Showing posts from 2010

WildLives: A Letter to Susan Tweit

Dear Susan ... It is New Year's Eve, a cold, wintry day and I am listening to your CD WildLives while some holiday shortbread is baking.  What a lovely surprise to receive the compilation--thank you for this unexpected gift.
A few hours ago, when I decided to do some baking, I searched among the few recipes I brought with me when I left the ranch in the Black Hills six years ago, but the shortbread recipe was not among them.  The recipe had been my college roommate's, passed onto her by her Scottish grandmother.  A much treasured thing, it was handed over to me with a certain amount of ceremony and was probably the first holiday cookie on which my children cut their toddler teeth. 
But today I had to phone a dear friend in the Black Hills to retrieve a copy of the recipe, an especially poignant reminder that sometimes we must leave behind the things we cherish most.   
As I listen to the WildLives CD, I hear your confident, soft voice speak about the pungent fragrances of juniper…

The Giving Nature of Trees, NPR's Morning Edition, and Sexing Your Pinecones

This silence in the timbers. A woodpecker on one of the trees taps out its story.
Robert Haight* Each tree, too, has its own story, its own family, its own tribe. And even though we do not know if they give their lives willingly, we could not live or breathe without them.We fell them for their timber, for fuel for our fireplaces, and to grace our homes during the Christmas season.  We thin themto allow other nearby trees to mature and to help prevent insect infestation. 

In the small mountain community where I live,hundreds of
Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines are being selectively felled for fire mitigation.  We are using the straightest of the “poles” to build a new barn for our community herd of horses, a bittersweet project because the trees must die.  
But by this time next year, the barn will be built and the horses will be able to seek shelter on the leeward side, protected from the wind and rain and snow.I walk the dirt road where the cutting is taking placeand touch the stumps that r…

Honor Your Creativity with a Creative Altar

We create ceremony and ritual around all other parts of our lives—baptism, bar mitzvah, feast days, confirmation, graduation, death, we even create ceremony around sports (think of Monday Night Football or the all-American baseball game), yet our culture does not have very many examples of rituals which honor the creative part of our nature.  Let me clarify, not rituals (like last night's Kennedy Center Honors) that recognize the artists of our culture, but rituals that honor the process of creating art--the act itself--rituals that set the stage for us, that prepare us as we begin our work.  
Rituals and ceremonies around our writing and art and song create safe atmospheres for our creative spirits, much like churches, or mountain tops, or secluded paths in the woods, create sanctuaries for our faith.  The spirit knows when we enter a temple or a kiva or a sweat lodge or a mosque that these are safe places for the prayerful spirit.
Our creative spirits need an atmosphere that tell…

Flying High with Hemispheres Magazine

EN ROUTE TO ORLANDO, FLORIDA, I spent the first 20 airborne minutes browsing the November issue of United’s inflight magazine, Hemispheres, which boasts over 7 million readers worldwide. Here’s a sampling of the pieces that caught my attention, with an eye, of course, toward nature and writing themes:

DISPATCH: Notes from All Over--a good place to submit very short, human interest tidbits. This month’s story, "Country Seats: Growing Couch Potatoes," written by Joey Rubin, came from Isleworth, England where the average British family spends an appalling 43 hours a week slouched indoors on sofas. A charity dedicated to preserving historic houses and gardens decided to literally ‘take the couch outside."  Using hay bales and grass turf, they erected giant grass living room sets in 11 different garden locations in the British Isles.  Guess that's what we've become: outdoor couch potatoes.  Reading this dispatch made me itch to get off my derriere, which wasn't e…

