about her story.  We’ve come to see the fireflies.  I ask Rory to go stuff a sock in her mouth.  He won’t do it, of course.  He’s too kind.  Considerate of others.  A pacifist.  I glare at her, but she doesn’t notice.  Finally, she shuts up.  

The fireflies become more numerous, though still random.  Darkness fills the woods, and it becomes very quiet.  Even the kids are quiet.  When the last hint of light has gone out of the sky, and all around us is black, it begins.      

They come in groups, lighting up first one part of the woods, then another.  They flash in perfect unity, and there is not a single outlier in the bunch.  For five or six seconds the forest is lit, then it goes dark.  Light again.  And dark.  They come in waves and it’s like Christmas here on the banks of the Little River, the forest twinkling with a thousand tiny lights.  The show is in progress.  

The man who’s been coming for ten years is in the midst of it, in the woods, between us and the Spence cabin.  He’s sitting on a flat rock above the forest floor, leaning back, looking up at the fireflies all around him.  

Next year, I whisper to Rory.  That’s where we’re gonna be.  Down there where that man is sitting.  If you cover up, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and you don’t touch anything, you’ll be fine.  I’ll bring calamine lotion, just in case.  

Simultaneous bioluminescence, he whispers back.  That’s what it’s called.  If you catch them and take them someplace else, they’ll stop the synchronous flashing.  They have to be at 2200 feet, which is what the elevation is here.      

I’m not surprised he’s done some research.  He might have been reluctant at first, but the thrill of coming to this place and seeing this wondrous thing pulled him in.  

It’s a mating ritual, he continues.  No one knows exactly how it works.  It may be that the males are in competition for the females… 

….and they light up so the girls can see how pretty they are?  

Well, the girls don’t have wings, so they’re down on the ground.  They do respond…. 

Not fair, I tell him.  Why no wings for the girls?  

I don’t know, but it all works out.  When the males display like this, they’re near the end of their life cycle.  They mate, and then they die.  

It’s a sobering thought, here in the darkness, in our comfy camp chairs.  Yet it makes it all more beautiful, to know this is their swan song, the thing they’ve been living for.  Most of them will procreate.  Then, like the cabins on Millionaire’s Row, they will disappear from the face of the earth.  

The Blue Ghosts, when they appear, are not like the others.  They don’t flash.  Instead, they glow with an eerie blue light, and the glow lasts long after the flashes have ended.   We begin to see more and more of them,  until there is a ghost in nearly every wave of fireflies.  They are the outliers, glowing long after their friends have quit.  

One flies out of the woods, directly toward us, and we duck our heads.  The ghost zooms past, we think, but we aren’t sure.  When he was just a few yards away, he extinguished his light.  

An hour later we pack up our camp chairs and cooler and begin the trek down the 
logging trail toward the waiting shuttle, the red beams from our flashlight aimed at our feet.   Like the man who has come here every year for the last ten years, we’re hooked.  Next year I’ll plan a different menu for our dinner on the old logging trail on Millionaire’s Row.  I’ll bring plastic goblets, but we’ll wait till after dark to open our bottle of cabernet.  Down in the woods on that flat rock, the Rangers will never see us.                                                                     

            Capellini Pomodoro 
3-4 large tomatoes, diced (cherry tomatoes cut in half are prettier) 
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 handful basil, chopped 
4 oz. angel hair pasta  (If you use Barilla Plus pasta, you up the protein content and 
your blood sugar won’t spike.)  
Olive oil 
Salt 
Optional:  sliced black olives 
          Baked chicken strips (available at Costco or Trader Joes, a great timesaver) 
                  Vegetarian version:  use Boca Chick’n Patties instead of baked chicken strips 

Toss diced tomatoes, garlic, and basil with olive oil and salt in large bowl.  Cook pasta.  Drain.  Toss in bowl with tomatoes and garlic.  Add rinsed black olives, chicken or boca, and butter, if 
desired.  Serve hot, room temperature, or cold. 

