Evan’s Ears and Halloweening

Old Mission Peninsula Country; Photograph by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

The most ordinary sound could make Natalie fuss and fume. He didn’t understand it, to him the world of sound was an ocean of possibilities that tantalized. But, then, Evan had been deaf for three years as a little boy, the result of multiple and a few overlooked ear infections since birth. Surgical intervention put things back to normal, some said more than normal. So sound was a treasure he was happy to rediscover each day. Every sound was a gateway for some larger event he might observe, an experience to share with its source. Natalie thought this was idiocy; she preferred things quiet except for television and her specific pop music. In the country, luckily, it was more peaceful than the city; they both loved that.

Natalie was his sister who was really meant to be his cousin. Her mother, his aunt, had dropped her off six weeks after she was born and then gotten lost in the Hollywood jungle of false hopes. Evan’s mother said she became a “forever barmaid,” a kind of actress, they supposed, in the end. Natalie had been named for Natalie Wood, someone whose photo they had seen but whose movies didn’t interest them. The fact that she accidentally drowned did intrigue Evan, though Natalie said that was just fate, you couldn’t stop it, like look how her life had turned out after she was abandoned. Sometimes he wanted to sneer at her, “Someone who doesn’t like noises, a weirdo” but he only said it once and she socked him in the stomach, not hard, but it was a decent warning.

He sat in the branches of the red maple and watched her trudge up the driveway. She looked old for nearly ten, more like going on twenty with her rounded shoulders and big feet, brown hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. She glanced at him and half-heartedly waved, then disappeared, he knew, to the family room with a bag of chips and apple juice to watch TV.

Evan had a good perch, a place far enough away from everyone though they knew he was often there. It overlooked a wild acre, a haven for feathery ones as well as four-leggeds. It had all been countryside once; he recalled that dimly though he was just eleven. Then developers arrived with heavy machinery, “the interlopers” his parents called them, and the digging and plowing began in earnest, fake farm houses selling as fast as they were built. Still, lots were big, so no one was right there in your business. Plus, his parents had had three extra ones–for goats and chickens, a thriving kitchen garden, and masses of flowers. The meadow bordered a marshland, a favorite area for him.

It was nature that Evan took in and catalogued in his brain, the myriad sounds of creatures at work and play, the weather doing what it had to do and the creek along a nearby property boundary gurgling along after a good rain or tinkling away when it was lower. Plants with all their properties both good and bad for people. He could see a fox tail wave, then dart above grasses in the distance and heard piercing calls of Cooper’s hawks. His ears always tingled  with fresh sounds, got warmer, felt bigger, as if great antennae tuning into a finer frequency than others found.

“His ears look normal but his hearing isn’t. From deaf to super hearing,” his mother had said a couple weeks ago though she said it so often it was like a worn refrain. “How else can he–mind you, from the living room–track a conversation upstairs when we’re practically whispering?”

“He’d make a good detective, he pays attention, has a knack for small details,” his father said. He worked as a county prosecutor, he knew potential when he saw it. “But we can’t forget to talk in the bedroom with the door closed tightly when there’s something private to say.”

Evan nodded from the top step of the stairs; it was as simple as knowing when to sequester sounds, that was the grown up word for it. But he, for one, found that much harder to do.

“You need to mind your own business, that’s all,” Natalie hissed. “No one has the right to hear all things.”

“I don’t try; sounds come right in, then I hear and have to listen.”

“Then try harder to ignore things!” Natalie’s eyes flashed. “I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when I have a boyfriend, you’ll be hanging about all the time, taking notes, I guess.” She stared at him. “What did they talk about that you overhead?”

“That does it, I can’t even want to think of you with some poor slob! I’m going outside.” He looked back as he got up. “They talk money and politics, the usual junk.”

