Ross Lewallen: Artist and Shaman Who Lived Outside the Lines

 ross and LauraRoss and Laura Lewallen

"I am an artist on a walkabout, an adventure in the landscape of my imagination."

  Our good friend and creative mentor Ross Lewallen died last week and his family and friends are left with a large hole of sadness. We are also left with the rich gift of the memory of a man who lived life fully and creatively. When Ross blended colors, called the spirits of the power animals, the crow, the hawk, the wolf, the turtle and their friends; when he  sailed a boat in the high desert of New Mexico, he was a teacher and a healer, inviting us to paint and live outside the lines.

The physical body of Ross lived almost eight decades. Ross led this body to northern New Mexico in the 1960’s to study art with the great teachers at New Mexico Highlands University, Elmer Schooley, Harry Leippe, Paul Volkening, and Ray Drew. Ross painted, sculpted, created jewelery, talked late into the night, stirred the thinking pot and made us see the world through a different lens.

Ross and his daughter Laura ran  LewAllen and LewAllen Jewlers  on the Plaza in Santa Fe for almost forty years. He traveled to Africa and Austrailia. He became a shaman.  In the past few years he drove (“boondocked” as he would say) around the continent dragging his little camper trailer, Shasta, behind him. He sat up shop in front of Shasta in camp grounds, painted and sold his mystical watercolors to other campers.

Ross swam with kindred spirits in Florida, sailed in the Florida Keys with his wife Hanne Moller. Hanne is a  violinist. Among Ross’s many videos on Youtube is one of Hanne serenading five  tortoises.

Ross was a gifted teacher. In two of my favorite videos, Boondocking on the Rio Castillo and Painting from Impulse, he shares his creative technique. Painting is a metaphor for how Ross lived and his lessons invite us to change our perspective on life, if only for a brief moment, to start coloring, living outside the lines just as he did, to wake up and go on walk-about.

 

ross and wifeRoss and Hanne 2008 clapping2  ross pope ross wife  ross wife night Alice rossAlice ross dancing

We all loved dancing with Ross.

My Best Christmas Gift? George the Chimpanzee and his Friend the Black Stallion

Chimp on my shoulder

1954, Fourth Grade. I wake up on Christmas morning knowing that George the Chimpanzee is waiting under the tree for me.

Why a chimpanzee? My favorite book was Chimp on my Shoulder. The cover photograph shows a baby chimpanzee peering over the shoulder of the author, Bill Westley, an adventurer who lived with chimpanzees on his farm in England.  What better life could one have?

When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “A chimpanzee collector and raiser.” My mother and father said, “Well, that would be a fine occupation for you.” I knew then that my parents understood that I needed my own chimpanzee to start on my career.

My mother grew up in the Philippines before World War II where my grandfather, the Colonel, rescued a baby monkey and brought it home for her to raise. She named him George.

George ate the laundry soap and hid pieces of candy in his cheeks and had big dark brown eyes. If my mother once had a monkey, wasn’t I meant to have a chimpanzee?

I had not yet told my parents that I did not believe in Santa Claus. Grown-ups, I felt, were very sensitive on the issue and became sad when their children stopped believing. So I wrote a letter to Santa telling him that I wanted a chimpanzee and why, hoping that my parents read the letter. I never spoke directly to them about my chimpanzee, as I believed expressing my wish would be a jinx.

My mother hinted about my main Christmas present, words that had to do with jungles and tigers and lions and bears, solid evidence for my chimpanzee. Two days before Christmas, I heard my parents whispering. I could taste the excitement in our house. I knew that George, my chimpanzee, had arrived.

I worried.  Where would my parents hide George until Christmas Day so that he couldn’t be found by me or the dogs or my snoopy brother? Of course. In the chicken coop, tucked behind the garage, away from the normal traffic of the house.

How would George be fed? I decided that my mother would sneak food out back when we weren’t watching. I was very careful not to go to the back of the yard near the chicken coop, or turn my head in that direction. I didn’t want to accidentally discover George and spoil my parents’ surprise.

On Christmas Eve I kept myself from peeking out my bedroom window in case my mother carried a pan of bananas and grapes to the chicken coop. I went to bed early to make the night go by. I lay under the white sheets, eyes shut, envisioning my tiptoeing out to the living room in the early morning light, finding George under the tree. I could feel his big hairy hug and his weight as he jumped up onto my shoulder.