______________________________________________________________

Rita Welty Bourke has published numerous works of fiction and nonfiction in literary magazines including The Chattahoochee Review, The North American Review, Cimarron Review, Black Warrior Review, Shenandoah, and Witness. Five of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart prize. For more information visit www.ritaweltybourke.com

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Man With A Gunnysack

By Catherine Grow

Gerry never did have a lick of sense. Mother thought she might be “slow” or, perhaps, uncommonly shy. Maybe she was just plain mean. I really couldn’t say. Gerry had always been a shadowy figure in my brother’s and my lives, an older girl we’d seen staring at us from corners or met in passing without so much as a nod or word of conversation. She lived in her world and we lived in ours until the day Leila, the woman who looked after us, entrusted J.J. and me to her daughter’s care while she made a quick trip to the market.

 It was a crisp, late autumn afternoon in mid-1950s northern California: sweater weather. The sun skittered though substantial banks of clouds. I’d just walked back to Leila’s home—a modest, one-story, post-war bungalow—from my kindergarten, several blocks away. J.J. was still too young for school. My thick wool cardigan—cardinal red, stored in a chest throughout the summer—smelled strongly of cedar and felt scratchy against my arms as Gerry, an ungainly, but not unattractive, twelve-year-old, guided my brother and me out of her house, into her yard, and into unfamiliar territory. 

We paused at the garage next to a woodpile stacked long and high with seasoned logs. As I stood there, inhaling the aroma of split oak and pine, my thoughts wandered back to a sunny morning that previous summer when J.J. had grabbed the tail of a rattler and pulled it out of our woodpile. It’d begun to coil when our father, planting a peach tree in the yard, came running. In one fluid motion, he separated my brother from the snake and whacked it with a shovel. 

I was brought back to the present by Gerry prodding my brother and me to continue walking. “Wait,” I said.

“For what?” she snapped. She stopped so suddenly that her skirt twirled around her legs and almost tripped her.

I didn’t answer but bent over to pull up my knee socks, which had, by this time, slid past my calves to settle on the tops of my saddle shoes.  

Gerry rolled her eyes and popped her chewing gum several times; the scent of Juicy Fruit perfumed the air surrounding her as she tapped one foot then the other impatiently.

“Are you ready, now?” she snarled when she saw me straighten up. I brushed several wood chips from my jumper and checked to make sure J.J.’s jacket was zipped shut—actions that threatened to make Gerry apoplectic.

“Now?” she menaced and took several steps toward to me, grinding her gum ferociously.

“O.K.,” I said and resumed walking.

We pushed past the woodpile and kept going until we arrived at the edge of an orchard. By now, the sun had yielded to billows of pewter-colored storm clouds; the light that struggled to shine through looked sickly, and the air felt heavy with the promise of moisture.

At our approach, a quartet of crows cawed a cacophonous alarm from their perches in the half-barren treetops. A pair swooped down to rifle through a mass of dry leaves. Grass and other foliage were sparse, their colors subdued to shades of olive drab against the dun-colored earth. Halloween, with its frightening lore and nightmarish apparitions, was scarcely a week away. I shivered, in spite of myself.

“Look,” Gerry said, pointing to a wild-haired figure among the trees.  The man had a bushy gray beard and was dressed in patched overalls and a ragged flannel shirt. A shapeless hat of indiscriminate color completed his attire. He was tall and bony and walked half bent-over, like the witches we’d seen in storybooks, searching for something under the apple trees. He carried a wooden staff and dragged a huge burlap bag, partially filled and noticeably bumpy, behind him. “See that gunnysack he’s carrying?” Gerry pointed again. “It’s full of little children, just like you.”  

My stomach muscles knotted; immediately, I reached for J.J.’s hand. He looked up at me. “Is it really?” he whimpered.

I stared at the older girl beside me. Her hands were shoved into the pockets of her older brother’s slouchy athletic sweater, and she was rocking back and forth. Wisps of her ebony hair fluttered feather-like against her face. She shook her head “yes” so emphatically that her long, thick braid whipped through the air and beat against the middle of her back. Her eyebrows were arched, and her eyes looked larger and darker than I’d ever seen them.

She continued, her voice rising, “See how skinny he is? He’s starving and always on the lookout for little boys and girls to grab when no one is looking. He takes them home then cuts them up and eats them.” She stopped rocking, withdrew her hands from her pockets, and spit out her gum. “Run! Run!” she shouted. “Before he gets you!”

I believed every word she said. Holding tightly to J.J.’s hand, I nearly pulled him off his feet as we ran for our lives, Gerry leading the way. We fled across the yard then stumbled up the front porch steps and into the house, where the older girl shuttled us down a dark hallway and into a small bathroom. She slammed the door behind us, locking it with a loud click.   