“Well, then, go on to your little wild animals, have a fun chat with them…”

Her tone indicated she wanted to tag along but they both knew she’d get restless in ten minutes and want to chatter away, then the birds would say nothing to him. And if an eagle or osprey or hawk did call out, she’d shriek as if she was meant to be their next meal. Nothing scared her like birds of prey swooping and hovering. Nothing fascinated Evan more.

******

He’d had dinner at their massive round table, helped clean up, finished math homework and went back outdoors when Natalie crept up behind him as if meaning to startle him. Evan had heard her the minute she opened the back door, of course.

“Boo!” she shouted in his right ear.

“Boo right back,” he said calmly though he covered his ringing ear, then grabbed her wrist. “Come on, let’s take a walk around the meadows. The half moon is shiny bright, we can see stuff.”

She tugged at his grasp, then relaxed. “Just wondered what you were up to, bed time in less than an hour.” She scanned the sky for bats but luckily found none. “The moon looks better from the porch but, okay, lead the way.”

Evan was surprised she agreed and dropped her wrist. It wasn’t that she wasn’t tough enough, in general, she just didn’t like noises she couldn’t identify. Darkness covered up things pretty well out there. They walked slowly, listening to the crickets’ concert.

“We can see a lot better this time, but the full moon isn’t until November 3rd,” he said. “No rain tomorrow for Halloween, that’s good.” He stole a glance at her pale face. “I know Halloween isn’t your favorite but are you still going with us, Kelly and his sister? And what did you finally decide to be?”

“I’m going, yeah. Got my costume picked out. I’m a glamazon mermaid.”

“Glamazon–meaning glamorous? And how does that work for, well, fish? Mermaids can’t even walk, duh.”

“I will, though–it’s a green shiny dress, long, sort of flares out–got it at Goodwill. Never mind, how about you?”

“Oh, just a grandpa skater.”

Natalie laughed, more a snort. “You already are a skater but sure can act like an old man.”

He nudged her with his shoulder, but then stood stock still. “Shhh, Nat, shhh.”

They listened but he heard only what he’d heard at first. A soft swish through the weeds. Then nothing. Natalie grabbed his arm.

“I want to go back, we can’t see anything.”

“Might be coyote.” He whispered in a low voice and kneeled in unruly grass, so she followed suit. “They’ve hunted a bunch here. Or gray fox again…”

More quick rustling in the high grasses as if the coyotes or foxes were rushing through to get somewhere else. Evan thought it was coyotes, the movements and their sounds made by bigger bodies than fox, with three, four minutes of racing about, perhaps fifteen yards away. Such smart animals, he thought with a shiver–he always felt that way about them– while Natalie clung to his arm, breathing fast.

“It’s okay, only coyotes, but I’ll walk you back.”

“Come on then!” she hissed at him.

Then the howling began, short yips, yelps and barks, then longer howls. One call transformed into a sort of laughing shriek, and Natalie dug her nails into his skin right through his shirt. The coyotes ran about more when all howls quieted, then stopped and movement stopped.

Evan touched his lips with his index finger, then shook his head at her and pulled her with him to the ground. For what he now heard–what the coyotes heard so darted off– was not four paws but two feet. A larger body brushing through grasses, trampling about. He raised his head, saw something or someone illuminated by moon glow slinking through the silvery meadow. Toward them. Its flowing shape and undulating, rapid movements lent a strange hulking appearance. A ghostly one. Wait, Evan thought, what was this really? His breath caught at his chest and his heart hammered. Natalie pressed her face into his bony shoulder and tried not to lose it all and just shriek.

And then there was a lunge of bulk as they huddled on the ground and a raucous, nasty noise.

“Roarrrrr! Hahaha! Gotcha!!”

A hand swooped down, missed Evan, grabbed at Natalie. Evan reacted like lighting and snatched at the swaying sheet but it wouldn’t give. A rope belt was pulled tightly about the waist.

“Poor little kids, soon to be gone!” There was a growl and groan.

Natalie cried out but it came forth as a small whimper as she clamored behind Evan. But Evan was standing stock still as she ran on toward the house. She was getting their father, that was all she could think as she ran faster than ever.