Well, you have probably guessed how this story ends. No chimpanzee under the tree on Christmas morning. My main gift that had to do with jungles and animals? A pair of tiger-striped toreador pants that my mother was obviously very proud of.  I acted very excited about this gift and wore the pants right away.

I never did tell my parents that I truly believed that I would be getting a chimpanzee for Christmas and how disappointed I was, not because I felt foolish, but because I knew their feelings would be hurt knowing that they had not fulfilled my wish.

I wore and wore and wore those tiger-striped toreador pants until they were too small, which was the following summer, when I read The Black Stallion and knew I needed a horse, a large black steed to carry me over the mountains and across the plains. I would name the stallion George. He would live in the side yard by the chicken coop and I would grow up to be a cowgirl.

                                           black Stallion

 As I think about my childhood fantasy about having my own chimpanzee, I remember all the books on the shelves in our house, just waiting for me to open them and read them. We were lucky because these books let us adventure around the world way before we were ready to leave home.

What books helped you create your own stories, your own adventures as a child?

 

Quiet Librarian Morphs into Commanding Author: Writing Wisdom from Fran Jenner, Author of "Prairie Journey"

Frans I often wonder why is it that some people dream of being a writer, follow through with the story they want to write, publish it in book form, maybe even receive an award or two along the way. And other people sit in front of a comptuer screen or the empty page of a note book, and never get past the step of dreaming, never take that first difficult step on the writer's journey.

photo(6)(1)

Frances Bonney Jenner has some answers for you. Fran, who has been part of Green River Writers Workshops for the past six years, is one of those first people, the ones who  take the chance and start on the writer's journey. Fran is wise, talented,  fearless, and has wisdom to share from her journey in writing (and rewriting) Prairie Journey and seeing the book through  to its award winning conclusion.

I asked Fran for advice for other writers. As I read her words, I heard her strong and confident voice, and felt as if I were sitting with her around an evening campfire, seeking courage to face the dark of the night and guidance for the challenges of the next day. Come join us by Fran's campfire, be part of the writing journey.

What was the biggest challenge to you in writing Prairie Journey?

I had to overcome my fear about being a writer. I was an elementary school teacher-librarian and I left that job so that I could have time to write. I began spending many hours alone with just myself and my story and characters. That was such a big change, being with just me rather than with lots of kids and teachers in a lively library atmosphere. I really got in touch then with my inner fear about not being talented enough. I had finally given myself time to write, but a new obstacle surfaced, my fear. I experienced so much fear that I literally had to force myself to sit at my computer each day and write. But soon I noticed that after about 15 minutes of writing, I would relax and forget about my fear and then I could just write and not feel afraid. Slowly over time my fear about writing disappeared and now I write and there’s no fear that gets in the way.

What was the biggest surprise?

I am perpetually surprised about what comes out on the page when I write. I love that about writing. It is such an adventure. I go into my writing place wherever that is, I start to pound my computer keys, and a whole new world emerges that comes from deep within and that is not always in my conscious awareness. These surprises keep happening and are my biggest reward for continuing to sit down and write.

Why did you write Prairie Journey?

My great-great grandmother was a pioneer. My family never talked in depth about her story and I love that time period in history so I decided to make up her story myself, since I was so curious about it. She traveled from Kentucky to Texas on a covered wagon in the early 1800’s. I changed the setting in Prairie Journey to be the California Trail in 1850 because I had already written a pioneer journal when studying the California and Oregon Trails with a 3rd grade class when I was a teacher-librarian. I knew a lot about that trail experience and wanted to use that knowledge to build the story. I thought to myself, why not start here with what I already know.

Who would you most like to read your book?

I wrote it for 3rd-6th graders who are studying westward expansion. I think 8-12 year old girls are most likely to read and love it. But I did include two very strong male characters so that boys would also enjoy it also and Savannah is pretty much a tomboy. Adult readers love it too and my publisher (Irie Books) says that it’s for readers from 8-80 and beyond.  I hope that teachers will read and share it with their students and parents and grandparents with their children and grandchildren.

You seem to channel the voice of your main character. How did you do that?

I am not quite sure. When I was writing Prairie Journey, I could always hear Savannah talking to me and so I just wrote what I was hearing inside my mind. And that was Savannah’s voice. I kind of fell in love with Savannah and so I felt that I needed to be true to her character and the voice that I was listening to. I hope I did that. I think she would say so.