“If he finds us, will he kill us?” I whispered, my voice quavering as I tried not to cry. Crying wouldn’t solve anything; even at my young age I knew that. Besides, I didn’t want to alarm J.J. 

“Not me,” Gerry replied calmly. “I’m too old.” She paused to remove her sweater before declaring dramatically, “But you and J.J. are just right.” She put a finger to her lips. “Shhhhhhh! Do you hear him? I think he’s coming.”

I stood next to the door and listened intently, but I heard nothing. “Noooooooo….” I said.

“Listen again,” Gerry commanded. “I think I hear footsteps.” I put my ear directly against the wood and heard what might have been someone drawing near.

“He’s coming!” she repeated with greater urgency. “I know he’s coming!” She turned to me—her eyes wide with fear—and hissed, “I’ll guard the door; you’d better hide!”

I searched the bathroom for the place farthest from the entrance. There it was; I wasted no time in scooting my brother ahead of me into a dank corner between the toilet and the wall. He squirmed his way in. I followed, folding my long-legged frame into the cramped space beside him. “Don’t worry. I won’t let him get you.” I promised. And I truly meant this; I was honor-bound to protect my little brother and knew my parents would hate me forever if anything horrible happened to him. 

“Shhhhh!” Gerry whispered. “I think he’s almost here!” I hugged J.J. close to me, squeezing him gently for reassurance. 

She had her ear against the door and nodded her head in confirmation of what she had led us to believe were her worst fears. “Yes, he’s just about here!” she said. “And you’d better hope he doesn’t stop outside the door. It’s so flimsy, he could easily break through. I wouldn’t be able to do a thing to stop him.”

“But aren’t you supposed to protect us?” I thought but was too rattled to say out loud. 

As if anticipating my question, Gerry exclaimed, “I’m certainly not going to get in his way. I might get hurt, even killed.”

Maybe she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—protect J.J. and me, but I vowed, right then and there, that neither my brother nor I would be taken without a fight. And before that fiend got his hands on J.J., he’d have to kill me first. My teeth began to chatter; I was too scared to wet my pants.

After what seemed to be hours—a dreadful stretch of time made even more alarming by Gerry’s proclamations, at regular intervals, that she heard heavy breathing outside the bathroom door—she said, “Let’s see if he’s still out there.”

“I don’t really think we should….” my voice croaked. By now, I was completely used up from anxiety.  J.J., who’d managed to wedge his pliable body into the tiniest space directly beneath the toilet tank, was frightened out of his wits: too terrified to talk or cry or do much of anything. “I won’t let him hurt you,” I affirmed with as much bravado as I could muster. 

I braced myself for the possibility of a raging maniac bursting through the door.  “I’ll die trying,” I kept repeating to myself until I felt the calm that oftentimes comes when one is resigned to having to face some horrendous inevitable.

Gerry unlocked then opened the door, which emitted a prolonged, ghastly squeak.  I held my breath. She didn’t say a word but just stood there. Then she disappeared. 

Several minutes went by—agonizing, interminable minutes—and still there was no sign of our protector. I huddled close to J.J. and prepared for the worst.  

Additional time elapsed, but Gerry did not return. “Maybe the old man has grabbed and killed her before he gets to us!” I thought. But I’d heard no screams to indicate that was what had happened. Then my mind took a wicked turn: “Is she making some sort of deal, so he won’t hurt her if she turns us over to him?” 

Gerry finally reappeared in the doorway. “He’s gone,” she chirped. “You can come out now.” 

I didn’t believe her.

“No, I mean it,” she said, with a sly grin on her face. “You can come out now.”

I shook my head “no.”

“Honest to God,” she said. “He’s really gone.”

I wasn’t about to move from the only place in the house from which I had at least a ghost of a chance to defend my brother and myself against unspeakable horrors.

“Hope to die, if I tell a lie,” Gerry chanted, crossing her heart to seal her vow. 

I took a chance and began to ease my way out from behind the toilet, trying, at the same time, to coax J.J. to follow. His eyes, the color of a cloudless summer sky, dominated his pale, round face. He wasn’t about to budge. Cautious as a cat, I crawled into the middle of the bathroom and stopped. 

There, my emotions spilled open. With my bare legs flat against the cold tile floor, I sobbed so loud and long I thought I might never be able to quit. 