That voice, Evan thought, I know the voice! Who is it with this weird voice that is trying to be threatening?

“Evan! Natalie, come in, it’s getting late and it’s cold!” His mother called into the night. He pictured her pausing a moment longer, unsure of what she thought she had heard, and then she re-entered their house, screen door banging behind her. And shortly after, Natalie streaked across the back yard, toward that door.

“You creep, I know you–Marty Barrett!”

Evan gave another yank. This time the sheet came loose from the rope belt so he yanked harder as Marty started to run off. Evan was dragged a couple feet and then they both fell over and tangled, Marty trying to get out of the sheet and away, Evan gripping the older boy’s shirt sleeves. After rolling about, a couple haphazard punches and more tugging, the sheet fell away from the big thirteen year old’s body.

They sat on damp matted grass and looked each other over, eyes blazing, then started to laugh, clutching at each other. When they sputtered and quieted, Evan spoke up.

“You almost fooled me, Marty, but I just knew that voice.”

“I did for a little while. You’ve got those magic ears, holy moly! I was having such a good ghost practice but you two were out and had to spoil it! Wait ’til I tell Jake and Willy about this!”

“That was a crazy good act and you also scared the heck out of Natalie–you better apologize.”

Marty scowled. “You going to tell her who did it? I was just playing around, come on.”

Evan considered his neighbor. They weren’t friends, exactly–Marty was a rougher boy, ran with even older guys. But they weren’t enemies and got along okay. They sometimes played ping pong at the youth center, swam in the summer and always greeted each other on the street. But Marty liked to hunt and Evan didn’t like to kill animals. Marty had a random impulse to bully his way through life while Evan preferred to think things out. They got along because they had lived long in these parts, were growing up together, if in parallel lives.

“Naw,” Evan said and stood up. “You better go, though, Dad will be out here soon.”

Marty high-fived him and took off, billowing white attire flying from waist and ankles.

When his dad got there, they talked it over and decided to just say some nutty kid was doing a walk- through for early Halloween. Natalie was another story as she had stumbled, crying, into the house and was now taking a hot bath, their mother calling out soothing support through the locked door. Natalie could be done with Halloween but for that fabulous costume. But Evan had had fun out there. Marty wasn’t really a bad guy, at least not yet.

Later, Evan sat at his second story bedroom window and scanned the acreage, eyes resting here and there on darker or flitting shapes. He saw good-sized wings flash in moonlight so he pressed his face against the screen to better see. He wanted it to be the beautiful barn owl hunting over meadow and marsh so when its raspy screech sliced the cool fall breeze, he was flooded with a resonant satisfaction.

“What was that terrible sound?” Natalie had sneaked up and sat beside him. “Oh wait, isn’t that a barn owl, Ev?”

“You’re learning, Natalie. A cool kind of wild sound, isn’t it?” He looked her face over. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” She shivered, wet hair chill on her neck. “I guess it’s a lot better than a fake mean ghost. You were pretty brave out there…not me, so much.” She sighed, shook her head. “Halloween is just not my favorite.”

He put an arm about her shoulders and squeezed tight. “But you’ll make a pretty wicked mermaid. And maybe you should explore the outdoors more. But now get out of my room. See you tomorrow, Nat.”

He turned out the bedside lamp, ears tingling when the barn owl screeched again, and fell happily asleep.

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: This, and What Lies Ahead

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Green lake, MI. Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

This sweet tang of Indian summer,
how it turns me over with its
strewn luxury, all that brass
and fire, coral and sapphire.
The air is laden with promise;
sun hitches a ride on my back
as if tagging along for the thrill.

And then a small vortex of wind
calls out, careens, an edge of ice
secreted in its wild timbre.
A taint of sootiness threads
this sheerness, such rose of sunsets.
Clouds gather in fists, then dance.
I know well what lies ahead,
heavy velvet days that merge
with chilled silence of night.