What advice would you give another writer?

Read good writing. Write as much as possible and as many days a week as possible. Join a writing support group so that you can share your writing journey with others and get feedback on what you are writing. Don’t give up.

What are your 3 favorite books? Why? How do they help you with your writing?

Actually, one of my favorite books is your book, Alice, A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse. I love the stories you tell in it. It feels to me like it is written from the exquisite and innocent consciousness of a young child. And it’s funny too. My other two favorites are Sarah Plain and Tall by Sarah MacLachlan and Escape from Botany Bay: The True Story of Mary Bryant by Loretta and Gerald Hausman. These books all have something in common - each is written in a prose style that is breathtakingly simple yet beautiful. I try to write that way too and when I read each one, my mind and thoughts seem to merge into that style that is so set in beauty. In that way, these books help me with my own writing.

What do you do mentally, physically, spiritually, to keep yourself writing when the going gets tough?

My writing support group is crucial to my well-being as a writer. Sometimes when I get stuck, I tell my support group about it, and soon I am unstuck and ready to write again. We support each other in our writing and we care about each other as writers. That’s the best medicine I know for when the writing gets tough.

A far as my writing practice itself, I keep writing. In his book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser says something like “ Write badly to write well.” I always carry that bit of advice with me. Some days the writing comes out badly. I know what Zinsser means - the first time writing finds its way to a piece of paper it’s probably not the best, but it’s a beginning and it can be improved. My experience is that sooner or later with a lot of work and grace, it will come out well, and, whatever the problem is, it will be solved.

I find too that meditating can open me up to something about writing that is coming up from my consciousness. It might help me develop a more authentic relationship with a character or find something new in the story that needs to be told. So I depend on meditation to keep me listening to what I might need to hear and work through that is coming from the inside of me. I also hike often and run several miles each week. Those activities keep my mind clear and fresh.

What is the most creative approach you have used for marketing?

A local bookstore (Hearthfire Books of Evergreen) has a booth at the local summer Farmer’s market. The bookstore owner asked me to promote and sell my book there at that booth. It was a lot of fun. A reporter from the Canyon Courier (local newspaper) did an article about my appearance. That helped draw in those who were interested. I sought out 8-12 year old girls passing by the booth and asked them if they would like a free bookmark/post card and to hear about Prairie Journey. They said yes! I showed them Prairie Journey’s award (a bronze medal, heavy like an Olympic medal) for best juvenile fiction from the Independent Publishers Association. They (and their parents too) wanted to feel the medal and have the experience of wearing it. That got them excited about buying and getting it autographed. A WOW marketing day!

What is the most successful approach?

I have the most success when I visit a 4th or 5th grade school classroom. I share photos of my research travels along the California Trail and how I got my ideas for the book’s characters and plot. The students are very receptive and really fired up to learn how I wrote the story and also to see images of the trail. Students and teachers often buy copies of the book after hearing the presentation. The book is a good curriculum match for students learning about the westward expansion movement.

What leads you to the topics of your writing?

I have projects that I have wanted to write about ever since I can remember. They often involve family connections (like my great-great grandmother who was a pioneer). I also have stories that just pop into my head usually when I am hiking or meditating, stories that want to be told that probably come from my childhood experiences. I have to stay disciplined so that I won’t stray from the topic I am currently writing about.

What is your next project? Why?

I am working on a YA historical fiction novel about Billy the Kid. My maiden name is Bonney and Billy’s mother was a Bonney. I don’t know that we are related but we do share a name. Billy actually changed his last name from McCarty (his father’s name) to Bonney in his late teen years. My family, especially my father, encouraged me to write about Billy, once he knew I wanted to write. Together, we actually started researching about Billy early on. There’s definitely an emotional tie to my family about this topic. Also, I am fascinated by outlaws and curious to figure out why Billy became one. Being a detective type, I love the experience of getting into the head of a character and writing their story from a perspective that I discover.

As you write your next book, what will you do differently?