Spinning like Rumi: Confessions from a Writing Coach about an Unsettled Life

When our bodies and minds are in motion, writing can be difficult
And I've been in motion the entire spring, summer, and fall -- to galleries and tea houses in Santa Fe, to the Heard Museum and Gila River in Phoenix, to conference centers and family gatherings in Oklahoma, to the piers and missions and merry-go-rounds of Santa Barbara where I celebrated my sister's 60th birthday, to the mountains of Wyoming and the high sagebrush country of Nevada, to the forests and grasslands of South Dakota's Black Hills.  
Then to the canyons of Utah, then to the dust bowl panhandle of Oklahoma, then flying over the river I'd just floated to land among the palm trees of San Diego.  
When this fall arrived, I was exhausted and yearned to sink my energy back into the roots of home.
But it was not the traveling that exhausted me.  It was not having time to absorb and ingest the experiences, as if I were a vessel filled with swirling sensations that had never had time to settle to the bo…

The Brain "on" Nature: out of reach on the river, then back in the rim world

It was tempting to stay--to keep our rafts pointed downstream and our oars in the water--at peace with each other and with life on the river.  How simple to spend one's days floating, contemplating water dappled by sunlight, molding palmfuls of river clay with our fingers, writing unhurried thoughts into the pages of our journals, sharing morning coffee and evening stars.  How simple, this temporary life on the river.

The red cliffs and black rocks of Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River are surprisingly accommodating. Nooks and crannies provide cool hiding places. Wind and water carve curvaceous armchairs into shiny black schist boulders. Sandstone crumbles and forms river beaches soft enough to sink one's toes into, or to sculpt one's face upon. These are simple joys. One discovers that comfort is a relative term, much easier to find on the river than expected.

A month ago, The New York Times published an article by Matt Richtel about five neuroscientists who spent a wee…

Orion Magazine Brings Back The Place Where You Live

WHEN Orion Magazine announced recently that they were bringing back their popular department, "THE PLACE WHERE YOU LIVE," I thought of a zillion things I wanted to share about the landscape I call home, and the people with whom I share it.  I also thought of the ranch in Wyoming, which my grown children still call home.  A large part of my heart still lives there - will always live there.  But there is also a part of me that is even more deeply rooted to this place, to Mt. Vernon.  Read this essay online at Orion

IN THEIR CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS, the Orion editors describe the department as a space for us to exercise our sixth sense.  "Tell us about your place," they invited.  "What history does it hold for you? What are your hopes and fears for it? What do you do to protect it, or prepare it for the future, or make it better?"
AH, MAKING IT BETTER. That credo has guided the small mountain community where I live for 100 years.  Our homes, nestled in a mixed…

The Liquid Spirit of Water

THE LIFE FORCE that moves through us, and through every drop of water and layer of slick rock, is as familiar as our own breath, yet as hard to grasp as the wind that rustles the cottonwoods.  We are told that the elements of science are kin to the elements of human nature: that those with Fire in their souls possess a radiant energy, an enthusiasm that brings color and vibrancy into the world; that those with Earth in their souls are well grounded and have enduring and nurturing qualities; that the currents of thought and spirit flow most freely through those with Airy dispositions.  YET MODERN SCIENTISTS of ancient astrology believe that our deepest emotions – our most fervent passions – are expressed best by those with the liquid spirit of Water, the formless potential out of which all creation flows.  Waterfalls overwhelm us with the power of their sensual – and yes – female natures.  SPRING AFTER SPRING, they seem to hurl themselves over the edges of their own fast-flowing desires. …

Shining a Light on Ted Kooser, American Life in Poetry, and Two Women Poets from Wyoming

I’ve been spending the day with two poems—both written by western women (both over 40, by the way), both published, both about a man and a woman—but both paint very different portraits of the relationship between a husband and wife. The first poem, “Denial” by Pat Frolander, just appeared on TED KOOSER'S COLUMN American Life in Poetry and is included in Pat's chapbook Grassland Genealogy (Finishing Line Press, Kentucky, 2009).  These poems are, to quote past Wyoming poet laureate Robert Roripaugh, filled with the "subtle strands of heart and mind that tie humans and animals to each other and the grasslands they share." Please click HERE to read Pat's poem.  Ted Kooser, a Pulitzer prize-winning poet and one of our nation’s esteemed poet laureates, is from the Great Plains, the heartland of America. He is widely praised for his "plainspoken style, his gift for metaphor, and his quiet discoveries of beauty in ordinary things.”  To listen to an NPR interview wit…


