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Showing posts from 2008

THE PLAIN OLD STICK: INDUCTED INTO THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME

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IN THE MEADOW where our dog loves to run, you'll find slash piles of deadfall - broken limbs, twigs, branches - piled in neat mounds awaiting snow deep enough to make burning the debris safe. Gathering the wood may seem like work, and for the volunteers who do it, it is. But it's also child's play, reminding us of when we built forts from discarded lumber, or pretended to be beavers, piling sticks into wigwam like structures, scrambling on our knees into the drafty bellies of these precarious dens.

DOGS, especially, love to fetch and carry sticks, chasing them, propping them up between their paws to snip away at the shoots sprouting from the main branches, peeling the bark away, sharpening their teeth on the smooth, hard grain.

And now, the stick has officially been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, housed at the Strong National Museum of Play. Just when parents are struggling to afford high-tech gadgets, there's an inexpensive option - even free! According t…

Featured Author: Wendy Johnson, at work in the wild and cultivated world

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"How does a gardener go about learning the raw truth of a place?" Wendy Johnson asks in Chapter One of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. "Every spot has a voice, a particular taste, a breath of wind unique to itself, a shadow, a presence. The best gardeners I know slow way down in order to receive the tidings of the land they are bound to work."

I met Wendy Johnson this summer through Natalie Goldberg. Wendy's friendship with Natalie goes back several decades and it is a blessing to call them both friends.

If you're a gardener, don't wait to add Wendy's new book to your collection. If you’re a writer whose work is informed by the natural world, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in the beauty of her carefully cultivated prose.

In this same chapter, appropriately titled “Valley of the Ancestors,” she writes about slowly pacing Redwood Creek, where thimbleberry and red osier grow in abundance. She writes of the ancient silver salmon that come the…

Women Writing West

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October was a busy month. A good month. Beautiful fall colors and warm fall temperatures. Highlights included a symposium in Denver, and hosting Julia, a writer from northern Colorado, for a 3-day writing retreat here in Mt. Vernon. If you'd like more information on these private, one-on-one retreats, please send me a note.

The following week, I presented at the 3-day "Women Writing West" symposium hosted by Copper Nickel (literary journal for the University of Colorado, Denver). More than 500 people attended the symposium, held in Denver. Kudos to Jennifer Davis, winner of the Iowa Award for Short Fiction and assistant professor at UCD, and to Jake Adam York, poet and director of the creative writing program at UCD, for putting on such an extraordinarily well thought out and graciously run event. Co-sponsors included Colorado Center for Public Humanities, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and the Laboratory of Arts and Ideas.


Eight presenters, some of us old friends, some …

A "Country Club" or a COUNTRY community?

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When people ask me where I now live, I usually tell them I live in a rustic mountain community west of Denver. Which I do.

Sometimes I tell them I live in Mount Vernon Country Club, which is also true. But the term "country club" can be misleading.

I love this place. I love the people who live here. The old stone club house, though it's been remodeled many times, still sits perched atop Lookout Mountain and looks east across the city to the Great Plains, and west to the white-tipped peaks of the Continental Divide.

The wild onions that I used to eat as a child still grow in the rocky soil. Wild harebells still bloom along the trails. Ponderosas, once saplings, tower over the old picnic ground where my father used to pitch horseshoes. The original remodeled cabin where I live and where I host one-on-one retreats, was built in 1910.

A couple of weeks ago The Denver Post published an article I wrote about Mt.Vernon. Writing the article was a labor of love. I'm proud of …

Kindred Spirits, and Why We Should Know a Few Who Aren't

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Sometimes we meet kindred spirits face to face. Sometimes we meet them between the pages of a book. And we almost always recognize it when we do, because usually they share a similar vision of the world, maybe even how we wish the world could be.


I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Susan J. Tweit'snew book, Walking Nature Home: A Love Story(forthcoming March, 2009, University of Texas Press). I met Susan a few years ago and have been familiar with her work for a long time, but it wasn't until reading Walking Nature Home that I realized how many passions we share, and how many similar challenges we have faced.

In this new book, which won't be released until next March, Susan intimately merges science with heart and spirit. She writes about what it is to be human with the precision of a scientist, yet with the eloquence of a poet. If you’ve ever searched the night sky for the bright shape of Orion, or tenderly lifted the mangled body of a rabbit from the…

Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2008

Michael Stelzner, author of the book and blog by the same name, Writing White Papers, has named his selection of the top blog sites for writers.

White paper, according to Stelzner's book, is a kind of hybrid for the business market - not truly a persuasive essay, but far more than a dry "justs the facts, Ma'am" kind of document. Essentially, it's a literary sales pitch, somewhere between a magazine article with a strong op-ed persona and a sales brochure that doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Companies love 'em, and well-written ones, white papers that play it straight with the consumer, serve a need. They identify a challenge in the consumer's life, and fairly present an attractive solution. If you've got the talent for this kind of writing, it can be a lucrative profession.

