How do I tell you about Jim and his family without sharing their private, heartrendingly beautiful lives? How do I write about them without crossing that tender divide between what is my story, and what is theirs?
I can tell you that these stories have been
intertwined since before 1874, when Pam’s great-grandfather married my children’s
great-great-grandparents. I can tell you that my children’s father Mark has more memories of
Pam and Jim than I will ever have, even after forty years of friendship. I can tell you that everyone thinks Pam and I are sister's (which we're not), but that their
Border collie Joey was a full brother to our gentle collie Duke, and that both dogs lie buried in graves overlooking
mountain meadows much like the meadow in Jim’s novel Jasper Spring (read the synopsis here).
Jim’s life, like Alice's and Tucker's (the main characters in Jasper Spring), has been steeped in contact with animals and natural resources. “I have trained
Border collies, ridden horseback to gather cattle from immense national
forests, planted oats, rescued newborn calves, have admired and fought with
overwhelming herds of elk."
Jim will also tell you that from this experience grew a pattern, a purpose. It rises from the pages of Jasper Spring,
giving intention to each word, each story line - from the miscarriages
that nearly unravel the love between Alice and Tucker, to the neglected
young boy who wanders into their valley, to the fire that threatens
to consume everything, to the Border collie Tommie who
gathers them all into his gentle fold.
I've worked with Jim on this novel for more than five years, and in the same way that Tommie gathers together the characters in Jasper Spring, Pam, Jim, and their son Tyler, gathered my husband John and our Border Collie Trixie into their fold. We flock to the ranch for summer visits, Christmases, whenever we can. Our dog Trixie is as eager to romp with her "brothers" as John and I are to reconnect with our love for the Black Hills, and with a family we hold dear.
Jim, a visual artist as well as an author, loves looking at John's sketchbooks, and John enjoys admiring Jim's bronzes. It was only natural that a vision of John's pen-and-ink drawings illustrating the pages of Jasper Spring took root in Jim's mind. John began drawing sample sketches - elk in the forest, sheep in the meadow, the bicycle that young Ray rode from town to the ranch, the old Voss place, Alice at the kitchen table, Tucker's work gloves, the all-consuming forest fire. And of course, Tommie on the day he was picked from his rambunctious litter mates.
Alice, distraught, left Tucker alone in the barn. The choice up to him, he found himself drawn to a male with a narrow blaze and a small ring of white around its muzzle.
"Tucker knelt in the hay and took off his hat. The black face looked back at him and its spine
straightened like the pulling of a string: not the soft look of adoration or
subservience: a strong face, glistening gaze. A primordial dark eye. He cradled
the young thing in his hands and hurriedly left the shelter of the building."
Tucker, like the puppy he cradled, had a primordial connection to the land - fundamental at its deepest level. This primordial connection to the land is at the core of Jasper Spring, just as it is at Jim's core, and Pam's. Perhaps all works of art are linked to the artist's primordial "dark eye," to the iris that lets in the light, or narrows the vision.
Works of fiction like Jasper Spring expand our vision because, for a brief time, they narrow our focus. We push aside politics in favor of relationships. We shut out the nightly news so that we might invite the eternal optimism of a dog into our world. We live, however briefly, in the heart of a new life and when we close the covers, we find ourselves a little more compassionate.
We might even find ourselves flipping open the real estate section of the paper to the "Land for Sale" ads. "I don't need a big place," we might whisper, "just a place where a dog and a boy can run free, a place with a spring that never goes dry, maybe a place like Jasper Spring."
Note: Read the opening pages of Jasper Spring. Available now in print or e-book.