According to The New Yorker's Summer Fiction issue, the odds of anyone writing anything of substance after they turn 40 are not good. That's disheartening, since I haven't seen 40 for more than a decade and in 2 days I'll be one year closer to 60. Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the The New York Time's Sunday Book Review, expands on that theory in his essay "How Old Can a Young Writer Be?" According to Tanenhaus, Herman Melville was 32 when he wrote Moby Dick. But Virginia Woolf didn't enter her prime until she was in her 40s. Pearl S. Buck was only 39 when she wrote The Good Earth, but she was 46 when she wrote Peony, the same year that she received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Should those of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, content ourselves with literary obscurity?  Who are your favorite "over 40" authors?  What substantive piece are you working on? ANSWER THE POLL and help me compile an IMPRESSIVE list to fuel our over-40 ambitions!



THE WYOMING GLOW I brought home with me after this year’s Literature & Landscape of the Horse Retreat at the Vee Bar Ranch lasted for days. I literally beamed. Not surprising after a week immersed in some of the things I love the most—horses, stories about horses, other writers and artists, and the wide-open western landscape.

“I missed you all so much the minute I got on the plane, it nearly broke my heart,” wrote Cat, a guest from Massachusetts. “I'll never forget my week at the ranch, and your kind heart that made it possible for all of us to know each other.” Cat fell in love with landscape, the people, the horses, and most importantly, back in love with life.

Life HAPPENS on a ranch—life, and birth, and death, and renewal. The warmth and generosity of families like Kari and Brent Kilmer (co-owners and managers of the Vee Bar) does not happen by mistake. It rises up from life on the land as organically as do the wild spring irises. Kari’s grandpa ranches only a few miles up …

COPPER NICKEL AND BLACK DIAMOND: It's not too late to enter Copper Nickel's Literary Contest!

OKAY, so the connection is a stretch.  But when COPPER NICKEL(the journal of art and literature published by the University of Colorado Denver) announced their first fiction and poetry CONTEST, I had to check it out.  The term copper nickel was originally applied to the Indian Head cent coin.  From 1913-1938, U.S. mints began producing the Indian Head nickel. The front side of the coin features the profile of an iconic Native American man, said to be a compilation of features from 4 prominent Native American men: Iron Tail, an Oglala Sioux chief; Two Moons, a Cheyenne chief; Big Tree, a Kiowachief; and possibly John Big Tree, a member of the Seneca Nation.
The model for the bison on the back side of the coin is believed to have been BLACK DIAMOND, a bull from NY's Central Park Zoo.  He lived a long life but died a rather humbling death.

Now, let's talk about the literary Copper Nickel.This impressive journal isn't just a publication for student writing.  It also features t…

8000 Writers Descend on Denver - AWP, Second Installment

Please scroll down to April 15 to read the first "8000 Writers Descend on Denver" installment about the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Denver last weekend.

"What is to give light, must endure burning."  This is the motto that has, for 36 years, fed the brave editorial direction of The Sun magazine.  I wasn't able to attend the INTO THE FIRE reading by Sun authors Sy Safransky, Ellen Bass, and 5 other notibles, but I heard it was fabulous. 

Instead, I attended WHEN FORM INVENTS FUNCTION: THE CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN INDIAN PROSE POEM, in part because Sherman Alexie was supposed to be on the panel (a stand-up comedian who brilliantly disguises himself as an author, so brilliantly in fact that War Dancesjust won the 2010 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction), but in greater part because my frend, Choctaw author LeAnne Howe was on the panel.  If you want to know who invented baseball, read LeAnne's novel Miko Kings, and check out her Mik…