It’s already different with my book about Billy. I have more confidence about writing it. I have taken more up front time to get into Billy’s head and point of view, to know what he wants and can’t have. I have done a lot of research (even physically traveling across Billy’s New Mexico) before writing much of it. I am getting ready now to plot out the scenes that I want to be in the book, even though I have already written several. I want to get an overview of the big picture of the story. I also know that often one scene leads to a new and unplanned surprise scene, and I look forward to that, too. That’s all very different from the way I wrote Prairie Journey.

How would your experience help other writers?

I hope sharing my experiences will help other writers write the stories they feel connected to and passionate about telling. That they will learn to trust that writing well is about continually improving one’s writing from the start. That they will write often, read good writing, find writing support, and create their own unique strategies for continuing on when the going gets tough. And most importantly, I hope that they will keep on writing as much as they can, that they will continue to believe in themselves, and not ever give up!

Thanks, Fran, for your wisdom, talent, and perseverance.

What will be your first step on your writing journey?

 

Veterans Day and the Questions We Never Ask

Band-aids and Uniforms

Ned Winston Cadet  Cadet Edward Green Winston USMA   1932                        2Ned85 Edward Green Winston (Ned) 1986

When I was 4 years old, the family was piling into our 1940‘s black Ford sedan. My mother sat in the front passenger seat, my brother crawled to the far side of the back seat, and I started climbing in behind him.

Something, a noise, a memory, an echo, caused me to pause, my fingers with their twig-like Hansel and Gretel bones braced on the side of the car. My father, perhaps also distracted by a noise, a memory, an echo, slammed the big heavy metal door, crunch, on my fingers.

I don’t remember my hand hurting, too many years have gone by. I do remember the nighttime sidewalk, the dark sky above me, a few bright street lights, and my crying. I remember standing there by the side of the car, my father holding my hand, small  rounds of skin peeled below my fingernails and off my knuckles. I don’t remember my pain, but I still feel the throb of my father’s distress.

This is an odd memory, because I see my father leaning down towards my hand and I clearly see him in his khaki Army officer’s uniform. I am comforted by this image. He is strong and in charge, and I knew he would take care of me. In truth, I never saw my father wearing his Army uniform, except in photographs. He was discharged from the military at the end of World War II, when I was two years old.

Our car was parked in front of the small brick two story local hospital on the main street of town. My father picked me up, carried me up the concrete steps into the hospital, ordered the nurse on duty to call a doctor, to x-ray my hand to be sure no bones were broken. The nurse looked at him, at me. “Move your fingers, dear. Make a fist, now open it.”  She touched my father on the shoulder. “No bones are broken, sir. I assure you, she doesn’t need a doctor and she doesn’t need an X-ray.” The nurse cleaned my fingers, wrapped band-aids around them and we were sent home.

Here is the echo in that memory. My father was a West Point graduate, a major in the Army,  a career officer, just as his father and my mother’s father had been. In 1946, when he was 37 years old, my father returned from France at the end of WWII. A week later he walked away from the Army base at Ft. Benning, Georgia, not telling anyone where he was going. Just disappeared off the base, committing the military sin of going AWOL (away without leave), a punishable offense. Two weeks later my twenty-four year old mother received a telephone call in the middle of the night. My father had been found, working on a fishing boat in Florida. She left my three year old brother and one year old me with neighbors, drove alone down the dark road south. Two days later she returned to Ft. Benning with my father .

The Army sent my father to a hospital for rehabilitation. While he was institutionalized he learned leather-work, carpentry, pottery. He may have learned about electric shock treatment. At the end of his time in the hospital, a military panel ruled on his case. His discharge papers say that he begged the officers at his hearing to allow him to remain in the Army, telling them that the military was his life’s work, that there was no where else for him to be. The uniformed men listened, then they stamped his papers with an “Honorable Discharge” and sent him on his way.

My father never had a real career after that day. He took odd jobs in our small town. He was a digger of ditches, a cleaner of cess pools, a milker of cows. In our garage he made intricate stamped leather pieces, a purse for my mother, a pistol holder for my brother, a belt for me. He created life-like wooden rocking horses, a galloping white stallion with fire red eyes for my brother, a gentle black and white pinto pony for me. He built finely jointed bookcases. In the winters he sculpted snowmen that looked like Greek statues. He never talked about France, but he was often distracted, staring into space, listening for an echo of something we could not hear. Sometimes he would disappear, hitchhike to visit his relatives in Illinois and California. Someone would always bring him back.

