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Showing posts from 2009

Celebrating the Elders

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What is an elder? That's the question a close friend asked me when I told her about the Elders Christmas Dinner hosted last week by the American Indian College Fund. "It's a blessing to help serve the meal," I said. "There were over 200 Indian elders there, from dozens of different tribes." My friend lowered her head shyly and asked, "What's an elder?" Her question made me ponder how we treat elders in the dominant culture of which I am a part. She knew, of course, what an elder was but not in the context of a special event held strictly to honor our elders.

The dinner was a special affair, but not a serious one (it's hard to be too serious with 200 adults eagerly awaiting the arrival of both dinner, and Santa). "If you're over 55," said emcee John Gritts, "please have a seat and a youngster (anyone under 55) will bring you your food."

The day after the Elders Dinner, Rick Williams, president of the American Indian…

The Grand Design of Our Lives: Connecting the Synchronistic Dots

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SYNCHRONISTIC MOMENTS - seemingly unrelated events that connect in unplanned ways.  How often do they occur?  How often do we fail to "connect the dots" that tie these moments together?  What do they tell us about the Grand Design of our lives

When the old man in John Steinbeck's collection The Pastures of Heavenstared down into the valley where he had lived his life, tears came to his eyes and he beat his hands helplessly against his hip. "I’ve never had time to think," he said.  "I’ve been too busy with troubles ever to think anything out. If I could go down there and live down there for a little while—why, I’d think over all the things that ever happened to me, and maybe I could make something out of them, something all in one piece that had a meaning, instead of all these trailing ends.”

All those trailing ends--the threads of our lives that we long to weave into something whole and meaningful.  But how do we begin the braiding?

Sometimes it helps to s…

Farm City, Deeply Rooted, and Each Featherless Wing

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According to The Wall Street Journal,46 million domestic, farm-raised turkeys were devouredthis week (including the 13 pound turkey whose bones have been stewing in my soup kettle until an hour ago).  It’s probably fair to say that none of us ever saw “our bird” fully feathered, or heard it gobble, or knew whether a “hen” or a “jake” was gracing our dinner platter.  I haven’t had this kind of intimate relationship with a Thanksgiving turkey since leaving our Wyoming ranch a few years ago, and I miss it. 
The picture below was taken by Seven J Outfitters on land adjacent to our ranch. I do not know these hunters but no doubt I’ve seen this turkey’s brethren foraging on our hay meadow. These are the same turkeys my son and daughter watched through the seasons when growing up, including hunting season.  “If they’re too many jakes,” my son once told me, “they’ll harass the nesting hens, and not enough eggs will hatch.”  He used to spend days out in the woods, studying the bands of wild …

NEWS FLASH! Colum McCann Wins National Book Award

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I met Colum 4 years ago (please see previous post below) and am thrilled Let the Great World Spin has won.  Go to NPR to learn more and read about it from the Associated Press News Release.  Here’s an excerpt: “McCann won the fiction prize for "Let the Great World Spin," a novel about daring, luck and mortality in the pre-digital world of 1970s New York.“He has called his book an act of hope written in part as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Accepting his prize, McCann praised the generosity of American fiction and of the American people.”

Colum McCann. Luck of the Irish? Or just a fine, fine novelist?

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“A summer flood came and our draft horse got caught in the river.  The river smashed against stones and the sound of it to me was like the turning of locks.  It was silage time and the water smelled of grass.  The draft horse, Father’s favorite, had stepped in the river for a sniff maybe and she was caught, couldn’t move, her foreleg trapped between rocks.  Father found her and called Katie! above the wailing rain.  I was in the barn waiting for drips on my tongue from the ceiling hole.”These are the opening words to Colum McCann’s short story “Everything in This Country Must,” first published in The Atlanticin 2001 and later published in book form (along with another short story and a novella) by Macmillan/Picador.I met Colum McCann in June of 2005 at the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival in Colorado.  Colum was part of an impressive lineup of Irish authors, including Robert Boswell, Grande Dame Edna O’Brien, Polly Devlin, Nuala O’Faolain, Paul Muldoon, and Marie Ponsot.  (Photo …

Elk Velvet, Begging Bowls, and Rumi: Unexpected Gifts

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Each fall, I search the woods for antler velvet, like other women might browse catalogs for good sales on winter coats.  It’s an odd habit, I admit. During the last few weeks of August and into September here in the rustic mountain community where I live, bachelor herds of bull elk congregate in the meadows and woods surrounding our home.  Even from a distance, you can see their engorged antlers grow thick with velvet as their bodies flesh out from rich mountain grass. 
As the color fades from the brilliant Indian Paintbrush, the elk begin scratching their antlers on the trunks of sapling aspens and pines.  One day, while hiking with our Border collie Trixie, I followed four big bulls who had strips of velvet hanging from their tender, bloody tines.  I searched the ground beneath the trees where they stopped to rub their antlers, searching for a strip of shredded velvet, each time thinking this will be the place.  But it never was. I found shredded pieces of bark and fresh droppings …