 J.J. disentangled himself from his hiding place then toddled over to where I sat. He wiggled in beside me, patting my shoulder and saying in his sweet little-boy voice, “Don’t cry, Kiki. Don’t cry.”    

“Come on,” Gerry whined. J.J. and I took our time getting to our feet. Still cramped and wobbly-legged in the aftermath of such terror, we inched toward the door. Directly, Gerry marched us out of the bathroom, down the hallway, and into the living room. There, she abandoned us. J.J. and I made our way to a sofa where we sat, shoulders hunched in the eerie silence, until we heard the crunch of gravel signaling that Leila’s big-finned, black and white Buick had pulled into the driveway. 

We raced outside and began talking excitedly. “Slow down! Slow down!” Leila admonished. She listened attentively as we blurted out what had happened. After hearing the whole of our story, Leila chuckled. “Gerry was just teasing you,” she explained. 

“No,” I protested. “There really was someone here!  He was trying to get us!” J.J. nodded his head in confirmation.

Leila looked at us closely. “I think I’d better have a talk with Gerry about all this,” she said with an edge to her voice. 

The very next week she took J.J. and me to visit the man she’d hired to clean up the orchard that horrifying autumn afternoon.

The man who greeted us at his door had silvery hair, carefully combed back, and a well-groomed beard to match. He was dressed in gray slacks, a faded plaid shirt, and navy blue cardigan. He spoke softly and served us hot chocolate and Graham Crackers on china patterned with delicate pink roses. He was kind—not at all like the child-snatching ogre Gerry had made him out to be.  

He showed us photos of his children and grandchildren and talked fondly about each of them. Then he explained that he was a friend of the family who came by every year, after the last apples had dropped, to tidy-up the orchard. He showed us the old clothes we’d seen him wearing and let us try-out his walking stick. Finally, he brought out the gunnysack, which still had some stray sticks and shriveled apples stuck in the bottom. I looked at everything the old man showed us and listened to everything he said, nodding as if I understood.

Nevertheless, for years after that, I’d awaken in the darkest hours of the nights with screams swelling inside my throat. Again, I’d feel the terror of that afternoon and envision that gunnysack, believing—with body, mind, and soul—that it was crammed full of little children like my brother and me. “It’s just a dream,” I’d say to myself while crying silently into my pillow so I wouldn’t disturb J.J., sleeping soundly in the twin bed across from mine so close that I could hear his slow and steady breathing.   

And although autumn is truly the most glorious of all the seasons, I have never been able to claim it as my favorite nor can I shake the sense of impending doom that accompanies falling leaves and cooling temperatures.

 No one could ever convince me that the raggedy man in the orchard was only picking up apples.

______________________________________________________________

Catherine Grow is a writer living with her historian husband and rambunctious golden retriever in a tiny two-hundred-year-old house in very rural northeastern Connecticut, about six miles from where her husband’s earliest ancestors lived, died, and are buried.

Her work has appeared in a variety of online and print journals, news magazines, anthologies, and college-level texts, including Common Ties, Reed Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and others. Currently, she is working on a collection of interconnected stories set in the Missouri Ozark Mountains.

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Jesusita’s Ride

By Rhema Sayers

 “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

~Maya Angelou

August 26, 1875

When the messenger burst into her home in Tucson, Jesusita Suarez de Carrillo and
her children were eating lunch on the huge mahogany table that she had brought from her
parents’ home in Mexico. With the man on the verge of collapse, Jesusita helped him to a chair and placed a glass of cool water to his lips. The man drank greedily and leaned back in the chair, hot, sweaty and covered in dust.

“Don Leopoldo” he gasped. “The Mexicans are going to hang him!”

Several of the children gasped and the youngest began to cry, but their mother was a
strong woman, a daughter of pioneers. She simply said “Tell me.” The messenger choked out the terrible report that he had ridden 203 miles in less than a day to deliver.

Jesusita’s husband, Leopoldo Carrillo had left for the little town of Caborca in Sonora,
Mexico two weeks earlier to buy cattle for his ranch near Sabino Canyon. A wealthy
successful man, an innovator, he was a man with extraordinary ideas. He had arrived in Tucson in 1859 at the age of thirty-three, the owner of a freighting company that ran goods from St. Louis through Tucson to El Paso to the east and Guaymas to the south. He and Jesusita had done very well. They now owned several homes, and two ranches as well as the freight company.

