October

My backyard

I wrote this poem during my first fall in Oregon. It was inspired by the 10-mile drive from town to my home along Highway 47, one of many roads here that takes my breath away.

October

If I drive off the road of life
know I was distracted by the wilderness
gazing for a moment at gilded leaves
arched against jagged boughs of evergreen.
 
Perhaps I beheld a quilted river
of fallen crimson and vermillion
winding along the roadside
vine maples blazing in random rays of sun.
 
Had I gazed into the weave and texture of leaves
layers interlaced, sharp and dense against the sky?
Or the rain glistening, black branches of the forest bending
silhouetted by canopies of countless green.
 
Did I glimpse dry fields of weeds,
browning blades and flyaway seeds
the river meandering, my roadside companion
a tapestry of quiet color before me?
 
If I soar off the road of life
and fail to rise
know that I drove distracted by the wilderness
and my eyes brimmed with beauty.

***

Just a note that Catling’s Bane is free today until the 29th.

Living with Nature – Snakes.

A  little creature that shares my world.

In most of my books, nature has a strong presence. It’s part of “write what you know,” and I often joke that I was raised by wolves. An exaggeration, but I was lucky enough to be brought up in the outdoors and feel quite comfortable in the woods.

Here’s a picture of my playpen, built by my dad out of sticks at the cabin overlooking Skylight Pond in Vermont.

When I was about 12 (and my brothers were 11 and 8), my parents used to drop us off on the Long Trail in the Green Mountains and pick us up three days later, fifteen miles down the path. We read maps, dealt with unexpected snow, built shelters, shooed porcupines from our food, and cut pine boughs for our beds.

1985 – On a month-long trek in Wyoming. I still have those clothes!

On other occasions, they’d leave us with the old canoe under a bridge (no life jackets back then) and pick us up miles downstream at the end of the weekend. It was a blast. It was normal. And somehow, we survived, even as our adventures increased in daring and duration as we aged.

Fast forward 25 years from those first independent forays into the wilderness: I married my husband, a man from Atlantic City, New Jersey. A city kid willing to brave country living for the sake of love. And, his encounters with wildlife make for endless comedy.

A few examples:

1 – Turtles. I’ve never seen a man run so fast as the first time he came across a big turtle on our hiking path. It was the size of a dinner plate. I pointed it out to him, mostly so he wouldn’t step on it. “Wow, look at that turtle.” He shrieked, hands flew up, and he ran down the trail in the opposite direction.

2 – Bugs. Tornado Boy was over last weekend, and he was expressing a lot of concern about spiders and bees. I called my daughter, “Are you and his dad teaching him to be afraid of bugs?” She denied any role in that behavior. Then I looked out the window and saw Grampy sprinting across the deck, swatting at an imaginary swarm of killer bees. “Never mind,” I told her.

3 – Snakes. We have lots and lots of little garter snakes around here. They’re about two feet long and not much thicker than a pencil (mostly). I try not to leave the doors of the house open because the hummingbirds fly in and can’t find their way out without help, which involves ladders.

A tiny thing that eats slugs, worms and insects.

But yesterday, I was gardening and left the door open for about 15 minutes. My husband came tearing out of the house in a panic because two snakes decided to take up residence. I found the smallest one quickly as it slithered away from me. I picked it up and let it go in the bushes. The second one was hiding.

After a short hunt, I dragged it out from behind the furniture and held it for him to see from where he stood thirty feet away in the front yard in case he needed to run. I let it go and twenty minutes it was back trying to get in the house again. No luck, the door stays closed.

Other Oregon wildlife to be scared of if you’re from the city: Slugs, bats, coyotes, salamanders, and large frogs. But that’s another story.

Oregon Moss

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The moss in the Oregon rainforest is magical.

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I discovered it during my first spring here when it rained 29 days straight.

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It grows on almost anything and the varieties are astonishing.

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On my fence, I find elfin gardens and green seascapes.

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The alders are adorned with brittle beards growing on air and rain.

frontyard8-dianapeach-jpgThe stumps of long-dead forest giants sprout with tufts of feathery growth.

Spring is coming. So is the Moss!

Writing in a Small Town

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I live in a small town, always have.

Not that cities don’t have their allure, they just aren’t for me. I require a tour guide and someone to drive me through all the crazy traffic. My daughter became a city girl after 4 years at Boston University. The idea of living in the mountains makes her eyes roll back in her head.

20140718-banks-vernonia-01I moved to the Coastal Range of Oregon about 4 years ago, following the dream of grannyhood that’s since come to fruition. We live up winding roads amidst giant trees and autumn fog. The owls and coyotes sing for our nighttime pleasure. We heat with wood and I attempt to grow vegetables. Thank goodness for satellite despite its painful slowness.

Our community is cohesive despite our many differences. We know each other by sight, if not by name. I’ll get there as the years ramble by; I’m an introvert but rarely shy.

I like the history of the place I live – the pioneers and booming logging days. I love the stories, poetry, and songs that arose from the wilderness and a community close to the land. Many of the people in those stories and songs are still here. At the very least, they’re remembered. We have our local legends; we run into them at the hardware store or post office.

