Category Archives: Family

Excerpt from “SPRING RETREAT”…A Short Story set along the Russian River, before it had that name.

“The days of my uncleanness are upon me, my husband. I go from you for a time, even as our son reaches his Days of Manhood. I will pray to Old Man Coyote to guide him in the trials to come.” Ni’ka made her statement as she gathered acorn meal and dried salmon into her feathered basket.

While it was unusual for her to leave the village, she had done so on rare occasions. The village was scarcely that: a collection of brush shelters, not destined for permanence. . A Dreamer Woman, she often retreated within herself, away from the Red Earth People.

The People were seasonally nomadic, settling in the oaken plains to gather acorns in the fall and then to remain through the winter. Spring would find them fishing the Shabaikai, or Snake, River or climbing the mountains to camp on the shores of the Sacred Lake. For Ni’ka’s group, spring usually found them following the Shabaikai through the Forest of Dark Giants to the Endless Waters, where fish and shells were more than abundant. Berry gathering preoccupied them at the edge of the cool woods and mountains in summer. Then, the cycle would start over again.

Ni’ka thought of these things as she made her way down river in the simple tule canoe, more commonly used on the Sacred Lake. The sun warmed her as the chill of winter lifted from the land. The great blue heron and a flock of snowy egrets watched her passing and were neither surprised nor fearful of her.

Coming to the place she sought, Ni’ka pulled her craft above the waterline and anchored it with heavy rocks. With a quick pace, she turned away from the river and headed into the forest. Ni’ka’s movements gave no hint of fear or revulsion for the myth of Evil Spirits in this darkened glade. It was late afternoon before she reached her destination, about five miles inland.

Alongside a thin creek, the giant tree she called “Old Friend” waited for her.At the base was a room larger than the brush shelter left behind that morning. Using a broom of ferns, she swept the place clean of rodent droppings and debris of five years absence. Filling her water basket and placing her food on high, she was satisfied by the completion of her tasks and settled in. She wouldn’t go far from the tree again until it was time to return to the People.

Sitting in the entryway, Ni’ka watched the darkness come quickly on the forest where dense treetops hid the setting sun. She listened for the rare sounds of animal life and was rewarded. A doe and her fawn came to drink at the creek and approached Ni’ka. They lay down near her, the fawn taking nurturance from its mother. The trillium, just outside the den, closed upon itself for the night.

Entering a suspended state, Ni’ka sought understanding, peace and renewal. Her son was passing into manhood and, with that passage, he would become her equal. She welcomed this strong muscled young man exuding the high spirits of youth . She mourned the loss of her baby, his buttercup soft skin, his deep trust. She remembered the seriousness of his infant gaze as his eyes followed her movements. How wise she was then, how quick, how able to meet his every need!

Ni’ka regretted the passing of her age of power. Now, her son was beginning to know the limits of her power to protect, to guide, to share. In coming into his own adulthood, he was discovering something of the frailty and powerlessness of the human adult. True, he had learned some lessons along the way, as when his friend, Ts’it, died, or when the People nearly starved during the Year of No Water.

She studied on the future. How could she keep him, but also let him go? The answer didn’t come readily. On the fourth day, sitting in her doorway, Ni’ka spied a grandmother sea trout making her way downstream. Ni’ka considered the ways of the salmon and sea trout. Each fights its way upstream in wild wintry waters. Then, spawning their young in near-glacial pools, their similarity stops. The salmon, exhausted by the task, dies, but in early spring the trout returns to the sea.

“I am as the sea trout. My young has spawned and grown. He has been just behind me in the creek of life. I can still guide him a ways yet. And as he catches up to me, we can swim companionably, side by side, past shimmering sands, warning each other of rough places and obstacles. When he passes me, as his strength and youth insist, I will be content to follow his lead. He may take me to new places and new ideas. I will not be able to follow him everywhere, but, then, I won’t want to. It will be enough to rest in my own quiet pool and enjoy his comings and goings.”

Ni’ka rested fully that night and returned to the People, her husband and her man-son on the fifth day.

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN II

 My heart, head and soul are filled with words and images. so much stimulation to put into the blog to contage you with my energy. The Aurora Colony in Oregon is a town of artistry and history going back to the early 19thcentury.  Old homes dot the roads with markers to tell of the early inhabitants. Art galleries and specialty shops dominate the small downtown. We (Anne Schroeder & I) found a hazelnut chocolate store and ate our fill of samples and took away gifts for ourselves and others.