In addition to being wealthy he was a man of influence in both Arizona and in Mexico.
He was reputed to be sympathetic with the egalitarian rebels in Sonora who were trying to overthrow the military government of General Ignacio Pesquiera. When General Pesqueira learned of Leopoldo’s presence in Mexico, he ordered Carrillo’s immediate arrest and execution, assuming unjustly that the American had been supplying guns and ammunition to the rebels. Through the intervention of friends in Caborca, Leopoldo was able to obtain a delay in the execution. If he could arrange for a ransom of $15,000 to be brought to Caborca within four days, he would be freed. Carrillo immediately wrote a letter to his wife, imploring her to gather the money and deliver it to him as quickly as possible. Otherwise he would hang. This was the message Carrillo’s manservant had ridden so hard to deliver.

The stay of execution had started Wednesday morning. Now it was nearly 2 PM on
Thursday August 26, 1875 and Leopoldo was to hang on Sunday the 29th. More than twenty- eight of the ninety-six hours granted were already gone. Jesusita sat down amidst the ruins of their lunch and wrote out a list of the people in town that she could contact to ask for help in this emergency. Sending her older sons out to some prospects, she got in a buggy and set out to visit friends and assemble the ransom.

She went to the men Leopoldo had suggested in his letter – businessmen who promised
to raise as much money as they could on short notice. Next she went to friends. And there were a lot of friends, people that Leopoldo and Jesusita had helped over the years. In an era when Chinese immigrants were considered unwanted aliens competing for jobs, Leopoldo had rented land to Chinese people and helped them establish themselves in a new country. The Chinese population contributed to the ransom with as much as they could. The Carrillo servants and employees also gave what they could as well.

When she had called on everyone she could think of, Jesusita began organizing for the
trip, preparing food and packing essentials. Meanwhile a blanket was laid on the front step of the house. Two of her sons sat there while neighbors, friends and relatives brought coins or gold ornaments and laid them on the blanket. And every coin, every trinket was listed on a large sheet of paper with the contributor’s name to be paid back later. The pile grew larger throughout the afternoon and evening.

All through the long, anxious night Leopoldo’s children took turns guarding the
mounting pile of gold. Friends and neighbors sat up with the boys and encouraged Jesusita to go to bed. Protesting she went. She realized that she needed to rest before setting out the next day. But she tossed and turned, unable to banish the image of Leopoldo on the gallows from her mind. He was her first and only love and a cold stone of fear had lodged in her heart. She got up and paced in her room, quietly so that her children wouldn’t know and spent the night planning so that she could make the trip as quickly as possible.

But in the morning the golden pile wasn’t quite big enough. Jesusita had scavenged
every coin and gold article from her homes. Now she sold heirlooms to make up the difference. Finally in the early afternoon the total was enough. Forty-four hours to go.

The buckboard was packed. The ransom was placed in a wicker basket and covered
with clothes to hide the gold. Jesusita climbed into the back seat of the wagon and placed the wicker basket between her feet. Her maid, Lupita, joined her and Raul, the driver, flicked the reins. They were off with only forty-three hours left to get to Caborca.

From the Carrillo home they veered west to follow the Santa Cruz River, their guide
down to the Mexican border. The messenger had arranged for changes of horses at many points along the way. As Jesusita stared at the sunlight reflecting off the water, exhaustion claimed her. She slept until the driver stopped in Tubac to change horses. The two women got down to   stretch their legs, but climbed back in as soon as new horses were hitched up. Now Jesusita was somewhat rested and she looked about her curiously as the wagon hurried south. The sun was nearing the horizon and the trees in the river valley cast long shadows. As they passed the ruins of Ft. Mason, a U.S. Army outpost that had been abandoned in 1866 because of persistent malaria, she reflected on how beautiful and verdant the valley was after the monsoon rains. She had not been this far south since she had married Leopoldo and moved to Tucson from Mexico.

Remembering, she smiled. Her wealthy Mexican parents had not found Leopoldo
to be a satisfactory suitor for their daughter. His background was not sufficiently upper class and having spent most of his time outdoors, he was quite dark. So they had forbade the marriage. But that hadn’t stopped Leopoldo. Oh, no. Her father had thought he could get rid of the unwanted suitor by demanding that the young man bring him her weight in gold. And Leopoldo had done exactly that. And now her smile persisted as she considered the early years, when they had moved to Tucson and established their business.She had helped him in those early days with the freighting company, but as the years passed and the children arrived, she had her hands full with running the household and raising seven children. But she missed the partnership she had valued when she worked side by side with her husband.