We children often wondered, “What happened to Daddy?” but never asked, suspecting that this was an off-limit, grown-up topic. Once, my grandmother said, “You know, Ned loves children, and he just was too upset with what he saw had happened to the children in France. It broke him up. Now he is just a lost soul.”

The word band-aid brings my father back to me, his distress at himself for hurting me that night and his always, in his own way, wanting to protect me and all children, an echo of the soldier he wanted to be. If I had been wise and more kind as I grew older, I might have talked to him, listened to him, told him that he did take care of us, that he was of value even though the Army sent him away. I might have given him the one hug that would have welcomed him back, that would have been the band-aid to hold him together. I might have thanked him for taking care of me, especially when I was young and small-boned and he was strong. I might have told him that it wasn’t the uniform that mattered to us, it was that he always returned.

Alice Winston Carney November 11, 2013

So here is a prompt as you set  about writing:

What questions have you never asked? What do you think might happen if you did ask?

American Bison Gives Writing Tips of the Day

  American Bison bull on the Rio Mora National Wildllife Reserve

Tip 1: Take the time to ruminate on your idea. A good writer, he says, is a deep thinker.

Tip 2: Keep an eye on your goal. Remember that you want to be a writer and take the steps to get there.

Tip 3:  Get your facts straight. Did you know that American Bison are not buffalo? Just because they are called buffalo, does not make them one.

Tip 4: Look at things from a different perspective. Sit down behind a bush, look round, take notes. How do things look differently when you sit on the ground rather than stand  on your feet or stare at a computer screen.

Tip 5: Get outside and trust your senses. What do you see, feel, smell, hear, taste? Bring that detail into your writing. Look at the bison's coat. How would you describe it?

 

This American Bison bull is part of a herd that lives on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge  north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The herd lives and roams freely on these 4,600 acres of protected land.

Did you know that there most bison carry genes of cattle from interbreeding? The Yellowstone herd of over 3000 are the only genetically pure American Bison managed by the  Department of the Interior.

Bison rolling copy Steve

How to create a "buffalo wallow."  Photo by Steve Winston

Did you know that American Bison roll around on the open prairie, creating large dust bowls called “buffalo wallows?” When they roll in the wallows, they crush any small junipers trees growing in the area. This is actually a behavior which protects the environment for the bison. Junipers are invasive trees that suck up precious water and take away space from the grasses that the bison live on. By tromping out the junipers, the bison keep the prairies open for grasses and grazing.

 

Look around you. What fact of nature can you use for a creative writing prompt?

How to Make a Flying Stained Glass Window

Western Tiger Swallowtail ButterflyThe drought still sits over northern New Mexico, but in Sapello Valley, at 7600 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, light rains have fallen 8 out of the last 11 days.

The Navajos call these "female rains". They fall slow and steady, sometimes for hours, softening the surface of the dry soil, allowing the moisture to soak in.

mid-July 2006 flowers 060

Grasses that were shriveled and brown two weeks ago cloak the pastures in green.  In the early morning light, bright blue flax, yellow Mexican Hats, purple penstemon  dot the hill in front of our house. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zing in and out of the soft pink fuzz on the apache plume.

Apache plume 2

As if in answer to the prayer that these rains last,  a butterfly with a wing-spread of 5 inches sailed by me, and landed on the blossom of a purple penstemon, its wings slowly pumping up and down, a stained glass echo of the yellows, blues, reds, purples and greens all around: a Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. In the afternoon, as thunderheads built up, turned from white to deep black, and the rumble of thunder promised another visit of a soft female rain,  three golden swallowtails sailed around the garden, flying stained glass windows promising, if not an end to the drought, a gentle  and colorful respite.

Look around. What colors do you see?  How will you bring those colors into your writing?

 

Charles Bukowski, Praying Mantis, and the Meaning of Life

Hatching preying mantis repel out of the egg sac One summer morning I watched as over 100 miniscule pale green praying mantis repelled out of their two-inch long egg sac. Within an hour they had dispersed around my garden, ready to take  unwary insects. For weeks I would find them, under a leaf, sitting on the red petal of a rose, twice the size from the day before, barbed front legs held in prayer, ready to pounce.

So, how do praying mantis, rapscalllion poet Charles Bukowski, and the meaning of life all fit together? That is your question for the day.