All will be safeguarded,
blankets flung about and the
wood stove will be radiant with heat.
This heady flare will dim, one verve
becoming another as great trees
surrender their raiment and rest.
How far am I now from beds of snow
for angels, peals of laughter to scoop
and fill up hollows with winter?

So far that, when I step off the plane,
the Oregon rain with its fineness
and ferocity, even somber romance,
cannot rival the dangerous splendor
of ice strung from northern eaves,
mystic swords winking, startled by light.

An Up North Autumn: Lakes, Forests and Love

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West Bay, Lake Michigan. All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2017 (Photos not re-touched)

To any outsider and according to ordinary appearances, my husband, Marc, and I were going “back home” to Michigan for a week’s visit/vacation. That is, we were on the proverbial journey that leads to one’s old stomping grounds, a destination deemed “hometown” (seeming more a mirage than actuality). What I discovered anew is that my old home base (as well as my husband’s) was not where or what makes most sense at first glance. It should have been more obvious to us from the start; we did plan the trip together. And it is people whose presence means “home” as well as places. Both might be different from one’s original hometown.

Our main purpose for flying half the day (really entire day due to a six hour layover in Chicago) was to visit my elderly mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and his wife at a new home they now all share. Our second intention was to go on a “color tour,” i.e., to witness northern Michigan’s palette of autumnal forest hues. The drive from the Detroit airport was a wake-up call that clarified we were no longer in Oregon: hulking grey industrial complexes, drivers darting in and out of lanes without warning and blaring horns as if making a chase movie. The essential flatness, the geometry of everything. That cumulus cloud-laden sky tussling with windy rainfall. (Later, weather became, then remained weirdly balmy–why did I pack my fleeces? Oh, so-called Indian Summer was upon the state….) Here and there were scattered fall-bright trees among cityscapes and burdened highways. However, in time the city scenes were fewer as we neared our destination.

Their house was perhaps an hour and a half from the Detroit airport, and found set back from the tidy, tree-studded street, one nearly empty of any Sunday morning bustle as we glided toward the house with our rental car–a new Chevy Malibu, a fine “Motor City” auto industry-worthy sedan, I have to say. Marc had grown up in Flint and Lansing, cities other than the one we were visiting but we might have swung by his old homes if he’d wanted that. He did not mention it. So, we arrived to visit with his mother and brother. To share and discover what it meant for him–for us both.

Beth, my mother-in-law, is 89 years old; she is lovely despite worsening issues with eyesight and hearing, a slowness of gait. Her gentle face and searching eyes couple with the sharp inquisitiveness of a theological scholar (amateur but believe me, she knows the most arcane things) and longtime teacher, as well as traces of tension around eyes and mouth which stresses of life deposited. I find her smile beautiful and her laugh tender. But everyone has family history that is complicated; being human must mandate that to some degree. Visiting, I am more a semi-outsider looking in, only know parts of what makes the family tick so I observed. A pleasant occupation.

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My husband embraced his only sibling, two years younger, and they began to catch up bit by bit. They’ve not been so close as I have with my four (now three) siblings; this visit was important. We found my sister-in-law yet unwell from a medical ordeal but we gabbed as we could. Beth was more the focal point. How endearing she could yet be–eloquent with such precise grammar, curious about people and events, opinions well delineated. Pleased as she could be to once more be with her older son and even me. To be able spend days and evenings with both her children held such import. It had been 6 years since we were all face-to-face. Too long. The three days zoomed by. My husband and his brother became more reconnected. Beth was pleased with the mini-family reunion as other members shared dinner twice. There was a more intimate confab here and there that I respectfully avoided, exploring the pretty back yard leading to woods. Or I chatted with my sister-in-law. I came to better realize the depth of her weariness and bravery, even as we also shared a little laughter. Her deep eyes were hard with pain, softened by a good heart.