The scenery slowly changed as they passed through Nogales into Mexico. The land
became dryer and browner and greenery disappeared. Mountain ranges rose on either side as they traversed the wide valley of the Rio Magdalena. Meandering back and forth across the brown, sluggish river, the dusty road seemed to stretch out forever. The sun set, but they kept going. For a few hours Lupita walked with a lantern in front of the wagon just to gain a few more miles. Finally they stopped and pulled off the road and curled up under blankets. All three slept while coyotes yipped and other night predators prowled.. The moon when it finally  rose before dawn was just a sliver and by that time they were moving again through the barren landscape.

Jesusita, Lupita and Raul talked to pass the time. They shared stories of their childhood
experiences in Mexico, very different experiences. And Jesusita made the other two laugh with her tales of Leopoldo’s exploits and her stories of their children.

They talked about courtship and Lupita told of the young man she was seeing. “He is
so handsome, Senora. So kind and gentle and handsome.”

Jesusita raised an eyebrow. “What kind of work does he do?” she asked.

“He is a vaquero for Don Juan Tellez at Box Ranch.” Jesusita smiled, relieved that at
least the suitor had a good position The Tellez Ranch was well built and maintained, although the Apaches still raided occasionally.

Raul talked of his family. His wife was the most beautiful woman in Tucson and his
three sons were all strong and handsome and clever. The horses kept silent except for snorts of discontent on the uphill stretches.

There were times when the road climbed steeply and all three had to get out of the
wagon and lead the horses. Several times as the horses hauled the cart over rocky ground,
Jesusita held on tightly, fearful of breaking an axle. Hot, sunbaked and exhausted, they arrived in Magdalena late Saturday afternoon. The Carrillos had friends there and as they drove into town, they were surrounded by well wishers with food, water and a new, lighter wagon. Lupita and Raul stayed behind for well deserved rest, while Jesusita and the ransom transferred into the new wagon with a fresh driver, Carlos. And they were off again. She had seventy-seven more miles to go and only seventeen more hours.

Worn down with exhaustion, Jesusita slumped back in the seat under a parasol and
tried to sleep. She didn’t think she could, but she woke when they changed horses in Santa Ana. As they continued their wild flight across the desert, Carlos pointed to the southwest where black thunderheads loomed on the horizon. Nervously they watched the storm approaching and soon the rain poured down, first pelting them with high winds and sand, then drenching them with rain. Fortunately it passed quickly, leaving them feeling almost refreshed. Sunset had come and gone and still they traveled. They did not stop throughout that night and changed horses in Altar Municipality as the sun of the day of the deadline rose behind them.

Their last change was in Pitiquito. Only seven more miles! Carlos pushed those fresh
horses for all they were worth. Jesusita held on tightly to the seat, barely daring to breathe as the buggy bounced and careened over the dirt road. Then up ahead through the dust, they could see Caborca. Jesusita’s pounding heart rose in her throat. Would they be in time? It was so close to the end of the ninety-six hour reprieve. She quashed that thought and prayed. And continued praying until they came to the jail and she looked up and saw Leopoldo, standing at the foot of the gallows. The Mexican police were taking him out to be hanged. The ransom had arrived in the nick of time.

Jesusita half fell from the buggy and stumbled into her husband’s arms. Holding his
face in her hands, she kissed him over and over. Tears streamed down both their faces,
Leopoldo in shock after waiting for so long, then having to face his death. Jesusita’s appearance was miraculous. Once the ransom was paid, Leopoldo was given three days to get out of Mexico. So after spending a day resting with their helpful friends in Caborca, the Carrillos started back home.

When they reached the border, Leopoldo fell on his knees and kissed the ground,
thanking God and his brave and wonderful wife that he was back in the United States.

Her incredible journey had been hard on Jesusita, but she seemed to recover.
Everything seemed back to normal for the family. Jesusita had another child in 1876 and then became pregnant again in 1879. This would be her ninth child. The baby was born healthy, but  Jesusita died suddenly after the birth. Leopoldo was devastated. He had lost the love of his life. But even as he grieved, he realized that his children needed a mother. In 1880 he married Jesusita’s sister, Elvira, but he always carried his beloved Jesusita in his heart.