Here's Bukowski repelling out of his egg sac, singing his answer to the meaning of life as he goes.

the last song 

driving the freeway while listening to the Country and Western boys sing about a broken heart and the honkytonk blues, it seems that things just don't work most of the time and when they do it will be for a short time only. well, that's not news. nothing's news. it's the same old thing in disguise. only one thing comes without a disguise and you only see it once, or maybe never. like getting hit by a freight train. makes us realize that all our moaning about long lost girls in gingham dresses is not so important after all.

And if that whets your appetite, try this one locks

I moved into a new place and decided to change the locks . . .

 So, do you see a connection, or am I just day-dreaming, imagining myself a green bit of rapscalllion poet, repelling through life?

Rocking our good friend and fellow writer: Petey Salman

Petey rain

Last month our good friend, cousin, and fellow writer, Petey Salman, experienced a major cerebral hemorrhage. She is, at this time, in a care facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those of you who are part of Green River Writers Workshops know that Petey is a lover of writing. I hope you also know how much your friendship and support have meant to her and how much she looked forward to the workshop each summer. Here is a part of a story that Petey wrote several years ago. I hope Petey knows that we are there to rock her back in the right direction, just as she would rock us.

From “Whale Rocker” by Petey Salman

Helplessness makes me nuts.

Not the ordinary kind of helplessness, like running out of gas or having the three-day flu or screwing up your checking account. No, I mean the big life or death kind of helplessness:  kittens dumped by the freeway, birds falling out of their nest, homeless people trapped in a blizzard. Make or break situations. Most people shrug their shoulders, say, "That's it. Too late," but I've always had this idea that, with a little effort, you could stop things before they got to that point. Too late, I mean.

Spiders, dogs, cats, birds, hamsters--yes, even people. You name it, I've saved it. Saving is in my nature, some aberrant strand of DNA that impels me to rescue any creature that is helpless or in imminent danger. Years ago my high school sweetheart called me “Saint Polly of the Lost”. And my family swears I have an invisible sign on my door that cries out "Come--and I will take care of you." I say you can save almost anything if you're committed to it.

Take whales for instance. For years people didn't understand why whales stranded. Those great mammals were usually left on the sand to die because humans didn't know what to do with them. Let me tell you, beached whales die a really horrible death. It's not that they can't breathe on land; they are mammals, air breathers. They die because they're so damned heavy that once on shore, without the buoyancy of the sea to support them, their great weight slowly crushes all their internal organs. Sometimes they even start to decay inside a long time before they actually die. Needing an answer to why the whales persisted in swimming ashore, someone decided they must be committing suicide. Ludicrous as that notion was, the theory was accepted as truth for a long time. Finally, after years and years, another person figured out that possibly the whales were really in some sort or trouble, and maybe pushing them back into the water would help. At least that was a step in the right direction.

For a long time, hundreds of volunteers would keep the whales wet until the tide came in and then push the big mammals out to sea. The only problem was, most of the whales turned around, stranded again, and died. At that point it appeared that saving whales was an impossible task.

At last a naturalist, a dedicated saver, I'm sure, hit on the idea that whales have some sort of directional gyroscope in their brains which freezes up when they strand. Even if they are finally pushed back into the water, their gyroscopes are still frozen; the whales turn right instead of left, so to speak, and swim right back to shore. The solution was simple: Rock the whales back and forth while waiting for the tide. That would jar loose the gyroscopes and the whales would swim straight out to sea instead of turning back. It worked like a charm. The man was right and the whales swam seaward.

I saw the whole thing on a PBS special and decided right then and there I wanted to be a whale rocker. Forget that I lived in a landlocked state in the Southwest and had only been to the beach a half dozen times in my life. Like I said, anything is possible if you're committed.

Every night when I went to bed, I would lie in the dark and imagine myself on some distant beach, accompanied by other whale rockers, hands pressed against the chamois-soft, damp skin of a beached whale. Legs braced, all together we would push, then release, push and release, forcefully trying to rock the whale and unlock the gyroscope before the tide came in.

I imagined I was the leader of the rocking crew, organizing environmentalists, villagers, passersby, local law enforcement-- every able body pressed into service to save the whale. And when the volunteers were finally organized into two long lines on either side of the mammal, I would gently rest my telescoping ladder against the whale's great head and scramble up so I could look into its large eye while it was being rocked. It was the only way I could think of to comfort the whale, let it know we meant no harm.