When Marc and I were closer to leaving, Beth asked me, “Are you going to visit your parents’ graves in Midland, your hometown? Tend to the sites?”

I shifted into startled silence. No, not on this charted course.

“Well, no, the plan is to continue on up north to Petoskey and Traverse City areas. I  guess I could have but…not this time.”

Beth was politely surprised. I said something reasonable about our schedule and conversation moved on. I felt a bit stung by my inability to say “yes” to her, but it vanished soon.

Such an act is considered a duty, a tradition for adult children yet it has rung empty for me. I have not visited my parents’ graves since my mother died ten years after my father. I may never do so. Because I believe in ongoing life beyond death, I don’t feel their presences in a greenly-pruned cemetery. Because I can sense their spirits in my dreams and daily living, I don’t have undue desire to talk to them at the spots where their bodies were buried. To leave flowers that will fade and die, too.

And the fact is, I have little interest in revisiting the small city where I spent my childhood and youth. It is an attractive, even privileged place but not so much a fuzzy embrace of warmth, security and joy as a series of chain links, of strife bound together with various sorts of love, unusual experiences. And many if not most of the links became weakened or rusted through. I admire its bounties and appreciate much of what was learned there. But all those I loved the truest do not live there, anymore. In my memory files of “hometown” it is like looking at colorful pictures but also seeing mysterious muted tones of shadowy negatives, primary scenes before the final images. I did have interesting adventures, some dangerous, others tattooed with sadness. And there are those that shine within, still. Peace enough has been made and I have written much about good times, far less of wounding ones. We all are wounded here and there, in this way or that.

So when I think of growing up, I often consider other places, including what downstate Michiganders call “Up North.” Marc and I–both grateful to have shared the time with his mother, brother and the others– took to the road again. We were seeking the destinations where we each found stability or rich happiness or inspiration long ago, and from which we continue to draw strength and peace.

Photos from along the drive north:

The undulating roads into northern Michigan are lonely as large cities are left behind, but lonely in a way both freeing and calming. Hills appeared here and there, at last. The speed limit is 70 mph so we zipped along straight then curvier highways and byways, past subtly rolling land steeped in shades of green, tan and brown, the trees tending more toward gold, orange and red mile by mile. This was what we’d hoped for: Michigan’s spectrum of autumnal colors. It was a more silent drive as we feasted our eyes.

It was early evening as we arrived at Bay View, once the summer home locale of Marc’s grandparents and, thus, his whole family. We had booked a room for one night in Stafford’s Bay View Inn, which is on the National Historical Register. All the buildings in Bay View, a community that requires membership, were constructed at the turn of the twentieth century and are Victorian. This lends a sense of being transported into that long ago time. The charm of the inn’s rooms was matched by the gentile, good humored spirit of the staff. Begun primarily as a Chautauqua community, Bay View residents did and still does devotedly champion the arts and greater education. But the star to me is the land with its waterscapes.

This was the backdrop of our northern childhoods, those pines, birches, maples, oaks, elms and poplars. The Great Lakes Huron and Michigan that flow into one another. They are so huge that when we were children we thought they were much like the ocean; the horizon above the deep, clear cobalt waters was so distant and magical we could barely imagine what was beyond it. We ran down to the rocky shore where Marc started his rock hunting in earnest; he soon found a couple of agates and beloved Petoskey stones. These unique stones are fossilized rock, made of rugose coral, from glacial times. They are named after an Ottawa Chief Pe-to-se-ga (Rising Sun); their fossil markings look a bit like small suns with rays spreading outward. We found a few to take back with us.

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East view of Little Traverse Bay, part of Lake Michigan

I breathed in the bright edge of a Lake Michigan wind, hair streaming, eyes watering. The powerful scent of fresh water and wet earth provoked a tingling shiver as I scanned and took it all in, hungering for beauty. The rhythm of waves excited and calmed me at once. This ancient canvas, no longer mirage or memory but real as could be–north country’s fresh water and big sky wonders, a swaying of great treetops by lake’s edge, a hardness of stones under feet–yet moved me.