So, that's a bit about white papers. More about Michael at Michael Stelzner. He's an impressive kind of guy. Which makes me more apt to take seriously his TOP TEN cho…

Going with the Flow

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Twenty-one women just spent five daysfloating down the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon together. Artists, writers, sisters, river guides, friends, cohorts. We were the lucky ones.

I say that every year, when one of my River Writing Journeys for Women launches and I enter the world of water and rock - red canyon walls, brilliant blue skies, smooth green water, ancient black rocks, dark star-filled nights. If rains fall, upstream or in the desert where tributaries drain into the river, the water turns cocoa-red and silt as soft as cornstarch settles on the bottom.


The nights were cool, the days sunny and just hot enough to entice us to cool off in the river. We swam, floated actually, alongside our four rafts as our women guides, Brenda, Annie, Jamie and Brie (Sheri Griffith Expeditions), maneuvered us through the canyons - Horsethief, Ruby, Westwater. We took turns playing in the inflatable duckies - small yellow kayaks that follow the motherships, two women paddling, or snubbin…

Exploring Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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Last weekend in Steamboat Springs I appeared on a local television station, Steamboat TV18, and then at the local bookstore for a reading. One of the best things about Steamboat Springs is Erica, owner of Epilogue Book Company, an independent bookstore with a great collection of western literature. Erica, thank you for welcoming me to Steamboat!

I also met a few of the local personalities and visited with some wonderful folks from Deep Roots, a newly formed group dedicated to the growing and raising of local food. They were intrigued with my stories of rearing my son and daughter on a small family ranch in Wyoming.


After the TV interview, John and I headed over to the Fairgrounds. Steamboat hosts a great rodeo during the summer months. Though we were too late in the season for a performance, we were lucky enough to stumble onto the facilitities where Sombrero Ranches keeps some of their horses. Randy, one of the wranglers, eased up on his morning chores and took time to visit. Sombrero…

In the Velvet

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Yesterday morning, as the sun crested the high, snow-frosted mountains to the west, I hiked to my favorite meadow. No one else was on the trail that meanders uphill through the ponderosas and spruce. As I came into the clearing I heard the rattling of antlers. Seventy yards away stood nine bull elk, making their way from the meadow up into the higher country. One stood on an uplift of rocks, polishing the tongs of his antlers on a chokecherry bush. Two others stood facing each other with hooves planted, their antlers locked in an age-old battle of strength. Two others were sparring nearby, clacking their racks, backing off, then clacking again. The meadow reverberated with the sound of their rutting behavior. A week ago, I had seen this same bachelor group out in the horse pasture, their antlers a tender throbbing red then. Now, their six and seven-point racks shone in the morning sun, polished and lethal. They whistled into the daybreak.


This morning, hiking that same trail, I encount…

Cowboys in the Boardroom

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Two weeks ago I met a stranger for lunch. I had come across a link to his site on the American Cowgirl magazine site and was intrigued. A few years ago, Jim Owen wrote the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. I sent Jim a note and the next day he picked up the phone and called. As synchronicity would have it, he was flying into Denver the next day and offered to buy me lunch. Jim's a happily married man - this was not a rendezvous, but a reaching out of like-minded souls.


Life is often a journey of trust, where we make a conscious decision to "go with the flow" and trust the unfolding of our lives. When I met Jim, the first thing he said to me was, "I'm not a cowboy." Obviously, he wasn't. That was immediately apparent. James P. Owen is the Managing Director of Austin Capital Management and serves as the firms Director of Corporate Values. At the restaurant, he set a copy of Cowboy Ethics on the table and started tell…

News from the Publishing World

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I was in Santa Fe a couple of A few weeks ago speaking at the “Writing Women’s Lives” conference and had the chance to hear Leigh Haber give an hour-long update on what’s happening in the world of New York publishing. I was impressed enough with Leigh to want to share what I learned. My notes were hastily scribbled, so I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies. They are mine, not Leigh’s. Leigh, an extremely experienced editor, started out I believe as a news aid for The Washington Post Book World, then worked as a New York publicity director for Harcourt Brace and other publishers. She was also with Hyperion Books, and then with Rodale Publishing until spring of 2008. The illustrious authors she has worked with include Al Gore, Steve Martin, Peter Jennings, Alice Walker, Terry Gross, and Tess Galligher. The highlights of her talk included:


Blogs and Blurbs - why they're importantWhy Interactive Books are the Wave of NowAuthor Platforms - how to get oneAuthor's Passion for th…

Watching Beijing with a Tibetan Guest

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Last Friday night, DolmaKyab came to our home in Mt. Vernon to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. Dolma is from Tibet. Seven years ago, he sought political asylum in the United States, leaving his wife, children, and family in Tibet. In his homeland, he had been a high school teacher and was enrolled in law school. Now, living in a small town in Utah, he works for a landscaping company.