Why Vultures Lie in Wait, and Deepak Chopra’s Law of Least Effort

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I grew up believing that STRIVING towards goals and feeling DRIVEN in one’s passions were necessary components of success. They can also be exhausting components of success.  Deepak Chopra, in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, talks about the Law of Least Effort. “Nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease…this is the principle of least action, of no resistance.”But what of all those long tedious hours of writing and rewriting? What of all the hours spent networking, following up leads, peaking under every stone for missed opportunities?The carrion-eating vultures I encounter on early-morning hikes got me to thinking that maybe Deepak Chopra is right. “Grass doesn’t try to grow, it just grows,” he tells us. “Birds don’t try to fly, they fly.”  Vultures are “least effort” opportunists, willing to watch and wait, poking their bald red heads into putrefying places and coming up with enough to feed themselves and their not-too-picky young. Patient enough to wait—yet …

The Wind in the Willows & Love of Place

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Kathleen Cain begins her review of Standing in the Light by Sharman Apt Russell (Bloomsbury Review, May/June/July 2009; http://www.bloomsburyreview.com/) this way: “I’ve been waiting for this book all my life…I am urged to awe that equals spiritual fervor in the presence of Nature.”
What is it about Nature—Nature with a capitol N as depicted in Sharman’s new book—that moves us so? How can the physical world cause our spirits to have such passionate responses?

On May 4, 2009, Time Magazine chose The Wind in the Willows as its “Book Pick for the Week.” This classic children’s novel, a compilation of stories told by the author Kenneth Grahame to his four-year-old son, was first published in America in 1909. One hundred years ago! Yet here we are today, still falling in love with Mole and Rat and Badger and Otter and yes, even arrogant Toad—creatures great and small who live charmed lives full of missteps and dangerous escapades at, or near, the River. Not just any river, but THE River. A…

Mushrooms, Growing Our Writing, and Parabola Magazine

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Wine kept cool in dark cellars. Whiskey aging in oak barrels. Bread dough set out to rise on the counter. A chicken breast marinating in soy and ginger. The lacy white filaments of a mushroom root buried in damp compost. A poem fleshed out, then tucked away in a drawer. The germinating seed of a short story. The landscape of a novel unfurling after a dormant winter. All these things do better given time to ripen.


We’ve had abundant moisture this spring and early summer. The Rocky Mountains are awash in wild flowers. And wild mushrooms. They’re everywhere. Sprouting stubborn caps in gravelly soil. Pushing up through needle-covered ground beneath ponderosas. They’re in the sun. In the shade. Under logs. Next to rocks. Growing in between the bunch grasses and among the penstemons.


Several years ago, the Wyoming Center for the Book asked many of the Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowship recipients and a few other notable authors living in Wyoming to write essays for the anthology Deep W…

Cultivating a Literary Garden

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Plant the Seeds of Intention
The dog days of summer, when Sirius, the “dog star,” rises and sets with the sun, will soon be upon us. Hot sultry weather. Balmy nights. Screen doors and porch swings. Iced lemonade and fresh peach ice cream. The long sagas of our lives lived at a lazy pace.

Sound like the summer of a by-gone era? For many of us, there is nothing slow or lazy about summer. Fall arrives and we glance back over our sun-burned shoulders wondering why we didn’t read more books, or work on that novel, or fill at least one journal with poetic prose. Our writing aspirations, along with the dog, were left to languish on that figurative summer porch.

Cultivating a literary summer garden doesn’t have to be hard work, but it won’t flourish unless you plant seeds of clear intention. Identify your goals, scatter them among your other activities, and fertilize them with attentiveness. Here’s a two-pronged tool to get you started.

Explore Your Literary Neighborhood
There are more reasons th…

Walking Nature Home: Are We Our Mothers' Daughters?

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In some ways, choosing to write only about the few times in Walking Nature Home where Susan Tweit writes about her mother is like describing a single sea shell when the entire ocean stretches before you. So I urge you to journey on your own into the tide-deep waters of this memoir. You will find an intimate world inhabited by much more than a single shell.

Explore her author's notes. You'll appreciate the sources she references and the useful way in which she categorizes them. Astrology and Star Lore. Astronomy. Autoimmune diseases. Community of the Land and Ecology. Gardening. Health and Healing. Quakerism. Science. These are the myriad, sometimes turbulent, but always thoughtful waters inhabited by her memoir.

"To my eyes," writes Susan, "my mom is beautiful, with large blue eyes, a cap of wavy silver hair framing her tan face, and a ready, charming smile. The notes in her health log, though, reveal the pain of swollen and distorted joints, the debilitating cu…