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West view at sunset of Little Traverse Bay

The next day Marc and I wandered on foot about sunlit Bay View streets and found his grandmother’s house still kept yellow and white and crisscrossing tree branches even more generous and luminous: the stillness of streets caught in a spell of life and times long past yet gently present. Each house there is beautifully rendered in the style of those times. Now many appear to be year ’round homes, winterized for the brutal winters–not allowed when Marc’s family lived there only in summer. We visited the youth clubhouse and boat house where he swam and sailed his Sunfish each day, a treat he still recalls as thrilling. We saw the stark white chapel, though closed. He was brimming with memories. I was, too, from the summers we brought our boisterous five children. It is an idyllic place and it is his “home place”, the one that shaped and educated him in untold ways he was grateful to experience. Soon, I saw a profound ease imbue and cheer him, displacing tensions of his jam-packed work life. Later we also enjoyed shopping and eating (great coffee and tea, too) in charming downtown Petoskey, the city to which Bay View utilities/services are connected. We also visited nearby, more upscale Harbor Springs; I will share those pictures another blog post.

There are two shots, a front and side view, of my husband’s grandparents’ beloved yellow and white summer house, no longer in the family. The rest is a sampling of other homes, some more modest than others, all lovely and in great shape for over 100 years. The chapel and boat club gazebo are also shown.

 

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As we drove away, Marc said: “Next year if we can return, let’s stay two or three nights at the inn.”  I agreed. The first days of our trip had been nearly perfect. (I was ill one day with a chronic malady, so had to miss out on a fabulous Cessna Comanche plane ride. Marc got on board with his niece’s husband, the Comanche pilot.) Only two more days left before we had to fly back to Oregon. How could it get any better than this?

Next Wednesday I’ll take you to a North Country jewel, Traverse City, as well as tiny Interlochen where big things happen– and where my own history sent out deep roots. We’ll also visit wine and cherry country around Old Mission Peninsula and the attractive, touristy Leelenau Peninsula. We’ll find colorful trees galore! Those parts also welcomed us. I had nearly forgotten: Michigan, for all its blustery, sometimes rougher can-do attitude, is also open, friendly and gracious in a refreshing down-to-earth way.

MI day 4-5, Bay View, Petoskey, TC 120

 

Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: One Love, One Life, One God

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Though health may elude me or
riches arrive, betray and leave
there is a wonder that visits
with a whisper, a deep ease of life
and folds me into gratitude
like a cocoon; it generates courage
and beauty that cannot wither.

For still humanity dares to be humane,
wild creatures birth and roam.
Sun watches like a merciful witness
and moon gilds our way through sleep.
Again, ripening harvest times
break open a splendor of change.
Rains signal to me like gifted
fingers over ancient drums.

Inside this breath, upon this heart
there is certainty of an etheric veil
which sways open and closed
like wings of rarest guardians
of one Love, one Life, one God.
I retrieve these gifts, bow my head.

 

(See you folks in ten days–I’m off on another small adventure. Be well.)

Perfect Companions: Nature and Writing

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All photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson copyright 2017. A somewhat hazy Mt. Baker and Cascade Range; the Olympic Mountains can also be seen across from the ferry dock in the assorted pictures at end of post.

It was a lot to take in: cobalt to powdery blue waters; Olympic Mountains’ jagged and graceful peaks and the Cascade Range with Mt. Baker pointing heavenward; air so crystalline that it seemed to infuse each breath with a rare bliss. Blues permeated the landscape’s textures and forms, bringing me peace.

And the reason I was even there was to avail myself of expert advice during a writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington. Each presentation was a study in the craft of writing, a series of stories about progress, failure and success. The past two days memories of the beauty have deepened as well the lessons offered during “Write on the Sound.”