He died in 1890, after creating a public park for the people of Tucson in honor of
Jesusita. Called Carrillo Gardens, it had fruit trees, ponds, where the Carrillo children rowed people around. There were bath houses and a restaurant, a saloon and a dance hall, an ice cream parlor and even a circus and a zoo. There was a racetrack where monkeys raced ponies and on the weekends there were dances and music and occasionally hot air balloons. Eventually the springs that fed the ponds dried up and an elementary school was built on the ground. Carrillo Elementary School is named after him.

The Carrillo family has endured and flourished in Tucson. I want to thank Leopoldo
Carrillo and Walter Jacobs, great-grandsons of Leopoldo and Jesusita for their assistance in my  research for this story. The facts are true and I have tried to portray Jesusita as she was – courageous, strong, inventive and above all, determined.

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Rhema Sayers is a retired physician, trying out a new career. She lives in the desert with three dogs and a husband. She has had one short story published – “A Certain Lack of Interest” – in The Literary Hatchet. A nonfiction piece – “The Train Robbery at Pantano Station” – will be published in November in The Desert Leaf, a local Tucson magazine.

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When a Book Changes Your Life

By Meredith Allard

How often does a book change  your life? I’m not talking about books you love so much you read them again and again. I’m not even talking about books that prompt you to think differently. I’m talking about books that cause you to do something, to take action. Just because I’ve loved a book doesn’t mean I make any changes in my day-to-day life after reading it. When I’m reading the book I’m engrossed in it, but then I close the covers and go back to my life, doing the same thing at the same time most days of the week, most weeks of the year.

About a year ago I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho when it was one of the books available for a literature class I was teaching. The books in the textbook room were brand new, as in no one else had used them. The pages were crisp, the covers unmarked, but that didn’t deter me. When I read the book I fell in love with the simple yet profound message of finding the power of dreams and staying true to your destiny. The Alchemist is a parable about how what you’re looking for is already within you (think Glinda the Good Witch telling Dorothy she’s always had the power within her—only without the sparkly red slippers). It’s the story of Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd who has always wanted to travel and ends up on a journey of self-discovery:

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy (Santiago) told the Alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

Of all the characters in The Alchemist, the one I most related to (as I would guess most people do) is the crystal merchant. Santiago is stranded after his money is stolen, and he goes to work for the crystal merchant, who treats Santiago with kindness. Though the merchant is afraid of change, he takes Santiago’s advice and makes changes to his crystal shop. Because of Santiago’s ideas, the crystal shop thrives. The crystal merchant has dreams of travel like Santiago, but he’s full of excuses. He reminds me of that complaining relative everyone has—I can’t do this because… I can’t do that since… You think you’re not feeling well? Let me tell you about not feeling well… Like many of us, the merchant hides his heart’s desire behind worries. He can’t go to Mecca because… It’s not a good idea since… The crystal merchant fears that if he does finally go to Mecca he’ll have nothing else to look forward to.

I wasn’t dreaming of Mecca, but I had been wanting to visit London for more than a decade. As a student of English literature, a trip to England seemed somehow necessary. But, like the crystal merchant, I made excuses. England, especially London, is too expensive. It’s too far. I don’t like flying. England is an entirely different country! How would I know what to do or where to go in another country? I didn’t have a passport. Don’t they use different money there? Oh, did I mention how expensive England, especially London, is? But after reading about Santiago’s journey of self-discovery—how he achieved his dreams despite the obstacles—I realized how flimsy a lot of the crystal merchant’s excuses sounded. And if the crystal merchant’s excuses were flimsy, and I made the same excuses, then I’m not any better than the crystal merchant.

I began examining my excuses about not visiting England one by one to see what, if any, validity they had. Here’s what I found:

1. England, especially London, is definitely expensive, but the truth is I had the money. I’ve been fortunate enough to have sold a fair number of books and I had money set aside. When I looked into airfare, hotel, and the cost of meals and attractions, I had to cross too expensive off my list because it wasn’t true—I could afford it.