Alas and alack, the museum we’d come so far to see was closed, readying for a quilt show the next weekend. A need for the “necessary” let us in long enough to glimpse the innards. We may very well stop in again on our way home.

We are heading south, now in Bellingham, WA, but much went on between Aurora and here. Stopping in Oregon City, the end of the historic Oregon Trail, we sought out the historical museum on its beautiful grounds along the Willamette River: “closed due to finances.”  We rode down and up the multi-storied elevator with its tower showing holographs of the city, then and now. Paper manufactories, grain elevators and logging interests have faded where their remnant structures stand like lonely sentries, guarding what was.

When you get to Tacoma, be sure to go to the magnificent Museum of Glass and watch the blowers display their talents and impress you with the process. The incredible displays included a magical, room-sized, clear glass forest I wanted to carry home, and Dale Chiluly’s work stretching across an outdoor bridge so elegantly.

When in Seattle, there are many things to do and you likely know of them, but we went in search of something special and found it.  In his book, THE HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, Jamie Ford tells the story of the WWII internment of Japanese Americans through the memories of a young
Chinese American boy and his love for an interned girl. The story is generated when an old hotel, actually the Panama Hotel, is bought years later and the basement is found to be filled with belongings of those so unfairly imprisoned. It is an exquisitely written book and I was eager to find the hotel. The lovely tea room, comfortable with old wicker and quiet visitors, includes a glass covered portion of the floor showing the basement below. Stopping in for tea is both relaxing and poignant.

The Panama then…

Anne and I moved into our elegant President’s Suite at Lynnwood’s  Embassy Suites. Volunteering to run the Women Writing the West’s raffle at the conference had many rewards, not the least of which was this unit. We raised $730 for the WILLA award fund. Thanks to all who participated.

WWW’s conferences get better and better each time I attend and this was the winner. The Seattle area has a great wealth of talent to call on, including our
organizers: Mary Trimble, Heidi Thomas and Randi Platt.  Then, there were agents, editors. a filmmaker, an audio scout and marketers to lend their wisdom, advice and funny lines.  LAURA short story winners were honored, with Anne taking third place.

Readings by WILLA winners were charming, lyrical or intriguing.  Great keynotes were made by NPR personality Nancy Pearl and our own WWW poet Ellen Waterston. My personal big moments were an interview with a funny, perceptive and wise agent. In a new feature, “Pick Me, Pick Me,” first pages were submitted, drawn, read aloud and judged by six agents, editors and all. “My” agent, the film maker and the audio scout all liked the page from HUACHUCA WOMAN…delightful responses of enthusiasm which thrilled me.

On leaving that Sunday, Anne and I headed to Port Angeles to take the ferry over to Victoria, B.C. We drove south to go north, along the Hood Canal. Bright sunshine swept us along.  Varieties of pine, color-changing oaks and maples marked our passage. Coves, bays, the occasional fishing cabin and shifting outlets
and hills took us to our port city and the inn on the top of the hill. The Straits of Juan de Fuca spread before us while Hurricane Ridge rose behind, cloaked in rivulets of snow. Sunset faded to nightlife with ship lights and old-fashioned style lamplights showing the world. What seemed at first like raucous party music faded to a lullaby.

ARLETTA’S TRAVEL TRIP: don’t believe the tour books or the computer, call the museum ahead to see how it fares in these hard times.

How does travel affect YOU & your writing?

 What do you take away from
the experiences?

 

The Panama now…

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Before there were blogs, FaceBook and sundry other electronic ways to communicate there was email. In years gone by, I used to labor over journal entries, sometimes transferring them into longish emails accounting for TRAVELS WITH MOSES. Moses was our Basenji, rescued from the  local pound. He was more cat than dog, short haired, pointy eared, silent–a barkless dog breed from Africa who travel on the shoulders of a hunter to find lions! Independent, obstinate and a runner, our Moses stole our hearts and then broke them when he disappeared near Tyler, Texas.

A life time later, I’m on the road again with writer friend Anne Schroeder and we’re in Medford, Oregon for the night. Do you like driving in fog, rain and sunshine? From the flats and rice fields of Sacramento through the wide open spaces of Highway 5’s lonesome hinterlands we sped, slowed, stayed close to the speed limit or not. All depended on the amount of rainfall from minute to minute, how heavy a foot hit the pedal and getting lost in writerly conversation. Then, there were the rivers, streams and arched bridges to drool over.