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Me and my helpers at the Saturday Market. I borrowed them from the neighboring tent and compensated them with homemade cookies.

Small towns are great places to be a writer. My books are popular at the library as my neighbors explore what the local author is dishing out. Our librarian called me about hosting an event and will stay open after hours for my November signing. I find space in the local newspaper and on the shelves of shops that don’t even sell books. I did a signing at the Saturday Farmer’s Market and had my best day of sales as the community stopped by with their enthusiasm and friendly support.

I may have to drive 40 minutes to the pharmacy or to purchase paper for my printer. The movie theater is an hour’s trip, the same haul for a host of other conveniences. But I love my small town. It’s a great place to write.

 

 

 

Creative Inspiration on Saturday Night

 

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Inspiration, the fuel for writers, is everywhere. This was my Saturday night in my little mountain town. Don’t be surprised if you come across a similar scene in my WIP.  And of course, don’t try this at home!

The Fire Maiden

Before night rose and a gibbous moon bloomed in the branches, the laird serves barrels of golden elixir and a banquet to sate eager watchers. His dominion is ancient, revered, a relic and ruin of glory past. Bull frogs call from green waters, and birds of the goddess bleed on the walls with cryptic messages and jesters.

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Darkness arrives with candlelight and the flames leap.

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Enter the Fire Maiden and her minions.

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Those who beheld the dance in years past stood back knowing the heat would gust and sear.

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The fire entrances.

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She brings its power to life

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Transforms it into a living beast

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Flame scales the stone walls

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Fire blooms in midair.

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The blaze dances to her call

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She stands in the blast

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It consumes her and she laughs.

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Writer as Witness

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As storytellers, we create settings and characters with enough authenticity to entrap readers in our imaginations. The goal is to elicit feelings somewhere in the broad spectrum of human experience, to personally invest the reader in the outcome of our tales.

Frontyard1.dianapeach.jpgA sense of reality and plausibility in our stories aids us in that task. External intricacy adds texture as it paints pictures in a reader’s mind. Our own emotional landscape is fodder for our characters’ souls.

I love the idea of writers as witnesses. We are observers of details, the ones with personal knowledge of hidden imagery and feelings, which we attest to through our words.

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages artists to become witnesses, to take time out of each day to observe our outer and inner worlds with curiosity, as a way of enriching our store of experience and ultimately our art. She suggests occasional artist’s vacations, to gather experiences foreign to our daily routines.

Frontyard3.dianapeach.jpgI frequently wander about in zombie-like unconsciousness. My familiarity with my routine and surroundings allows my brain to dally elsewhere, usually embroiled in developing scenes, prodding characters, and plugging up plot holes.

Unless I make a mindful choice to engage, I don’t.

I wrote a post back in October called Emotional Writing about a necessary willingness to explore painful feelings. This is tough work: witnessing our own agony and blindness, picking through our hearts with an observer’s impartial eye. And how far are we willing to delve into someone else’s experience, to embrace it as our own?

Frontyard5.dianapeach.jpgToday I’m another kind of witness. If I sit still and pay attention, I see cloudy light reflected on rain-slick leaves, the diamond patterns of stained glass at the end of a dark hallway. Gossamer cobwebs thread the air around the old chandelier. The dog snores on the couch and rain drips from sagging gutters to patter on the metal roof. It’s chilly this morning, and Pinky the cat has commandeered my sweater. If my nose weren’t stuffy, I might smell coffee brewing.

Any one of these details may end up in my writing today.

I share a few photos of moss growing in my yard. I would have never witnesses the beauty if I hadn’t taken the time to look.

Don’t Pass Gas

If the title of this post captured your attention, well ha ha, it’s not what you think.

Today I chanted, “Don’t pass gas! Don’t pass gas! Don’t pass gas!” on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol.

I loved this homemade sign.

I loved this homemade sign.

As an author, I often place my characters in situations where they need to speak up and take a stand for what they believe. They use their wits, voices, and skills to protect their families and communities from great danger. Their enemies often wield vast power with a ruthlessness that disregards the welfare of the common folk. The villains are greedy, righteous, deceptive, and utterly relentless.

I have high expectations of my characters, and they expect no less of me.

That's me in the sunglasses.

That’s me in the sunglasses.

A gigantic energy conglomerate wants to transport fracked natural gas through Oregon to the Pacific coast for shipment overseas. A monster pipeline would traverse my tiny mountain town, cut through our water supply and plow through miles of forests dry as tinder in the summer months. My characters told me to quit complaining and do something about it.

Holding someone else's sign while they take pictures.

Holding someone else’s sign while they take pictures.

So, for the past few months, I set aside my fantasy writing to apply my skills to detailing the real-life facts about fracking, pipeline failures, and environmental catastrophe. The risks would make your head spin.

Our Senator who supports Passing Gas

Our Senator who supports Passing Gas

Today, I went to my first rally with all the other aged hippies. Now you know what the senior citizens do on a Tuesday afternoon in Oregon.

We didn’t get pepper-sprayed. It was a blast. I suggest you try it.

Separately we are small as mice. Together we roared, “Don’t Pass Gas!”