2. London is far from Las Vegas, Nevada, 5235 miles to be exact, which is ten hours airplane time. True, I don’t like to fly, but I had already discovered that just because I don’t like to fly doesn’t mean I can’t. Whenever I do travel by plane I get an aisle seat and pretend I’m on a bus or a train. And it’s not like I have to know how to work the controls in the cockpit. I just have to sit there. I didn’t want to be one of those people who are so afraid of flying they never go anywhere. I had been that way for a while, but there are places I want to go so I had to get over my fears. Not wanting to fly ten hours was no longer an excuse.

3. It’s true that England is a different country thanks to that little squabble called the American Revolution circa 1776. I often think of that quote from George Bernard Shaw: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” But they do speak English in England, English an American can understand, even, and from reading so much British literature and watching so much British television I like to think I speak conversational British English. So yes, England is a different country, but since I wouldn’t have trouble communicating with anyone that wasn’t an excuse—at least not a good one.

4. No passport? Seriously? Two filled-out forms, two hours in the post office, one bad photograph, and $150 later the lack of a passport was no longer an issue. They do use different money in England, but a trip to the ATM gave me a few hundred dollars, which the nice man at my bank exchanged for ten British pounds (that’s an exaggeration, but not by much).

Regent Street in London

I realized I didn’t want to look back and know I missed my chance to go to London. I booked my flight and hotel room, I bought a few tourist guides, signed up on Rick Steves’ travel website, and a few months later I was there, in London, seeing places I had dreamed of for years. I wasn’t disappointed when I got there the way the crystal merchant expected he would be disappointed. I loved being in London. It’s a truly international city and an easy place to visit for tourists who haven’t been there before. I even went to Paris. Despite my French surname, I don’t speak a word of French (American English and conversational British English are as far as I go), but I managed to get around and back to the airport on time and in one piece. In other words, my trip wasn’t a colossal failure as the crystal merchant thought his journey would be. It was a joy, and I’m already making plans to visit again next summer.

I wouldn’t have visited London if I hadn’t read The Alchemist. Goes to show how inspiration to follow your dreams can come from anywhere—even an unused stack of books in the textbook room.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Visit her online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Janet Fitch and Avoiding Cliches “Like the Plague”

By Meredith Allard

I love that old saying by Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Has it become a cliché? Probably. But I love it anyway because as a writer myself I know it’s all too true.

My “I hate writing” moments happen when I’m drudging through a first draft. You can see my posts with tips for writing a first draft here. After I finish my first draft, that’s when I’m on the journey toward my “love having written” stage. That’s when I sit down at the computer no longer wanting to pop my eyes out with spoons or pluck my hairs one by one. Finally, in the second draft stage, I’m able to find the poetry in the prose. When I find the flow, that’s when the fun of writing begins for me. How do I find the flow? It’s a challenge, one that started 15 years ago.

In 1999, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Janet Fitch, author ofWhite Oleander, for the Oprah Book Club. Fitch talked about how a writing instructor told her that a “cliché is anything you’ve ever heard before—so never use a description anyone has heard.” As I remember it (it was 1999), Fitch spoke about a time she challenged herself to describe a tree with her own unique phrases. I was already well into fiction writing at that time, and her words struck me as truth. I learned that writers should reach to find their own descriptions, and they should never be lazy and allow others to do the work for them.

In a 2006 interview for O Magazine, Fitch explained that when she began writing fiction she had to work on word choices and the music of language. That was what I wanted too. I wanted to work on word choices and the music of language. I wanted to avoid clichés “like the plague” and create images “as sweet as pie.”

It’s a lesson I still hold close to my heart. When I’m molding sentences, I stretch, hands out, fingers pointing there, there where that inchoate image waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes not, for me to probe my vocabulary for the exactly right string of words to illuminate what I see the way I see it. If I’m describing a storm, a small town, a person, an emotion, I need to do it my own way. In their 2006 interview, Oprah mentions to Fitch that such a stretch “seems as if it would be quite difficult.” Fitch responds, “It is. But it means that everything you give the reader is absolutely fresh. We read so that we can be moved by a new way of looking at things.”

I learned a lot from Fitch in 1999, again in 2006, and I continue to learn from her whenever I read one of her novels. Reaching for phrases I’ve never heard before becomes harder with everything I write, but that’s the part of writing I thrive on—creating poetry in prose. And when I do finally find the right words, that is when I love having written.

If you’d like to lose yourself in the poetry of Janet Fitch’s prose, check out her novels or the short pieces on her blog. The 2006 interview for O Magazine can be found here.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

 

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