Passing through towns, villages and hamlets with names like Corning, Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Sweetbriar, we met up with Shasta. A heavy cloud layer sat on Mt. Shasta, the 14,000’ lovely volcanic home of Big Foot (mythic or real?) The mountain, its top half cut-off by clouds,  looked more like Acoma or
another New Mexican mesa…stately, impressive and a bit intimidating. Coffee and blackberry cobbler and pumpkin spice cake at the Hi-Lo Cafe,  in the same family for 60 years, nurtured  us well and we went on our way.

If I had taken the picture I should have, you wouldn’t be seeing so much of Mt. Shasta. ENJOY!

Now what do writers talk about as they skim mountain roads and passes at 55-75 MPH? They talk about anything that strikes their fancy. In our case, we covered family, writing and writers, books we’ve read or are reading, have written or plan on writing. Sharing horror stories about self-centered, non-reciprocating published authors kept us busy for a good little while.  As our stories grew, so did the mountains, trees and hills along our way. The sky cleared and threw out the sun from time to time, warming the cockles of our hearts and lighting our spirits. The trees came taller, wider in the colorful hues of pine, redwood, and cedar with a few autumnal oaks in changing cloaks.

When two friends venture out on the road together for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, communication problems to work through, decisions to make. Finding each other’s style is part of the process…one I last experienced when my son and family moved in with me. It is all about negotiating time, space, feelings and expectations. In the latter, I have too often lapsed in expressing myself, operating instead on assumptions. At this point, all is smooth sailing/traveling  and I fully expect it will continue to be as we head to Oregon’s Aurora Colony which Jane Kirkpatrick has written of so well and wisely.

ANNE’S TRAVEL TIP: when you’ve looked high and low for your telephone charger and it is no where to be found, check with the front desk for lost and left behind chargers. She did and is now a much happier camper.

TIME PASSES

I’ve only seen Midnight in Paris twice, so far. I’m not a fan of Woody Allen or of the theater where the film is showing. But, I broke my self-imposed boycotts
and went the first time, then had to go again. You surely know the plot, the romances, the historical characters, the incredible photography and costumes
and outstanding performances. No need to go into them here.

What I most loved was the message of time passing and our romantic view of what has come before us as we avoid, reject, or dangle in the present.

Salvador Dali

I had a birthday recently, always the start of my New Year. It would also have been our 46th anniversary if Jim had survived the last three years. My granddaughter started kindergarden.  Such is the way I have of measuring the time that passes. Landmarks,. Days on the calendar. Periods of
playing hermit. Shuttering my mind. Avoiding events, the telephone, leaving the house. Or speed-dialing along on full steam, participating fully, actively and
enthusiastically in what life brings and what I seek out.

Have you visited elderly friends as their minds retreated into yesterdays and the future held little or no promise? One friend was so delighted with the teenagers we’d brought along that she went to the piano in the dayroom and put it to use. She pounded out segments of songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s while the staff and other residents looked on in amazement. She’d lived there quite a while and no one had ever heard her play. For Bessie, time was now and she made the most of it.

It is too soon for me to withdraw from all that I love: family, writing, traveling, being with friends. As I write, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A day of remembrance and judgment. And, I think, of hope. Time to take stock and look to the year ahead. What does it hold? What might I make of it?

I’ll start my new year with a road trip to Seattle for the Women Writing the West Conference. My traveling partner and writing friend, Anne, is coming along. We’re in the throes of planning the trip: what to see and do along the way, in Tacoma/Seattle and on to Victoria. There’s a stop in Battle Ground, Oregon for
tea with friends; the Richard Brautigan library in Vancouver, WA; the WA State Historical Museum in Tacoma; a great conference to attend; exploration of
Seattle’s underground and hills for nostalgia and research; and onto the ferry to Victoria in search of writer-artist Emily Carr, the totems and First
People’s culture.

Emily Carr: Kwakiutl House

Do you smell the adventure in the redwood and red cedar countryside, the grey skies and our sunny expectations? Do you feel the inspiration and joy about to settle on us? The opportunities to see old friends, make new ones and spin our dreams?  Without a doubt, it will be a time to store up remembrances, fill our senses with new energy.

I’ll journal and blog from the road.

How do you
celebrate your New Year?

What do you do
to mark your time and how it passes?