For years I fell asleep gazing into the whale's eye.

************

Writers, Word Lovers, and Folklorists United: Green River Writers Workshops Returns to Las Vegas, New Mexico

Alice, Lorry and Gerry are all smiles as they get ready for the Sixth Annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas, New Mexico

  Come Write in Las Vegas this Summer Green River Writers Workshop, “Turning Memory into Story,” returns for the sixth year to the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, July 18-21, 2013

Facilitators are native New Mexican, Alice Winston Carney, author of Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, her story of growing up in Las Vegas, and Gerald and Loretta Hausman, former residents of Tesuque and authors of many books about native culture. All three, graduates of New Mexico Highlands University, are experienced writers, editors, and creative mentors.

Using memory as a starting point, the workshop focuses on the craft of storytelling through memoir, fiction, historical writing, and poetry.  Both experienced and beginning writers are welcome.

“What makes our workshops unique, and why people have returned year after year, is that we encourage the participants to write and expand their skills in an environment that is intimate, supportive, and non-competitive,” says Carney.

$285 ($300 for registration after June 1) (Room and board not included) Workshop limited to 15, fills early Time: 7 pm Thursday July 18-3pm Sunday July 21. Contact: Alice Carney, Green River Writers Workshops (916) 947-0983     Email: carney.aw@gmail.com greenriverwritersworkshops.com

 

 

Hungry Hummer Sings for His Supper

Hummer and yucca copySo, they say your need to appeal to the senses when you write, that you need to help your reader's nose smell the warm afternoon air, her skin feel the small breeze from the hummer's wings, taste the sweet nectar in the red yucca blossom, hear the hum of the powerful wing muscles beating hundreds of times a second, see the over-lapping emerald feathers shine in the afternoon sun. Or you could just take a break, let your reader take in the photo.

A picture, sometimes, says more than a thousand words.

 

Ancient Jack Russell Terrier Clicks down hallway: Time to feed me! Now!

In response to the prompt“The food I crave . . .

fiona2 She sniffs, pushing her shiny black nose against one of the small hard brown lumps in her bowl, sniffs again, the tip of her nose at the end of her graying muzzle turning up ever so slightly. She sniffs, sighs, turns, and clicks way across the hardwood floor. "That is not," she sighs, turns around twice in her round bed by the fireplace, "the food that I crave." She sighs again, curls her arthritic back in a small arch, her black nose resting on one back leg, her ribs stretching under her tight old skin as she breathes slower, deeper, a soft snore, her ears relaxing, twitching.

The food that I crave . . . and she is off again, out of her stiff old body, back into her pliable, flexible young body, feet stretched out in front, in back, nose to the ground, under the corral fence, between the horses' legs, zig-zagging back and forth across the field.

She smells pine needles, turkey droppings, fresh horse manure, green grass.

FionarunningcopyShe flies across the field seeking the food that she craves and suddenly, as if a switch is turned off, she stops.

She cocks one ear, then the other, turns her head with full concentration towards the ground to the right, sniffs, standing on three legs, right paw lifted as she stares, not hearing the red-shouldered hawk circling  in the blue sky above, calling, “Scree, scree,” higher and higher overhead, not hearing the burbling of the river or the pickup clanking down the road way above her. She sniffs. Here, here is the food that I crave, and she leaps straight in the air and down on front feet, frantically digging dirt on both sides of her, a speeding dynamo after the food that she craves.

And then she stops, sits back, looks around, takes in the burbling water, the screeing hawk, the clanking pickup, and the empty hole in front of her, still giving off the warm scent of the gopher that was there only seconds before. Gone. But look, another gopher head pops it head up three feet away.

She jumps, jaws clamp down. She shakes her head hard, the squeaking stops. She swallows, fur, bone, warmth.

Now, that is the food that she craves.

The old dog curls tighter in front of the fireplace, gives a dreaming yip, then gets up, clicks back to her bowl and sniffs. Nope, just small brown lumps,

not the food that she craves.

fionagrass

Mary Oliver: Why I Wake Early

CIMG1017 Why I Wake Early By Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who made the morning and spread it over the fields and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and the crotchety—

best preacher that ever was, dear star, that just happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warm touching, to hold us in the great hands of light— good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.

(Thanks to my daughter Megan who sent me this poem and whose love and beauty brings sun to my face every morning).