During hours spent sitting in chairs that challenged pain-free posture, I kept voluminous notes. I am a dedicated note taker  and have attended many writers conferences. I read the rapid penciled scribbling upon return. But there are moving pictures in my mind of the authors and editors. I recall their cheerful energy or lack of it, their enthusiastic or monotonous voices, their belief that writing is an art worthy of our passion–or a business that requires guts, thick skin and acumen. To such experienced and well-published authors, it likely is both. To those listening and questioning, it can appear more complicated than all they tell us.

One hard-bitten editor, Barrett (one name only), rapidly expounded on the importance of surprise, a writer’s “voice”, memorable characterization and the power of details. Nothing too new. But then I was riveted by her love of writing and her emotional reading aloud of excerpts of fine examples of prose. She offered us her own faith in writing, her own passionate hope in the craft and art of it. Though she had thirty-some years experience editing, she still could be deeply moved and wanted that moment to come.

Kristin Hannah has written 26 novels and stated she works and reworks plots and characters hard. Yet when she takes it to her editor she is told she must revise three or four times more. No one, not even someone like Ms. Hannah, can take their writing skills for granted; no one finds the artful craft of writing a breeze to accomplish. And she fell into writing, to her surprise, after becoming a lawyer and following her mother’s death. Her quick but methodical mind apparently keeps all things pertinent in check and moving forward year after year.

A nonfiction articles author for eighteen years named Kerrie Flanagan shared many interesting experiences about discovering ideas, such as choosing topics she knows nothing about but has always wanted to, then executing them in unique ways for magazines. That intrigued me. Her quiet, no-nonsense style reflected a commitment to dispensing support as well as data. Essayist and fiction author Windy Lynn Harris started her presentation with such excitement I wondered how she could sustain it. But she did, happy to share useful insights as well as her faith in our talents when woven well with hard work and good skills. She was encouraging of our submitting short stories and personal essays, stating there is a plethora of publishing opportunities.

I often take workshops on fiction and poetry. This time I primarily chose those about nonfiction. I began to write nonfiction regularly for this blog though I already had a few pieces published. Personal essays and articles have a directness and compressed style that is potent when done well. As a kid I pretended to be a roving newspaper reporter (I guess it is an old dream of mine) and the basics of journalism are applied to all types of nonfiction. I gathered more information on genres, newer submission requirements and markets (different from fiction or poetry). And I have heard it forever, this week-end heard it again: there can be no price put on the value of a disciplined practice of writing and a neutral persistence when submitting work. And first and last: revision is both the guts and heart of the writing life.

There were many opportunities to hand out my new writer business cards, shy as I am about it. After all, that is my job the past few years, and it’s helpful to be able to offer further information via an attractive card. I met people from all over the country. To share such love of language and storytelling is a regenerative experience. We each came looking for greater knowledge and camaraderie; writing is notoriously solitary so we forget how many out there have the same dilemmas and needs. It may be time for me to find yet another writers’ critique group and writing partner. I will take care in the search; thinly skilled or disorganized writing groups does more harm than none at all.

It was a very good conference so I may return next year. I am a teachable person (even if I fuss defensively at first about what I imagined I already knew) and it’s a fine opportunity to partake of such wealth of knowledge. But the bottom line is that I have to apply what I’ve learned, more assiduously explore my publishable options. I have a strong suspicion it’s time for more change regarding my goals and practice.

A huge draw was the geographic area in which it was presented. Each time there was a good break I’d rush outside to a flower-rimmed plaza on the second level floor and lean over the railing. I’d take in the rich, varied blues and textures of the Olympic Mountains and glass-smooth Puget Sound, ogle the attractive small town edging up to water’s edge. I looked forward to shooting photographs as my spouse (who worked on a business writing project at the hotel) and I roamed the area. I snapped over three hundred and have kept many of those. A couple of handfuls are offered below. Colors have not been altered. It is easy to be inspired by this Washington scenery,  here a bit wilder and more open than my home area in Oregon.

Nature and Art: grand teachers, smitten companions.

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