In Tibet, he was called Dolmakyab. All one word. When he came to the U.S., he was told that he must have two names - a first name, and a last name. So his name was split in two. Calling him Dolmais a reminder that his life, too, has been severed.


Just before Dolma left Tibet, he told us there had been a riot between a group of Tibetans and Mongols; more than 200 modern warriors threatening to attack. Dolma and four other teachers thrust themselves between the warring factions and, miraculously, violence was averted. This modern confrontation, fueled by generations of hate, lit a literary fire…

Predators and Prey

Last Monday, in a small community about 15 miles southwest of Denver, a man and wife left the French doors to their master bedroom slightly ajar with their two dogs sleeping on the floor beside them.

At about 4:30 in the morning, a mountain lion walked into the bedroom. The woman woke at the sound, got out of bed, and in the darkness made out a shape. "There's an animal in here," she said to her husband, and she didn't mean the dogs.

But the lion already had the couple's 12-year-old yellow Labrador in its jaws. Predator and prey disappeared into the grey dusk. The next day, wildlife officers found the partially eaten remains of the dog buried beneath some pine needles. With the couple's permission, a trap was set. When the cougar returned to finish the meal, the cougar was caught, then euthanized.

I found this story, about a mountain lion who had lost its fear of humans, buried on page 10 of the newspaper next to an ad for a climate-control company and below an …

Our Connections to Each Other - A Renewable Energy

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When the ancient Greek hero Hercules engaged in mortal combat with Antaeus, the son of Neptune and Terra - Ocean and Earth – he almost lost the battle. Every time the body of Antaeus came in contact with the Mother Earth, his strength was mysteriously renewed. Mighty Hercules slew Antaeus only because he managed to wrestle the giant’s body from the land, lifting him away from his source of strength, his very source of life.

When I moved from our small ranch in the Bearlodge Mountains of Wyoming, I felt as if I, too, had been torn from the earth. Severed by a Herculean destiny from all that sustained me – from our beloved Border collie, from the horses and white-tailed deer, from the raucous blue jays and red-tailed hawks. For me, like for Antaeus, the loss of emotional, spiritual, and physical strength was sudden and dramatic.

Human beings have historically been strengthened and renewed by an intimate connection with the earth – in sync with its rhythms, regenerative power, and instin…

Fun links to Horse and River Writing Retreats

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Impromptu Sharing. Here's a few fun links to check out if you want to view some photos and read a bit more on June's "Saddle Up! Horseback Writing Retreat" in Wyoming, and some of the past "River Writing Journeys for Women."

American Cowgirl Magazine (a great magazine and a short blog from me - scroll UP to see photo the handsome little BLM mustang I rode)

Giving You a Voice (scroll DOWN 'til you get to that fabulous photo of Maggie on the river)

Slide Show from the "Saddle Up!" retreat (Elspeth Nairn's cool photos from our June '08 time at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Wyoming (Literature and Landscape of the Horse retreat)

Nicki Ishikawa's Slide Show from the Vee Bar Guest Ranch retreat (June '08 Literature and Landscape of the Horse retreat)


Check back in October for photos from the September "River Writing and Sculpting trip" with amazing Santa Clara Pueblo artists Roxanne Swentzell and Rose Simpson. It's going to be…

Silk Shoes, Chinese Amahs, and the Olympics*

Today, with the Olypmics in Beijing only four days away, I think of China, and my mother's love of this mysterious and exotic land. Her childhood memories cloaked her during years of debilitating cancer as an adult. Often times, they were the only protection she had.

I have just painted the dining room in the mountain cabin that used to be my mother's, but which is now mine, a Chinese cherry red. She would have approved, and perhaps - even now - is casting her blessing like peonies petals blown down from heaven.

On the living room wall of every one of our homes – from this mountain home in the Colorado Rockies, to our Kew Gardens apartment on Long Island – my mother hung a tiny pair of Chinese shoes. The thinly layered soles of these shoes are protected by rawhide, which forms a thick cushion meant to protect one’s feet from the overflowing gutters of China’s crowded cities. The upper shoe is cotton, decorated with colorful, hand-embroidered silk made during the nationalist year…

Babies in Church on Mother's Day? What to do with them...

Since living in Santa Fe, my partner John and I have been attending a very friendly, small church, the Center for Spiritual Living. Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. Our handsome, boisterous and intelligent Reverend Bernardo was taking a much-needed weekend off and so a guest speaker had been appointed. As always, the opening session included an invitation for visitors and guests to stand and introduce themselves. A beautiful young couple, with a brand new baby, stood. The handsome young father, in a suit jacket and tie, turned to his wife and, placing a hand gently on their baby girl’s head, said, “We are looking for a community for our new baby daughter.” They were welcomed with a warm burst of applause.

But then, sadly, the guest speaker, about ten minutes into his rather self-centered talk, admonished them because their baby was whimpering. Clearly, he wanted to remain the center of attention. A few minutes later, he shook his head, “tisked, tisked,” them, and asked them to leave. “It …